As waiters and waitresses, we need to do our best to remember that sometimes all the little things we do for our guests can go a long way. We can brighten someone’s day, help make two people’s first date go smoothly with good food and good drinks, sometimes give a little something on the house when it’s someone’s birthday or anniversary, etc. Just a smile can change someone’s mood for the better. Every little bit counts.
Now, we may not all have someone like Ellen notice and give us a $10,000 tip or a brand new car, but we should still do all the small things that make everyone’s life just a little easier. The perks of being a server.
Something that gets me through my double shifts over the weekend is seeing the faces of the regular customers that come out to eat on a weekly basis. Every restaurant has those regulars and if you’re lucky enough, they’ll often ask to be served by you.
Personally, I find that it helps me get through the day to spend a couple of minutes chatting with the woman who dines out on Sundays at lunch with a only a good book to keep her company or the family with four boys who come to eat after every soccer practice. It makes me happy to know these regulars and seeing them leave feeling content with the quality of the food and satisfied with the service leaves me with a great sense of accomplishment. I know for a fact that they’ll be coming back.
Restaurants don’t always train their servers how to treat their guests so that they keep coming back, even though it’s a very important part of being a server. They’ll tell you to up-sell, to take care of your customers, and to make sure your timings are right, and of course owners and managers want people to revisit the restaurant, but they don’t always give their servers the actual tools they need in order to keep reeling them back in. So, whether they’re already regular customers or new diners, here are a few tips on how to keep the customers coming back for more.
#1. Remember their faces
This is a pretty standard point, but important nonetheless. If you’re a new server, remembering guests’ faces will help you to notice which customers keep coming back time and time again. You may never end up serving them since they may already have a waiter or waitress that they prefer to be served by, but on the off chance that their server isn’t working one day you may want to remember them in case they’re seated in your section.
#2. Greet them – even if they aren’t in your section
Even if they aren’t seated at one of your tables, stop by and say hello. If you’re walking by their table with your hands full then give them a polite nod or a dazzling smile. Just the fact that you’re recognizing them as loyal customers makes them feel like special guests, which is one of the reasons why they’ll be returning to the restaurant.
#3. Learn their names
Once you start to really know the customers who dine frequently at your restaurant, they may start to address you by your first name. This is an incredible step forward for you. It means that they trust you and know that you are an excellent server. Once you’re comfortable enough with each other on a professional or even personal level, you may want to consider addressing them by name. Whether you’re on a first name or last name basis with them, it creates a bond between the two of you that reassures them as customers that you will be treating them with the utmost respect while serving them. A good way to get to know them by name without having to ask is to take a look at the name on their credit card. When you’re handing them back the bill, take a chance by saying “Thank you so much, Mr. Smith! I’ll see you next time.” Also, if they often make reservations, ask the hostess for their name so that you can take a look at the reservation list before you start your shifts to see if they’ve reserved for that day.
#4. Memorize their food and drink orders
If you have the type of memory as I have, this will be a piece of cake for you. Personally, I think it’s a challenge to remember customer’s specific demands while ordering and I treat it like a game of how many specific orders can I remember. Which wine did they really enjoy their last visit? She didn’t eat any of the croutons when she ordered her salad, maybe she doesn’t like them?He’s allergic to gluten, I’ll have to notify the kitchen. Noticing the little nuances about their preferences will set you apart from all the other waiters and waitresses you work with. Some customers ask for exactly the same meal each time they come, so take a mental note every time you take their order. The quicker you are at memorizing it, the faster you’ll be able to say “The usual?” They’ll be extremely impressed and you’ll see a certain smile creep up on their face that shows that they think “This is why I keep coming back here”.
#5. Teach other servers how to serve them
Don’t be greedy with regular customers. Once you’ve served new customers and you see that they’ve returned and are seated in another server’s section, share the knowledge that you have about them with their waiter or waitress. The point here is to keep them coming back to the restaurant. I understand, it’s a bit annoying that you did all the hard work to bring them back and now they are being served by someone else, but the whole idea is to bring in customers to the restaurant. If they ask to be served by you then it’s definitely a bonus, but if not…don’t sweat it. The last thing you want is for the guests to feel like the servers are fighting over them. They may get the impression that you’re all only in it for the tips and that is definitely not the way to go about making them feel special. So, let their server know how they prefer to be served, their favorite drinks, and any specifications about their order. Feel free to pass by the table, tell them you’re happy to see them again, and let them know that you’ve informed their server of their preferences. They’ll be touched that you went the extra mile, even if you aren’t their server. Who knows, they may ask for you the next time they dine out!
