How Waiting Tables Prepares You For Your Baby’s First Month

Matt AbrahamMatt Abraham currently lives in China with his criminally insane cat Durden, his beautiful one month old son Kal, and his supportive wife Jenny. For more, check out his critically acclaimed debut novel Dane Curse (available for 99 cents) or contact him at authormattabraham@gmail.com and danecursepi.wordpress.com

I was terrified when I had my kid four weeks ago. He was tiny and fragile, screaming and shaking, and all I knew was that I wanted to succeed as a parent. However, the only skills I possessed dealt with waiting tables. What was I going to do, upsell him a bottle of wine or crumb his bib between courses? But after four weeks of fathering I realize there was no need for concern, because as surprising as it sounds, the skills I gained from working in restaurants were the only ones I needed to successfully deal with an infant. After all, he was just a weepy egocentric human who was demanding all my attention, and even on a slow Tuesday night you’ll see four of those… So if you’re a waiter who’s expecting their first kid you can rest easy, the following six lessons from your time spinning trays are guaranteed to get you through the crucial first month of parenthood with ease.

Kind of.

Lesson 1. No matter how bad it gets, don’t panic.

It doesn’t matter if your apps are dragging, the POS machine is down, or table twelve just found a human finger in the flan; you don’t panic. Personally, I apply this cool thinking to everything I do as a dad. Like right now my baby’s been crying for ten minutes straight, the cat’s crapping on the new white rug, and smoke from the toast I forgot I was making just set off the fire alarm. But am I freaking out? No. I’m writing a blog post. Because waiting tables taught me to keep a level head. Or maybe because I got six fingers of gin in me. Whichever. The point is I’m not panicking.

Lesson 2. You develop an iron bladder

It’s happened to us all: You have to go to the bathroom, but you’re weeded like Snoop Dogg at Reggae Fest with no one around to cover your section, so you seal up your bladder like a sous-vide bag and wait (sometimes an hour) before finally finding three minutes to sneak downstairs and drop your urine like one of those planes that fight wildfires. Congratulations. This ability comes in crazy handy when you have a baby. See, the first thing you learn as a parent is never wake the baby. Never. Even if they’re lying on your chest and you just drank a gallon of tea you sit there as still as possible like the kid’s pinning you to the sofa like they’re fucking Mjolnir, because the hard truth is a quiet baby trumps dry pants every time. Seriously. I’ve never wet myself to keep my baby quiet, but I wouldn’t judge anyone who has. It’s the right call every time.

Lesson 3. You’ll eat every meal like it’s a shift meal

If you’ve never seen a restaurant worker eat before their shift picture a team of piranhas working on a cow, except with more silverware and fewer niceties. And there are two reasons why: first, there’s only a tiny window in which that food can be consumed before the barbarians arrive, and second, there are precious few actual edible bits in a shift meal, and you got to fight for them. Seriously. I’ve seen cooks throw shoe leather into a hotel pan of Salisbury steak to add mass. Basically I’m saying if you want to eat you’ve got to move quickly.  Which is the same way you eat around a baby; you just power it down like it’s the Nathan’s Hotdog eating championship, because you got maybe three minutes before that cross between Golum and a potato you spawned wakes up and starts asking for shit. But whatever, tasting your food’s for pussies anyway.

Lesson 4. Booze won’t make it better, it’ll make it a lot better

Alcohol’s your friend, ally, parent, therapist, and old war buddy poured into a convenient bottle. I heartily recommend it to restaurant workers and new parents alike. But only AFTER the shift. And never when you’re breastfeeding. Unless you’re the feedee, and not the feeder. Then your freak flag’s flying so high I don’t think a glass of pinot will do much damage so go nuts.

Lesson 5. You only have friends like you

Thanks to the vampire hours most restaurant folk keep it was impossible for me to have friends who weren’t also in the industry, simply because my schedule guaranteed I’d never see them. The same thing happens now, except it’s with my kid-free friends, and if I ever do see them I have no clue what they’re talking about. “Taylor Swift’s twitter feud? China’s currency? Trump?” What the fuck are those things? I live in a world of diapers, man. Let’s talk about that.

Lesson 6. Babies and customers are NEVER right, but you still have to give them what they want

Every part of waiting tables is great. Except for the diners. They suck more than if a black hole manifested in the Dyson testing facility. With complaints like, “Where’s my food, I screamed my order at you a minute ago… This bottle’s too cold, warm it up… and, me me me me me me…” it’s amazing more of them aren’t killed annually (probably because it’s illegal, thanks Obama). So all you can do is shove whatever they’re crying for into their mouths in the hopes it’ll shut them up.I forgot if that point was directly about babies or restaurant guests, but you get my point, it works both ways.

