Saturday, November 7, 2009

What Should Waiters Do? Pt. 2

NY Times released the second half of 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do. Again, Waiter Rant commented on the article. And again, it's my turn. The Waiter's comments are in italics, and mine in bold.

100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 2) WTF?
November 6th, 2009 by Waiter

Here we go again!

100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 2)
By BRUCE BUSCHEL

This is the second half of the 100 do’s and don’ts from last week’s post. Again, this list is for one particular restaurant, mine, which is under construction in Bridgehampton, N.Y., and will, with any luck, open this spring. I realize that every deli needs a wisecracking waiter, most pizza joints can handle heavy metal, and burgers always taste better when delivered by a server with tattoos and tongue piercing(s).

Not even a hundred suggestions can cover all the bases, so one is grateful for the many comments following the 50, including striking “you guys” from the restaurant lexicon and making sure the alcohol order is taken lickety-split. Thanks for all of the help.

51. If there is a service charge, alert your guests when you present the bill. It’s not a secret or a trick. I agree. But if your customer’s been a hard drinking obnoxious fool go for the double tip! That’s when a waiter writes the total (Including the automatic gratuity) on the back of the check and circles it - often scrawling smiley faces and effusive “Thank yous!” as a distraction. Then when the inebriated customer stupidly adds a tip on top of it you shout “Ka-Ching!” Dishonest, I know, but occasionally satisfying. The lesson here? Always examine your bill! Please follow this one,  but please ignore the Waiter. He's bitter today.

52. Know your menu inside and out. If you serve Balsam Farm candy-striped beets, know something about Balsam Farm and candy-striped beets. And know all those brand name adjectives are usually marketing bullshit. And if you don't know, at least be willing to inquire about the subject.

53. Do not let guests double-order unintentionally; remind the guest who orders ratatouille that zucchini comes with the entree. Am I wrong or is a simple side of zucchini different than ratatouille? Besides, I like ratatouille. Got a problem with that? Fucking food police. I agree with both points here. This suggestion, if handled delicately, is reasonable, but there's a tactless and wrong way to do it, and not everyone can pull it off. Be careful and use judiciously.

54. If there is a prix fixe, let guests know about it. Do not force anyone to ask for the “special” menu. Agreed. If you don’t tell little old people about that prix fixe they’ll beat you to death with their walkers. Agreed. Common sense, guys.

55. Do not serve an amuse-bouche without detailing the ingredients. Allergies are a serious matter; peanut oil can kill. (This would also be a good time to ask if anyone has any allergies.) Waiters are neither physicians or psychics. It’s a customer’s responsibility to tell the waiter if they’re suffering from a food allergy. Should we start offering Benadryl as an amuse-bouche? Next thing you know we’ll be running pre-dining blood tests on the patrons. Both the Waiter and Mr. Bushel have valid points. It is my responsibilty to inform my waiter of my gluten intolerance, but it is also his responsibility to tell me what's in the amuse-bouche. You'd be amazed at how many times I've told my server that I couldn't have wheat, only to be brought something thickened with flour. Assume nothing.

56. Do not ignore a table because it is not your table. Stop, look, listen, lend a hand. (Whether tips are pooled or not.) But what happens if the restaurant owner chronically understaffs his or her restaurant to save on overhead? Take care of your own tables! When the shit hits the fan it’s every waiter for himself. In theory, this is a good idea, but like the Waiter says, there are plenty of unscrupulous restaurant owners out there. Take care of your tables first, then, if you can help out.

57. Bring the pepper mill with the appetizer. Do not make people wait or beg for a condiment. Ah yes, the infamous pepper mill. Comes in handy as a club. Just think of the customers as baby seals. Maybe it's me, but I actually find being asked if I want fresh pepper on my meal annoying. You're reseasoning food that I haven't even tasted yet. How do I know if it needs pepper until I put it in my mouth? Besides which, black pepper doesn't always pair well with the food I ordered. This trend is one I could live without.