#6. Make recommendations, suggestions, and exceptions
A lot of people dine out not because of the food specifically, but for the experience. They want to be wined and dined. They take pleasure in trying new dishes, they live to savor different wines, and relish in the thought that their server is giving them an experience they’ll never forget. These customers will keep coming back if you are able to make them aware that you are genuinely concerned about their evening out. Depending on the restaurant, some things on the menu can be changed or modified on demand, special wines are sometimes kept in the back for V.I.P. customers, and exceptions can be made on prices. It often takes an experienced waiter or waitress to know the rules of the restaurant for exceptions, so it’s often best to approach a manager or a more experienced server about these things. For example, there is a regular customer who comes every Friday to be served by the same waiter. In a conversation one day, they told the waiter that they have a favorite bottle of wine (a very expensive bottle, might I add) and that they were disappointed that we didn’t have it on our menu. The waiter then informed the manager that he’d like to surprise them with that bottle the following week, so the manager ordered that specific bottle of wine especially for them. To say they were ecstatic is an understatement. Ever since then, the restaurant orders that one bottle for the Fridays that they come to eat, which keeps them coming back every week. Now that, my friends, is the way to wine and dine your customers. Know what you are able to suggest, recommend, and make exceptions for.
#7. Invite them to come back to see you
It’s a wonderful feeling when customers rave about the excellent service they received. When getting compliments such as “Thank you for the great service!” or “This is the best service we’ve had at a restaurant!” accept them graciously and inform them that they may always ask to be served by you. Make sure to give them your name so that they can ask for you before being seated, or better yet, write your name on the restaurant’s business card and let them know that they can reserve a table in your section the next time they come (if your restaurant allows that). Tell them that you’d be pleased to serve them and that you’ll see them at their next visit. By inviting them back to see you, you may get those few extra tables, making it a very rewarding day. Other servers will be wondering what makes customers keep coming back and asking for your section and the reason that they do is because you are doing your job perfectly. You are an exceptional server! An added bonus is if guests are frequently asking to be served specifically by you, the owners and mangers will notice and may start giving you better shifts and bigger sections. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. The customers are happy, the restaurant is happy, and you’re happy.
A Note to Managers and Owners
It’s important to provide your wait staff with the tips and tools they need in order to keep your customers coming back for more. If you do regular meetings with your staff, please take a moment to encourage them to follow certain steps of service and focus on how to get and to keep regular customers.
When customers are eating out at a restaurant, they expect a certain level of speedy service (depending on the restaurant they are dining at, of course.) When the service is too slow for their liking, there are ways that they will let you know – some more obvious than others.
During your shift, sometimes things just aren’t going your way. As great as a server as you may be, there are times when things around you just seem to get out of hand. It may take you longer to get to your tables when you’re in a rush, but there are key things to look out for while you’re running around to get to all your tables on time.
If you see any customers doing any of the following things, you know that you should be improving the speed of your service, so here are the Top 5 Signs That You Need To Pick Up the Pace.
#1. Your customers go up to the hostess stand to pay when they should be paying at the table
#2. Your customers have empty plates and empty water glasses in front of them and are just staring at you…waiting for you to clear everything.
#3. Your customers have enough time to stack up their dirty dishes on the table for you to pick up.
#4. Your customers leave because they waited too long to be greeted.
#5. Your customers get up to refill their own water glass with your water pitcher.
Some of this may seem like common sense to most of you, but to others they don’t realize the reason behind why customers may do these things. As servers, we have to be aware of why our guests are acting the way they do. Yes, sometimes people are just impatient and there is nothing we can do about it as servers, but other times we have to take a good look at ourselves and wonder if we are at the heart of the problem. Were we neglecting them? Were we spending too much time chatting with our coworkers that we put the service of our customers on the back burner? There is nothing wrong with accepting that you were in the wrong and then trying to improve on that. Next time you’ll know to be more attentive to your customer’s needs and to pick up the pace.