Bonus Lesson. When it’s over you’ll miss it

Sure the industry sucks with all the doubles and clo-pens, but it’s full of the best people in the world. And you get to work and drink with them all night before waking up at noon in some strange place with no recollection of what you’ve done like a God damn werewolf. It’s awesome, and I miss it a lot. They say the same thing about newborns. That they grow up so fast and you’ll miss the time when they were itty bitty. It’s hard to believe, but I guess if I still long for my waiting days, despite being bossed around by bald assholes who thinks they’re the center of my universe, I don’t see why I won’t miss parenting a newborn despite that very same thing happens here on a daily basis, too.

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This Week’s Customer Complaint

In your opinion, what is the worst thing a waiter or waitress can do while serving you?

Busy Waiter

“Not be present and attentive.  If the only time I see them is when they take my order, bring my food and take my payment, then they might as well be behind a counter asking if I want small, medium or large. Otherwise, check in – often.”   -Richard (Businessman)

Our Thoughts…

Great service is what should set restaurants apart from fast food chains and take-out restaurants. Checking in is one of the most important steps in service and one that should never be forgotten.  All guests want to feel like they’re special and that you’re genuinely concerned about their dining experience.  A quick “Is everything alright here? Can I get you anything else?” can make a whole difference in the eyes of your customers.

Photo credit: Ralph Daily 2011

This Week’s Customer Confession

In your opinion, what is the worst thing a waiter or waitress can do while serving you?

Busy Waiter“Question what I order.  It’s happened before that I ask for something a little unusual (add this, take this off) and the server will say ‘Are you sure that’s what you want?’ It really annoys me because the answer is ‘Yes. This is what I want, otherwise I wouldn’t order it.’  Please don’t judge my choices.”  – Emily (Store Supervisor)

Our Thoughts…

Judging customers choices of food can be extremely insulting.  Making comments such as “That’s a lot of food, are you sure you want that?” or “Not the best choice of wine, but if that’s what you want…” can be taken very badly, leaving the customer feeling self-conscious and anxious. Instead of asking the customer if they are sure of their order, repeat it back to them and wait for confirmation that the order is correct, especially when it comes to “strange” or “weird” food orders.   Never make your guests doubt their orders based on your personal tastes.

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Photo credit: Ralph Daily 2011

 

This Week’s Customer Complaint

In your opinion, what is the worst thing a waiter or waitress can do while serving you?

customers2“Purposely ignore me.  I was at a restaurant one day before 4 o’clock on a Sunday. The waitress took our order, brought our food, but then never came back. We had no utensils or napkins either.  After waiting a while, we saw her walking around and tried to get her attention, but soon as she saw our hands raised she just walked away.  We had to ask someone else to get it. Then, after our meal, we wanted another drink, but we couldn’t find our waitress anywhere. She didn’t even bring us our bill and at that point we decided to leave.  So, we went to the front to pay and saw her by the kitchen chatting up a storm with her co-workers. She saw us leaving and purposely looked away and continued her conversation.  We left and never looked back.”  -Laura (Massage Therapist)

Our thoughts…

This is a clear example of servers purposely ignoring their customers.  Both the guests and the server know it’s happening, which creates a very hostile environment.  Now, not only did the waitress’ lack of work ethic leave the customers feeling neglected, but it also lost the restaurant more sales.  Instead of checking in on her guests every so often and up-selling, this particular waitress treated work more like a social outing.  If you’re honestly looking to build up your clientele, do not purposely ignore them. If you see them trying to get your attention, get to them as fast as possible.  Keep on top of your tables and be readily available to anticipate your guests’ needs. Read more

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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.

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Today’s Twitter Confession: Dimeond Ring

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Today’s Twitter Confession: Eating After Your Shift

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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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Today’s Twitter Confessions : The Outside World Wonders…

To Write or Not to Write? The Pros and Cons of Memorizing Orders

fan4228379043Some 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.

PRO

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.

CON

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.

PRO

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.

CON

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.

PRO

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.

CON

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.

CON

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.

Remember…

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.

Good Luck!

The Waitress Confessions

 

 

Forgot to Send a Table’s Order? My Bad…

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

waitressOnce 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.

Think about it…

The Waitress Confessions