58. Do not bring judgment with the ketchup. Or mustard. Or hot sauce. Or whatever condiment is requested. Do all your snickering in the back. “That guy wanted ketchup on his duck! What a tool!” Common. Sense.

59. Do not leave place settings that are not being used. Unless the customer thinks their imaginary date’s eating with them. See above.

60. Bring all the appetizers at the same time, or do not bring the appetizers. Same with entrees and desserts. This only works when the kitchen’s got their act together. If an app’s getting cold while I’m waiting for the chef to whip up the other dishes I’m bringing it out while it’s still hot. I agree with the Waiter here. If the kitchen does what it's supposed to, apply this rule. If not, serve me warm food as it comes. You'll get more grief from cold food than staggered orders. Especially with appetizers which most people share anyway.

61. Do not stand behind someone who is ordering. Make eye contact. Thank him or her. But occasionally you’ll run into a schizoid patron who’ll never makes eye contact with you. Freaky. I feel like I'm being clubbed with the common sense bat. Or the common decency bat. You choose.

62. Do not fill the water glass every two minutes, or after each sip. You’ll make people nervous. True. With all these rules a waiter in Buschel’s restaurant will probably be nervous enough as it is. See above.

62(a). Do not let a glass sit empty for too long. Use this as opportunity to up-sell more overpriced bottled water! And again.

63. Never blame the chef or the busboy or the hostess or the weather for anything that goes wrong. That’s because chefs will always find a way to make it the waiter’s fault. Bastards. And again.

64. Specials, spoken and printed, should always have prices. If you have to ask you can’t afford it. Specials are almost always more expensive than printed entrees. Use your head. They should be printed so I know how to double check my bill, but I'm not terribly fussed if they're not.

65. Always remove used silverware and replace it with new. Especially when that kid jeeped up on Ritalin’s been throwing his forks on the floor every ten seconds. Did I mention that the common sense train has left the station? I wonder how many more times I can put it in print.

66. Do not return to the guest anything that falls on the floor — be it napkin, spoon, menu or soy sauce. But if a guy lets a condom slip out of his pocket be sure to return it wearing thick Hazmat gloves. Drugs on the floor? You just got your tip in advance!
I think Mr. Buschel is referring, here, to tableware, silverware, and foodstuffs. Please notify me if I drop something though. I'm capable of retrieving it myself.

67. Never stack the plates on the table. They make a racket. Shhhhhh. I prefer to deal them out like playing cards. This is what those big trays are for. Or your forearms.

68. Do not reach across one guest to serve another. I used to work with a waiter who liked to “accidentally” clip obstreperous customers in the head with a tray. He was my hero. I'd like to introduce you to my friend courtesy.

69. If a guest is having trouble making a decision, help out. If someone wants to know your life story, keep it short. If someone wants to meet the chef, make an effort. Here’s a a restaurant axiom I’ve always lived by – a waiter controls the table. Time is money. If a customer’s dithering use your Jedi skills to plunge into their mind and make them order something. If someone wants to meet the chef? Make sure he’s not drunk, banging the hostess and has wiped the cocaine residue from underneath his nose. And if a a customer wants to know my life story? My book is available at fine retailers for about ten bucks. Autographs are extra. Mr. Buschel's second set of guidelines is far more agreeable than the first. This time around he seems to be focusing on efficiency and courtesy.

70. Never deliver a hot plate without warning the guest. And never ask a guest to pass along that hot plate. But if that Ritalin brat wants to touch the plate? Consider it a teachable moment. Lawsuits are expensive.

71. Do not race around the dining room as if there is a fire in the kitchen or a medical emergency. (Unless there is a fire in the kitchen or a medical emergency.) I worked in a place where the owner always blocked the fire exits with equipment and extra tables. If the restaurant caught fire we all knew we we’re gonna burn. Why run? A moderate pace is acceptable. Especially if the restaurant is busy.