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Some servers have the amazing ability of listening to a table’s order and remembering every small detail without ever touching a paper and pen. Some can take orders of up to at least 10 people without even batting an eye. No matter how many exceptions, replacements, or changes the customers make these waiters will somehow manage to get the order rung up .Personally, that just boggles my mind.
As a waitress (and a person for that matter) who’s afraid to forget the simplest little thing, I am constantly writing everything down. My fear is that I’ll carelessly make a mistake and forget to order a glass of wine or order a steak well-done instead of medium-well. So, with that fear deep-rooted in my system, I make it a point to write down all my orders even if I’m taking the order for a table of one.
Every waiter and waitress has their own system of taking down orders whether it be just doodling on your order sheet while memorizing every point or penning every single word the customer says. If you have a great memory and are just starting out as a waiter/waitress in training, you may want to consider the pros and cons of memorizing orders.
The eye contact that you keep with a customer while taking their order is extremely important. Some waiters just stare at their order sheet the whole time while writing down orders which leaves the customers feeling short-changed on the “service with a smile”. Some are capable of writing without looking down too many times, which is an improvement at least, but memorizing your orders can give you complete control over your eye contact with your guests, creating a very friendly and open service for them.
If you’re planning on memorizing orders, keep in mind that you are more likely to make mistakes. The amount of times I’ve seen a server run up to the kitchen and say something around the lines of “My bad, guys. It was supposed to be the salmon, not the tuna” is staggering. It could end up happening more often than you’d probably like to admit and can maintain a certain amount of hostility between you and your coworkers. Not to mention the managers will be wondering how all these mistakes are affecting their food costs.
With no pen and paper glued to your hands at every moment of service, your free hands allow you to do other things while taking drink and dessert orders. You could be tidying up your tables of any clutter, picking up empty beer glasses, or picking up menus. The ability to multitask in the restaurant business is a big bonus on your side if you are able to do many things at once. Plus, the length of the service with diminish slightly by just having the free hands to clear the table and memorize coffee orders at the same time, making it easier to turn your tables and serve more customers.
Sometimes, as you’re leaving a table to enter the order into the computer system, someone may stop you along the way preventing you from getting to the computer while the order is still fresh in your mind. Maybe a customer will have a complaint and stop you for a whole 5 minutes before giving you a chance to ring up the order. What happens then? Your mind gets completely distracted by the complaint that you stand at the computer holding your head thinking “What did she order? What appetizer did he want? Did he want fries or rice with his steak?”. Sometimes you’ll remember…sometimes you’ll just forget. Forgetting an order can be extremely embarrassing and seems pretty unprofessional if you need to go up to the guests a second time to ask that they ordered.
Memorizing your orders can save a lot of time when it comes to ringing up your order. Instead of constantly referring to your order sheet, you’re simply punching in your orders without missing a beat to glance down at what you’ve written. This can save time on your service and once again allows for a quicker service, which means your customers are receiving their orders sooner than other therefore satisfied with the fact that they aren’t waiting longer for their food to arrive. Every second or minute saved counts for a lot in the restaurant business.
Not writing down an order can make your customers nervous. One night I went out to eat at a restaurant. We were a table of 6 people and the waitress just took our order by memory. I asked for a few things on the side since it was my first experience at that particular establishment and wasn’t sure about the sauces offered with my plate. I felt worried that may order may be wrong, but decided to give her the benefit of of the doubt. When it came time to the appetizers, I received a salad instead of the soup and my steak came turned out medium-well instead of medium-rare. In my mind, if you aren’t going to write anything down then you’d better make sure that you’ve remembered everything 100%. Sure, people make mistakes and I understand that more than anyone, but other guests may not be so forgiving. When customers see that you’re relying solely on your memory for taking orders, they have that knowledge to use against you when things go wrong and may even approach a manager about it, suggesting that you write everyone down from that moment on.
When taking orders, servers know that it’s best to repeat orders back to the customers as they go along to avoid any mistakes or misunderstandings. When an order comes out wrong, your manager may ask you something around the lines of “Well, what did the customer order?”. Your answer may be “She definitely said she wanted the mashed potatoes, but when the plate got there she said she asked for a baked potato.” The manager might then proceed to ask what you had written down on your order sheet in order to see if you either a) punched it in wrong or b) wrote it down wrong. When you’ve done everything by memory, the manager is then just taking your word for it and may jump to the conclusion that you’re the one who made the mistake. If you’re repeating the order back to the customer and writing it down properly, he may then assume that it’s just the customer creating a problem for nothing and will be more inclined to believe you when you say you got the order right.
