Surviving the Holidays as a Restaurant Server

DO_Lakeview Restaurant_ChristmasAS THE TEMPERATURE DROPS and December nears, you can feel it in the air that the holiday season is upon us.  Restaurants are a zoo this time of year and already you start to cringe at the thought of hearing those dreaded Christmas songs over and over again during your work shift.  Just knowing that this time of year brings throngs of family get-togethers and staff holiday parties will either make you ecstatic at the thought of all those tips you’ll be earning…or make you want to rip your hair out.

Before the holiday rush starts, you need to be mentally and physically prepared so that you don’t become (as my boss says) “burnt toast” by the end of it all.  Accepting the holidays for what they are is a big part of getting through it, but there are also a few things you can do to make this time less stressful.

Start shopping now.

If you’re giving gifts to loved ones this holiday season, do yourself a favor and start buying your presents as soon as humanly possibly.  The last thing you need is to scramble to find someway to get your shopping done on your break in-between shifts.  Just finding parking will take you at least half an hour!  Not to mention the lineups to pay and having to push through crowds of people at the food court.  You’ll end up feeling frustrated and rushed, which never helps when you have to get back to the hustle and bustle at work.  Getting this done sooner will help clear your mind while on the job, allowing you to focus less on all the things you need to get done for the holidays.

Accept that you will be working longer hours.

Sometimes it’s difficult to transition into the holidays as a server.  If you’re used to getting off work, for example, at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday nights and then all of a sudden you’re staying past closing time, it can be quite a shock to your system.  Plans you make fall through because the restaurant is busier than usual, your feet and arms are even more sore from serving more tables, and you finish your shift feeling like you’ve got no free time for yourself.  It can leave you emotionally discouraged and possibly make you bitter towards your manager for keeping you longer than usual, but you need to accept that that’s the restaurant business.  The sooner you accept that you’ll be working longer hours, the less of a shock it will be when you do.

Get plenty of rest.

I know it’s the time of year where friends and family gather and you’re invited to parties every single weekend, but keep in mind that going to too many outings or staying out until the wee hours of the morning is going to end up catch up with you at work.  Try to get the best of both worlds without compromising your sleep.  Trust me, you’ll feel fresh and alert and keep you going strong rather than waking up with hangovers, wondering how you’re ever going to get through your double-shift.

Remember to stay calm.

We all know the holidays bring around many different types of guests.  You’ll get customers who have never been to your restaurant before and will ask a million questions in the middle of the rush, you’ll have guests who are unaware of proper dining etiquette and leave you feeling like there is no hope for humanity, and you’ll serve tables that seem to have no clue about how the tipping process works.  Just remember to do one thing….breathe.  Go easy on your customers because they are just as stressed about the holidays as you are.  Some people only go out to eat around the holidays in order to treat themselves or just going along with what their family and/or friends want, so it’s part of your job to make them feel comfortable.  Smile and be patient.  If you’re constantly getting frustrated, it’s going to wear you out and tear you down before you even realize what hit you. The calmer you are with “difficult” customers, the more relaxed you’ll feel overall.

Stay healthy.

The holidays bring along a huge assortment of mouth-watering feasts, tasty cocktails and decadent desserts.  Try to stick to your healthy ways by remembering to get plenty of exercise and make sure you don’t overindulge in food or drink.  It will help keep up your energy while serving tables.

If possible, celebrate the holidays on your days off.

Having to turn down holiday plans because of work can really take a toll on you.  You feel like you’re missing out on family time and never get to see your close friends.  While everyone is off of work for the holidays, we as servers are stuck serving.  Our loved ones tell us “Just take the day off!”, but we all know it isn’t as simple as that – but, oh how we wish it were!  Try to organize a dinner party or holiday breakfast on your days off so that you can partake in the festivities as well.

Rant about work with your coworkers after your shift.

There’s nothing like letting off a little steam with the people who understand your job the best.  If you have some coworkers that you really get along with, go out for a drink after work and let it all out.  Get mad, laugh, go on and on about how great or how bad your shift was and get it all out of your system.  Holding everything inside will eventually cause you to explode – possibly taking it out on a customer or causing you to quit in mid-rush.

Reward yourself.

While everyone has time off for the holidays, you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off at work.  So, after the holiday rush is done and before Valentine’s day rolls around, see if you can find some time to take a few days or even a week off for yourself.  Think of it like a reward for working your butt off.  Or, if your prefer, put aside some of that extra money you earned and treat yourself to something that will help you recharge your batteries.  You honestly deserve it.

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Serving Tables: Top 5 Signs That You Need To Pick Up the Pace

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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Dear Waitress…

Dear Readers,

I recently received an email from a new server looking for any help they could get while in the “rush”.  We’ve all been there and no matter how many years experience you have under your belt it doesn’t save your from those random times where you are just completely slammed with tables.  I thought it would be interesting to share this email with you, along with my response, and look forward to any tips you may have of your own.

Please feel free to leave a comment at the end of the post with any advice you may have for this new server.