72. Do not serve salad on a freezing cold plate; it usually advertises the fact that it has not been freshly prepared. I had the reverse problem at a restaurant I once worked at. Because the owner was so cheap we never had enough salad plates. When it got crazy the salad guy would arrange the salad on plates red hot from the dishwasher. You better believe I threw those greens into the blast chiller. The same rule applies for desserts that aren't served on the dish in which they were cooked.

73. Do not bring soup without a spoon. Few things are more frustrating than a bowl of hot soup with no spoon. How about a straw? I like the taste of plastic! Dear Common Sense, It's been a while. How are you? Love, Me.

74. Let the guests know the restaurant is out of something before the guests read the menu and order the missing dish. And take away the satisfaction of getting a guest all hyped up about a dish and then saying “Oh, so sorry. We’re out of that?” Life is about small pleasures. If you're aware that something has run out, this is fine, but on a busy night, sometimes it's not possible. If it happens that you're not aware of being out of something until after an order has been placed, please recommend something.

75. Do not ask if someone is finished when others are still eating that course. Use that moment to sell more booze! Here, I find Mr. Buschel a bit redundant. Remember last week when he talked about not removing plates until all the guests have finished. And how I said it was my responsibility to tell you if I wanted my plate removed. This goes with that.

76. Do not ask if a guest is finished the very second the guest is finished. Let guests digest, savor, reflect. How much reflection does a customer need? In 24 hours we all know where that food’s going. Don't rush me, but do remove the plates in a reasonable amount of time.

77. Do not disappear. Unless you’re getting that handjob from the three martini cougar. Disappearing with impact your tip inversely. The longer I have to look for you, the lower it will be.

78. Do not ask, “Are you still working on that?” Dining is not work — until questions like this are asked. What you should say is “Are you still enjoying your entree?” That’s waiterspeak for “You done yet?” There's a signal for that that most diners and restaurant staff have since forgotten. Leave your fork and knife at the 4 and 8 positions on the plate if youre still eating, or move them both to the 4 if you're through. Learn it. Love it. But if you don't know it, ask.

79. When someone orders a drink “straight up,” determine if he wants it “neat” — right out of the bottle — or chilled. Up is up, but “straight up” is debatable. Sad but true. I once ordered a dirty martini “up” got warm vodka and olive juice “neat” in a rocks glass. Disgusting. Patrons, know your bar lingo better. Staffers, ask if you're unsure.

80. Never insist that a guest settle up at the bar before sitting down; transfer the tab. A restaurant should have a policy to transfer bar tabs to checks in place before they open their doors for the first time. Agreed.

81. Know what the bar has in stock before each meal. Waiters should know. They dip into the bar’s “stock” all the time. So true.

82. If you drip or spill something, clean it up, replace it, offer to pay for whatever damage you may have caused. Refrain from touching the wet spots on the guest. Just tell that three-martini cougar the “wet spot” will come out with salt and club soda. This is actually a wonderful policy. I've had servers drip food on the table and then toss me extra napkins. Not a pleasant experience to be treated like a maid by someone who is supposed to be serving you.

83. Ask if your guest wants his coffee with dessert or after. Same with an after-dinner drink. If they’re Americans they’ll want coffee with dessert. If they’re Europeans? They’ll want coffee afterwards and you’ll know your tip’s gonna suck. Ask away.

84. Do not refill a coffee cup compulsively. Ask if the guest desires a refill. Control the customers’ caffeine intake. They’re usually uptight enough as it is. This is another great common sense gem that gets ignored. I'm not much of a coffee drinker, so when I do have a cup, I usually stop at one or two. And it feels wasteful to leave an almost full cup sitting on the table because the server kept pouring without asking. Don't assume we're all caffiene addicts.

84(a). Do not let an empty coffee cup sit too long before asking if a refill is desired. And if you do refill it, give them decaf. Ah, sarcasm. The Waiter has such a taste for it. It's another common sense rule.

85. Never bring a check until someone asks for it. Then give it to the person who asked for it. But if the table’s camping out and the restaurant manger is breathing down your neck because he’s got a line of hungry customers spilling out onto the sidewalk - drop that check! Turn and burn baby! I'd prefer it if you waited until I asked, but if you must leave it before then, please do so as innocuously as possible.