Everybody makes mistakes, even if you’re the type of server to write each order down on paper. The thing to keep in mind is that you’re only human, so do the best that you can no matter which order-taking process you choose to use as a server. Think about what kind of waiter you want to be and go from there.
There’s a certain sense of pride you should have if your boss has assigned a server-in-training to you. It means that you’re doing your job well and are capable of showing someone else the ropes. So take a moment to congratulate yourself: you are a great server!
But what happens when you’re unsure of how exactly to train someone? You may have been doing the job for so long that you know everything as if second nature, so teaching someone else without forgetting something can be a little nerve wracking. Some restaurants have a strict training policy, but others kind of just throw you into it, so be prepared no matter which category your job falls into.
Of course, there are a few things to keep in mind when training: does the person you’re training have experience…or not? At first, I would suggest treating each new employee as if they’re learning for the first time and work from there. The more experience you see, the less you’ll be teaching about how to be an actual server and the more you’ll be teaching about the working system of your particular restaurant.
Either way, here are a few 8 tips on how to train a new waiter/waitress. If you’re a server-in-training and need a few tips, you may want to read our article titled 9 Tips for a Waiter/Waitress In Training
TIP #1: Get organized
There are so many things that need to be taught that some of us don’t even know where to begin. If you have enough notice from your boss on when the first day of training is, take some time before then to make a list of everything that needs to be shown to the newcomer. What’s the first thing you want to show them? What are the most important things that the trainee should memorize? What do they need to learn first in order to learn the way the restaurant is run?
Here’s an example of a list of priorities, starting with the first day of training:
Wine List Knowledge (if applicable)
Floor Plan Knowledge (table numbers, bar area, sections, etc.)
Tour of the restaurant (so the trainee knows where everything is: bathrooms, stock rooms, fridges, stations, etc)
Any steps of service (check backs, recooks, how to handle any complaints, etc)
Serving coffee and dessert
Presenting the check
Closing cleaning tasks and restocking
Sales report at the end of the shift
Rules of the restaurant
Make sure you follow a certain schedule so that they training makes sense. You don’t want to start showing them how to take orders if they haven’t even begun to memorize the menu (although, in my opinion, the trainee should have at least 85% of the menu memorized by their first day of training. Tip of the Day: Learn Your Menu.) Following your list of priorities will help you make sure you didn’t skip a step.
TIP #2: Shadowing
A very important step. Have your trainee “shadow” your every move. Before they even take an order, have them watch every step you take. Tell them to note how you speak with the customers, your tone of voice, your facial features, your posture, etc. Every little thing is important and if your restaurant has a way of presenting specials, up-selling promotions, or even describing the catch of the day make sure that your trainee knows the proper way to do these things. Consistency is very important in the restaurant business.
Also, when it comes time to picking up the speed and running drinks and food, it’s important that your trainee recognizes the pace of your particular restaurant and learns how to keep up with it. At a quickly paced restaurant, the last thing you want is for your trainee to get stuck in 2nd gear when they should be shifting it up a few notches. Tell them to keep up with you and that you want then 2 steps behind at all times.
TIP #3: Answer their questions
No matter how naive the question may seem, just answer it in a polite way. It may seem like common sense to you, but remember that every restaurant is different and they just want to know how things run at their new place of work. The more questions they ask, the better. Take note, however, if they are asking the same questions over and over. They are there to learn and soak up as much knowledge as they can, but if they can’t retain any of the things you are teaching them, it may be a red flag.
TIP #4 : Ask questions
This is the best way for new servers to learn, especially when it comes to learning the menu. Ask them to describe certain dishes for you. If they stumble or come out with a wishy-washy description, show them the correct way of describing the restaurants meals and tell them to practice. Ask them to name all the beers the restaurant offers on tap. They may respond, for example, like this “Uh…Heineken…um, Guinness….” so be prepared to show off a little and show them how you list off all the beers. Asking questions before customers get a chance to ask them is the best way for them to prepared when it comes time for them to take orders. Feel free to ask questions out of the blue and don’t be afraid to put them on the spot. During a rush, they’ll need to be prepared so catch them off guard so when the time comes they aren’t flailing for answers.