Thank you!

The Waitress

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

QUESTION

“Hi!  I was hoping you could share your expertise on dealing with the “rush.” I’m new to serving and get overwhelmed a bit more than most. However, I really enjoy serving and want to know how to better take care of my customers during a rush. How do I best serve all my tables when I’m bombarded by tables? Is it better to wait a few minutes to greet a table so I can immediately serve than their drinks, or take their order immediately and have them wait several minutes until I arrive with their order? Any help and tips would be greatly appreciated!!”

– The Frazzled Waitress

ANSWER

Dear Frazzled Waitress,

Thank you so much for writing to us! We greatly appreciate all comments and questions.

Something to keep in mind when you’re in the “rush” is to remember to keep your cool.  Most importantly keep your cool around your customers.  The more they see you running around like a chicken with its head cut off, the more they’ll feel stressed about their service and wonder whether or not you forgot their order or not.  Remember to smile even when concentrating on the million things you have to do at once.  If the customers see that you’re busy, but it looks like you’ve got everything under control they’ll be impressed.

Now, I know you want to do a good job, so while looking all fine and dandy on the outside is great, you also want to feel good knowing that you’re doing the best you can with the situation you’re in. Plus, you want to know you’re doing your job well.  So…

Tables are being seated at an alarming speed and you’re having a hard time getting to them all.  Make sure you greet people in the order that they came in.  There’s nothing worse when you’re a customer and another table that came in after you gets to order first.  Mistakes do happen and sometimes you don’t see a table, but make that extreme effort to make sure that doesn’t happen.  Always be aware of what is happening in your section.

Think about what you need to do first.  What would that be?  The greeting and drink orders (most likely).  That’s something that can also buy you some time when you see other tables being seated as you’re at a table.  Ask them “Would you like something to drink to start?” and if they start to look at the menu, unsure of what to have, let them know that you’ll give them a few moments to look through the wine and/or cocktail list.  Not only does it help up-sell (they may not have taken a drink to start  if you hadn’t mentioned it), but helps buy you time to greet the new tables.  So, be sure that while those customers are busy picking a fantastic drink, you’re off greeting the new customers that just sat down.

If they’re ready to order drinks right away…well all the better!  Inform them that you’ll be right back with their drinks and head off to your other tables.  The place where it gets tricky is when they are ready to order at the same time.  Then you are at the table for a lot longer than expected and your other tables are starting to wonder where their waiter is.  That will stress you out, but try not to rush through the order.  That table deserves your utmost attention so keep eye contact and remember to write everything down and repeat the order to avoid mistakes.  Also, this is where knowing your menu 100% comes in handy.  The last thing you want to do is waste time taking an order, so when the customers have questions about the menu you should know the answers.  Memorize your dressings, toppings, sides, extras, etc.  It will help you to take orders quickly and accurately.

Something you can try is if you’re in the rush and walking away from a table with your hands full of plates, is approaching a new table and saying “Hello! I’ll be right with you” (or something around those lines).  It lets the new customers know that you are aware that they are there and that you haven’t forgotten about them.  Most customers will appreciate the gesture and tell you it’s no problem, but if you say you’ll be right with them, you’d better make it as quick as possible.  Don’t hold off on them for 10 minutes or else you’ll start to lose their respect.

Be organized!  Minimize your trips and maximize your steps (meaning don’t go back and forth for nothing and do as much as you can while walking through your section) The last thing you want to do is keep going back and forth for things that you’ve forgotten.  Use both your hands and carry as many plates as you can when clearing tables.  Use trays to pick up empty glasses and don’t forget to ask for refills while you’re at it.  Multitasking is key here.  You want to be as efficient as possible.

Something I’ve always asked servers-in-training over and over again is “What’s happening in your section?”  I’d literally get them in mid “rush” to stop and tell me exactly what was happening.  “Table 1 is eating, table 2 needs the dessert menu, I need to do a check back on table 3 and 6, table 5 is ready to pay, and we need to order table 7”.  Now, that’s something that every server should stop and do.  If you don’t take that second, you may forget to order a table’s appetizers or print another table’s bill.  Every now and then just take a deep breath and ask yourself “What’s happening in my section?” and go through all your tables.

Please know, when I give my advice it is solely on what I have learned as a waitress.  You may work in a larger or smaller restaurant than I do, so the way the restaurant’s system works may be different than mine.  The restaurant I work in is quite big and takes a lot of time to walk from the back to the front so the “going back and forth” system doesn’t work.  We need to be efficient.  Also, some restaurants have runners, a teamwork environment, and bigger sections so it’s difficult to say what the best procedure for you would be.  I’m lucky to work in a teamwork environment where if I get slammed other waiters will notice and come help me, everyone runs everyone’s drinks and food, and anyone guest can stop any waiter if they are ready to order.  In other restaurants, though, you have to do everything yourself and I  can see how difficult that can be.

All I can really say is keep calm, smile, be patient, be focused, and know your menu inside out.

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