How Being a Hostess Taught Me to Be a Better Server

For 4 years before I started serving tables, I was a hostess.  Not just any regular, everyday hostess…I was deemed Head Hostess.  This title pretty much meant that I was in charge of verifying all reservations, seating rotation, setting up large parties, organizing the wait list, and distributing tables evenly among the servers.  It was, in my experience, a difficult job.  The multitasking  and workload, however, was not what made it challenging.  It was handling the customers (along with their complaints) and most of all…dealing with the servers.

In my restaurant, the waiters and waitresses are not allowed to go up to the front desk and bother the hostesses.  Any problems with tables or fairness were supposed to be brought up to the Floor Manager and from the Floor Manager to the Hostess.  However, when the Floor Manager was busy chatting up a storm with regular customers or taking care of a customer complaint with a certain waiter, servers would flock to the front entrance like a bunch of vultures and harass the hostesses.  Why does he have more tables than me? What do you mean my reservation canceled…give me another one! I don’t want any more tables, I want to get out of here early.

On slow days, I would constantly hear their complaints about customers.  They would be all riled up because a table left them $8 on $102 or their table was just having two coffees and sharing a soup.  I’d hear all these horror stories about guests dining and dashing, dishing out impossible demands, and even belittling them as people.  After days of hearing all of these tales of woe, I decided then and there that I did NOT want to be a server.

But, when the time came that I had learned everything I possible could about being a Hostess, I figured it was time for me to learn something a little more challenging.  Knowing what I knew about the difficulty of being a server, I thought that maybe it would be different for me. So, I started learning the menu, how to punch in orders, and the timing of the plates.

As I started learning more and more and watched the best waiters work, I started to notice how horrible some of them actually were.  As I circulated within the restaurant, I was getting stopped by a lot of guests complaining that they had no utensils, were low on water, that their food was taking too long,  and that they couldn’t find their waitress.  Even though I was a Hostess and could have said “It won’t be long, I’ll get your server”, I stepped up to the plate and decided to handle these things personally. I would get the water pitchers and make my way through the whole restaurant filling up glasses.  I made sure everyone had utensils.  I checked with the Expiditor if food was taking too long.  If someone wanted another drink, I took their order and sent off the order to the bar.

Slowly I started to notice the things you need to do as a server…and the things you should NEVER do.  When it came time for my training, I already had a great overview of what was expected of me.  I never neglected filling up water glasses.  I never talked in the back, ignoring my customers.  I always made myself available to them and any other table in the restaurant.  I picked up visual cues and could tell when a customers was ready to pay or was getting up in search of the bathrooms.  Anticipating the guests needs became a strong point for me.

The hostesses loved me because I would never go up and harass them about getting more customers.  They would clear off my tables and reset it and sit more people all because I would watch the door for them when they’d run off to eat something in the back.  It was a give and take relationship with them and because I knew the challenges of being a hostess and how the servers try any way possible to get them to fold and give them new tables, in their eyes I was the best waitress to get along with.  Soon after, I became a bridge between servers and hostesses.  Complaints from waiters about hostesses started coming to me and instead of brushing them off I’d explain to them why their table changed places or why one waitress had more tables (because she had all the tables by the windows – customers love that section).  I took the load off of them for quite some time and I think they appreciated the silence for once.

Being a Hostess and walking around the restaurant taught me how to be a better server.  I was like a fly on the wall, learning the job from only the very best and learning how to take care of neglected customers from the very worst.  Without being a hostess, I’m not sure if I’d be the waitress I am today.  I may have started at a low end restaurant, without a decent training and no restaurant experience.  I could have been one of those servers, the ones who don’t give a damn about customer service…only the money in their pocket.  So, when I’m passing by the front desk sometimes and I see a girl applying for a job as a waitress (even though she has no experience), I wonder why they don’t apply for the Hostess job instead.  Maybe they don’t realize that sometimes that is the best way to get the job you want.  Start slow and work your way up.  Like I did.

So, my advice to anyone looking to get into the restaurant business for the first time is this:  take any job you can get.  Most places ask for a minimum amount of years of experiences in order to be a server, but can take you with no experience in another position.  You’ll have to work hard and prove yourself to the managers and owners, but from my experience a lot of restaurants like to hire within the restaurant.  We need new waitresses.  Well, how about Kayla over there? She’s been working hostess for 3 years, maybe she can handle it.

Any experience you can gather up will only improve your service later on.  You could go from dishwasher, to kitchen, to bar, to waiter and then… Voilà!  Your a waiter who knows how everything works and how things are run in the restaurant.  Are you in one of those positions now? Don’t sell yourself short, it may just be a stepping stone to yet another experience…serving tables and serving them well.

The Waitress Confessions signature JPEG

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3 thoughts on “How Being a Hostess Taught Me to Be a Better Server

  1. Sarah March 22, 2015 / 1:05 pm

    This is all so true and so useful. I’m a hostess transitioning into a server position and I’ve been quietly learning the ropes for months, memorizing the menu, filling water, clearing and resetting tables, setting up the dining room etc. the best way to move up in the ranks is to take initiative and just do what needs to be done, regardless if it’s your job. Our new servers only get one week of shifts for training and to memorize the menu before they are tested. If you’re already in the restaurant you have a huge advantage, you have plenty of time to observe and learn at your own pace. By the time you’re officially training the battle will be half way won.

  2. Anonymous November 4, 2015 / 4:01 pm

    Thank you for the great advice. It’s encouraging and motivating as I was torn between which position to apply for.

  3. katherine February 3, 2016 / 6:33 pm

    I am so thankful for this post . It was exactly what I needed. I have been hosting for 5 years in a family owned private restaurant. I am their “top” host and trainer and just about 2 days ago I started to dive in to menu memorization and details. I am going to apply what you mentioned and go for it!

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