TIP #5: Role play
Pretend you are a customer and go through a dry run of taking a table’s order. Have them come up to you (pretending to be a customer) and act out a service. If you think it’s silly…well it is a little. But it’s the best way for you to get an idea of how they will be once faced with real customers. Remember, they will be practicing on your tables, so you want them to make as little mistakes as possible. A dry run will help you to correct any bad habits, mistakes, and allow you to make suggestions. Also, it will give the trainee a chance to get out their nerves before heading over to their first table.
TIP #6: Shadow them
Once the training has been done and you are ready to see them in action, let them take the reigns for a while. Inform them that they will be handling everything from A to Z and you’ll be following them to make sure that they are serving the guests properly. Be ready to jump in when they aren’t sure and take mental notes on anything that they are doing that doesn’t meet your restaurant’s standards. At the end of the day, go over what they need to work on, point out any strong points or things that they did perfectly, and ask if they have any questions or comments about how they believe their service was.
TIP #7: Give them space
If your trainee is catching on quickly and is starting to really get a feel for the job, give them a bit of space. Back off and let them take the wheel for a bit. See how they do on their own. Let them make a few minor mistakes so that they will learn (while making sure it doesn’t affect your customer’s dining experience of course). Make a few comments here and there such as “Hurry it up a bit” or “You forgot to order their drinks” and ask a few questions to help guide them such as “What are you forgetting on that table?” or “What’s your priority right now?”. But other than that, pretend that they are working alone. It’s the best way for you to see if they are capable of handling the job and the best way for them to get a real sense of what is expected of them.
Every restaurant has a different way of spoiling their customers. Whether it be offering a drink on the house for a regular customer or going above and beyond the steps of service, there are always ways that you can teach someone how the restaurants customers prefer to be served. Your trainee may have worked at a previous restaurant that wasn’t as keen about giving good service as you, so make sure they live up to the standards of the restaurant.
Now you’re all set for the basics of training a new waiter/waitress. Of course, there are so many other little details, but this will help give you an overview of what to do and tricks on how to get the best out of your trainee.
Waiters and waitresses are constantly being thrown all around the restaurant. Fetch this, pick up that, take orders, run plates, etc. It’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle and can wind up looking like a chicken with its head cut off. The key to being a productive and organized server is learning to Minimize Your Trips and Maximize your steps.
What does it mean to “Minimize Your Trips”?
Well, let’s say your Table #1 needs more water and Table #2 needs the debit machine to pay. There are two ways you could possible go about this.
Get the water pitcher
Walk to Table #1 to fill up the glasses
Go back and put the water pitcher away
Pick up the debit machine
Walk to Table #2 and have them pay
Put back the debit machine and continue on your way
Or you could:
Pick up the water pitcher and debit machine
Fill the water on Table #1
Have Table #2 pay
Bring the water pitcher and debit machine back where they belong and continue on your way.
The second way is most obviously the better route to take. Going back and forth for things can end up wasting your time (and your customer’s time) which leads to a slower service, less sittings, therefore fewer tips in your pocket.
Take a good look at your section and your tables from afar, see what needs to be done, and plan accordingly. You will always find yourself at one point or another going back and forth for things, but sometimes that’s out of your control (ex: a customer asks for another beer at the last second).
What does it mean to “Maximize Your Steps”?
Make every step you take count! Walking by a table that is finished eating? Clear as much as you can. Bringing water to a table? Walk by all your tables to refill water glasses before you put the pitcher away. Do everything you can possible do while walking through your section before walking off to the bar or the back of the house.
this also applies to running drinks and plates. Don’t just take one table’s beverage from the bar. Take the initiative and bring several drink orders at once. It clears the bar faster, the customers get their drinks quicker, and you don’t have to keep going back and forth for things. Maximizing your steps helps minimize your trips. Is there only one drink order at the bar? You should be checking if there are any plates to run from the kitchen. Keeping that “hands full” attitude will grab your managers attention, letting them know you can handle many different things at once. Remember, maximizing your steps helps minimize your trips.
Different restaurants, different rules…
Of course, these things vary from each restaurant you may work at. In general, you do want to organize the priorities in your section without feeling like you keep going back and forth..back and forth. Sometimes you just need to take a second and take in all the things you need to do, put them in order, and find the most effective way to get each task done.
