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.
“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
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.