As a waitress, I know when a waitress serving me is trying to fuck me over.
Last night, I ordered a Grand Marnier, no ice. The waitress looked at me with a dumb look on her face and said “A what?!”. I repeated it patiently to her, asked again for no ice and she walked off. I waited 15 minutes…no drink. I saw her walking by and I asked her nicely if the drink was coming. “Oh yeah!” she said, and ran off. Okay…she forgot about it. It happens.
She came back with a Grand Marnier that had obviously been sitting at the bar too long because the ice I asked her NOT to put in had pretty much melted all the way, making it a very light orangish color. Gross.
“Uh—I asked for no ice.”
“Oh…sorry” she said and placed the drink in front of me.
I was shocked. I asked her to get me one with no ice, she rolled her eyes and walked away. She came back 5 minutes later with the same drink. She had obviously just scooped the ice out with a spoon. Gee thanks…that makes it a lot better. So I said to her “Did you just go and scoop out the ice?” “Yeah.” she said. *sigh*….Well at least she was honest. I told her to take it off my bill and went to get a Grand Marnier (no ice) at the bar. They seem to actually know how to listen to an order.
Whoever said that being a waitress these days is easy?
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with as a waitress was learning how to smile through anything and everything that happened in life. Personal problems were checked at the door as you entered the restaurant and especially never came out when dealing with customers. Sad eyes had to dabbed with a Kleenex, bags under the eyes from lack of sleep were covered with makeup, and a smile had to be permanently placed on those lips no matter how much you felt like just throwing in the towel.
“Learning how to smile through anything and everything that happened in life…”
Of course, conversations about personal problems with close coworkers always happened. I would tell stories about my personal life with those I felt comfortable divulging that sort of private information to and end up feeling a bit better. Sometimes I even needed to tell my bosses if things weren’t going well, so they’d know why I wasn’t as focused as I usually am.
“Recently, something happened. It seemed as if the whole world around me was crumbling.”
Recently, something happened. It seemed as if the whole world around me was crumbling. From a series of matters or the heart, life, death, and illness the mess just piled up until I couldn’t imagine anything else happening. Yet, the restaurant business holds for no one. People keep coming and eating. Coming and eating. The world doesn’t stop for your problems. And neither rarely does your job.
“But I got through it, put on a carefree smile and saved my sadness for when I could cry it out later at home.”
Needless to say, I had to go into work, despite all the horrible things going on in my life. No matter how sad I was for myself and others, I still had a position to fill. Being short staffed at a restaurant on the busiest night of the year isn’t exactly the ideal situation for the bosses, so I didn’t even consider calling in and asking for a personal day. It was difficult, to go in and see couples holding hands and sprouting words of love, but I got through it, put on a carefree smile and saved my sadness for when I could cry it out later at home.
The next day was a day of being ridiculously sick and receiving some heart breaking news. The day after that, I went into work yet again. I explained to my boss the situations that were unfolding and he gave me a small section of four tables. That whole night, customers were telling me that I have a lovely smile and that I must be so happy to have a smile like that. The whole night I was dying inside. Sick to my stomach, aching for the loss of a loved one, and my heart torn to pieces. Yet, I continued to smile.
“I walked away from the table, a couple of tears in my eyes but brushed them off.”
At one point, regular customers were seated at one of my tables and said “Hey! The waitress who always smiles! Are you ever sad?”. I wanted to burst out crying, right then and there. I wanted to yell “Yes! I am so incredibly sad!” then collapse onto the seat next to them in a bundle of tears and sobs after which I would curl up there for the rest of the night. I couldn’t put that on them, of course. That would be unprofessional. So I smiled and said “Hardly ever, but when I’m mad…watch out!” and we all laughed together before I took their drink order. I walked away from the table, a couple of tears in my eyes but brushed them off. There’s no time for tears when serving customers.
“The amount of strength and control that it took.”
The amount of strength and control that it took. The amount of energy I put in. All of that and just for a smile, something that usually comes so naturally to me. It was incredibly intense and one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. To pretend to be the happiest person in the world. It’s so unlike me. It felt fake and wrong, like I was conning these people into thinking that their waitress is one of the friendliest they’ve ever had. I don’t know. Is that wrong? Is it right?
People really don’t seem to realize that behind a smile may be someone who’s hurting. Someone’s who is in emotional turmoil and in need of help. Whether physical or emotional pain, it sits there behind the small, shy grin of the hostess at the front desk or the beaming ear-to-ear smile of the waitress serving you your plates. You may not realize it, but it’s there. And what is incredible is that through all the hardships and troubles, there they are…keeping their smile and working through the pain.
A lot of servers go through this at one point in their career as a server. It’s dreaded occurrence that will happen at one time or another, whether working as a server for your first time or if you’ve been doing it for years.
You will forget to send an order.
It mostly happens either when the restaurant is booming or when it’s disastrously quiet. Is it your fault as a server when this happens? Why yes, yes it is. But we can come to realize is that we are people,plain and simple. And what do people do? Well they make mistakes. It happens. The best we can do is try to learn from our mistakes so as not to repeat them (hopefully) in the future.
I’ve seen a few different approaches as to solving this problem when it happens. There are a few that I find to be sneaky and deceiving and another approach I find is the best way to resolve the problem of forgetting to send an order to the kitchen.
So, imagine you’ve just realized that you never sent out a table’s order. You scramble around to ring it up as fast as you can. After the order is sent and you know it will be another while before the food comes out, so you need to decide what to do next.
Here are some different possible scenarios with different types of servers and let’s see which one seems like the right way to handle the situation.
1. Skittish Steve – Avoiding the table until their food is served.
Skittish Steve is a waiter that will notice the customers waiting impatiently, looking around for their food and even stopping other waiters for information about when their meals will be arriving. Skittish Steve knows that avoiding the table means not having to answer to the “We’ve been waiting half an hour for our food” spiel. Of course, this type of waiter doesn’t want to confront that uncomfortable conversation, so even though they know it’s understandable that the customers will be furious, they’ll leave the plates on the table giving some half-assed apology of “Sorry, it was longer than usual tonight ” or even worse of pretending like nothing is wrong. The customers now have their food and can hardly believe how long it took. They’ll leave, reminding themselves never to return because the service was terrible and the kitchen was too slow at getting the food out.
2. Blamer Barbie – Blaming it on the kitchen.
Blamer Barbie, once realizing that she forgot to send the order, will proceed to approach the table in an apologetic fashion, informing the guests that the kitchen has somehow”lost” their order, so it will be another little while before their meals are served. The customers will be slightly irritated at the kitchen staff for their lack of professionalism, but but Blamer Barbie knows that they guys in the kitchen will be none the wiser that she’s placed the blame on them and since they have no interaction with the guest and the diners won’t get up to voice their disapproval, no one will know that she forgot to order their food. This leaves Blamer Barbie off the hook as long as no one finds out. The customers finally eat, pay the bill with a decent tip (since they figure it wasn’t Blamer Barbie’s fault that the food arrived later than usual) and leave, perhaps only coming back to the restaurant when they know they’ll have a lot of time to kill.
3. Humble Helen – Explaining the situation to the customers
Once they realize that they forgot to place the order, Humble Helen will approach the table and excuse themselves for interrupting. She’ll then explain that she accidentally forgot to order their food and promise that they are doing their best to rectify the error. She’ll go to the Expeditor and tell them that she fucked up (and talk to the kitchen if need be) in order to try and get the order out as soon as possible. Humble Helen will then offer to bring them some more bread while they wait and ask if they need a refill of their drinks in the meantime. Sure, the guests will be a little put off, but they’ll appreciate the fact that their waitress is being honest. Once they receive their food, they’ll realize that Humble Helen did the best she could in a crappy situation and they’ll appreciate the fact that everything was prepared as fast as possible to compensate for the error. Humble Helen will ask the manager what they can do for the guests (whether it be free coffee and/or dessert) and be overly nice to show the customers that it was not for lack of caring that they forgot to order their food. The customers will leave feeling like they were not forgotten about and will return because of the honesty of the staff of the restaurant.
There are, of course, exceptions…
Waiters and waitresses will of course react differently in certain situations. Mistakes will happen where the kitchen somehow loses orders, or technology fails and orders are erased. That happens, in case you didn’t know. But you can tell a lot by how servers approach you! If they seem sincere and they really care about what’s happening, chances are that they are telling the truth. If ever you’re unsure about what’s going on: ask to speak with a manager. They should be able to tell you what’s what.
As a server…
You should do your best to treat your customers with the respect they deserve. The best way to approach this situation is to tell your customers the truth. The honest truth. If you’re a decent human being and an honest server you’ll feel much better to do the right thing. Try it out and see what happens.
Whenever I go out for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it seems as if a good amount of servers don’t really care about taking care of their tables. I often see other guests being ignored when lifting their hand to get the waiter’s attention and scanning the dining room impatiently waiting to pay. It really surprises me because taking care of your tables should be easy – like second nature.
There are many little things that you can do to spoil your customers:
1. Make eye contact
It seems silly really, but if you’re walking around the restaurant with blinders on, you won’t notice when one of your guests is trying to grab your attention. As a customer, it must be extremely annoying when a waiter doesn’t acknowledge you. Even if you’re in the middle of bringing plates to another table, scan your section. If someone raises their hand, the least you can do is nod to let them know you’ll be going around to see them.
2. Refill water glasses / Ask if they would like another drink
Don’t wait for their water glass to be completely empty before refilling it. Of course, you don’t want to top it off after only a couple of sips, but if the glass is half empty, top it off with some fresh water before they have a chance to finish it all. Some people drink a lot of water, so try your best to accommodate them.
When drinks/beverages are down to 1/4 of the glass, ask if they’d like another. I’m not saying offer it on the house or anything of the sorts, but if a customer stops eating and is looking everywhere for you to order another drink, it’s a waste of time. Think of it, you’ll be satisfying your customers needs before they even realize it and up selling.
3. Learn regular customer’s likes and dislikes
If you have a good memory, this tip will really come in handy. If you’ve been in a certain restaurant long enough, you start to get to know the regular customers that come in and out of the restaurant on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Learn what they like and dislike. If you notice that they always pick out the mushrooms from their pasta and you know it’s possible to make the dish without the mushrooms, suggest to the customer that next time they can order it without mushrooms. Better yet, then next time you serve them try to remember to order the pasta without it. It will surprise them.
For example, I served a couple once and they ordered the chicken. I remembered them saying they loved it, so the next time they came, I remembered and asked “Will we be having the chicken this evening?”. They smiled and said “How did you remember that?”. I just smiled and made a lame joke, but they laughed and looked impressed. Then I noticed that they ordered the same bottle of wine as last time. I added that to my memory so that when they next time they came, I asked them right away if they’d like to start with that bottle of wine. They were speechless and said that from now on they were going to ask to be served by me. Honestly, it’s a win-win situation. Learn your customer’s likes and dislikes.
4. Serve at the customer’s pace
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve gone out to a restaurant only to have the waitress run up to me and ask if I want anything to drink before I even have a chance to sit down. That’s just annoying (“Can I at least sit down and look at the menu first?”). Timing can be difficult, especially since there are some people who know right away that they want a beer immediately (you know – it’s been a hard day). But at least give people a chance to sit. You’ll notice that guests who want a drink asap will settle in much faster than a couple dining in your restaurant for the first time.
Do not rush customers who are taking their time eating. Especially in a group, people will eat slowly while talking and enjoying their night out, so go at their pace. Instead of rushing appetizers, give your customers a chance to sip at their wine a bit or enjoy those few first sips of an ice cold beer.
When it comes to the bill, invite them to take their time so they don’t feel like you’re trying to rush them out the door. I understand needing to turn over your tables and that’s how you make your money, but most people won’t stay that long after receiving the bill unless they’re really chatting up a storm. That can be a problem when it comes to making money, but there’s nothing you can do to change that without obviously trying to kick them out (which is inappropriate). It’s annoying, but it happens. Don’t rush your guests.
5. Think of the little things
All the little things you can do to make your customer’s experience even better than they expected is a bonus. For example, let’s say you have a salad and the guest has 3 salad dressings to choose from. They seem unsure of which one to choose, worried that they may not like it, so why not try suggesting putting it on the side of the salad so that in case they don’t like it, they can change it. It’s a simple solution really and the guest will really appreciate the effort. All the little things like that add up and make for a happy customer.
Waiters, really make an effort to spoil your customers rotten. Give them the service they deserve and treat them with respect. They’ll definitely come back wanting more…and even ask to be served by you.