86. If a few people signal for the check, find a neutral place on the table to leave it. Drop it like a hockey puck and run! The center of the table is a good place.

87. Do not stop your excellent service after the check is presented or paid. True. Rapid personality changes are usually indicative of a borderline personality disorder. Many hostesses suffer from this. Another hit from the common sense bat.

88. Do not ask if a guest needs change. Just bring the change. And if they’ve been a pain the ass give them a wad of singles reeking of stripper crotch. I know you work for tips. I also know that asking for change is your way of trying to ask about it, without asking. Please don't insult my intelligence this way.

89. Never patronize a guest who has a complaint or suggestion; listen, take it seriously, address it. Yeah, I’ll admit I had a problem with this. Really Waiter, you seem so open and friendly. In all seriousness, this one is HUGE. How you handle a complaint, no matter how small it may be, will have an impact on the patron's decision to return to a restaurant. You want return business. Grace under pressure will, at the end of the day, make you more money.

90. If someone is getting agitated or effusive on a cellphone, politely suggest he keep it down or move away from other guests. Buy one of those cell phone jamming devices. It’ll also stop the waiters from compulsively texting and watching porn on their iPhones. This is a tricky line to toe. I agree that the noise level should be addressed, but I think this is management's job, not the server's.

91. If someone complains about the music, do something about it, without upsetting the ambiance. But how about when waiters complain about the music? I was forced to listen to Nessun Dorma so many times that it induces seizures when I hear it now! The music shouldn't be loud enough for that to begin with.

92. Never play a radio station with commercials or news or talking of any kind. Call me blue collar, but I always thought a TV above a restaurant’s bar added a touch of class to the joint. Commercials and news are best left outside the restaurant. Unless it's a sportsbar.

93. Do not play brass — no brassy Broadway songs, brass bands, marching bands, or big bands that feature brass, except a muted flugelhorn. I think Bruce had a traumatic incident while at band camp. What if the ambiance calls for such bands? Sure, it's out of place in a French bistro, but at a jazz club? it would be weird not to hear brass instruments.

94. Do not play an entire CD of any artist. If someone doesn’t like Frightened Rabbit or Michael Bublé, you have just ruined a meal. If they don’t like the Bob Dylan CD I’ve got playing, screw ‘em. The man is a god. Mr. Buschel seems to be very music focused. I agree with him, but I'm concerned that the focus has shifted from the food to music.

95. Never hover long enough to make people feel they are being watched or hurried, especially when they are figuring out the tip or signing for the check. I agree with this. But when you’ve got to turn that table, hovering with a homicidal gleam in your eye can be a valuable weapon. If you've managed not to hurry me throughout the course of the meal, then waiting another five minutes for me to sign the check and collect my possesions won't kill you.

96. Do not say anything after a tip — be it good, bad, indifferent — except, “Thank you very much.” But when you get home input all your cheap tippers into the “Shitty Tipper Database.” Oh damn! Bitterwaitress took it down. Coward! Discussing your tip is a good way to earn less.

97. If a guest goes gaga over a particular dish, get the recipe for him or her. That’ll go over real well with the chef on a busy night Bruce. Have all the recipes for the items on your restaurant’s menu pre-printed so your customers can make it at home. I disagree with Mr. Buschel here. Chefs spend years training to bring you unbelievable food. It should be at his or her discretion to share recipes with patrons. You wouldn't ask an artist to make a paint-by-number recreation of a masterpeice, so why pilfer a recipe from a restaurant?

98. Do not wear too much makeup or jewelry. You know you have too much jewelry when it jingles and/or draws comments. You are a soulless automation without a personality. Don’t forget that. I frequently go to restaurants jingling. I don't mind, but I guess some people do. Err on the side of caution here.

99. Do not show frustration. Your only mission is to serve. Be patient. It is not easy. That’s why waiters drink while working! It’s for your protection folks! Do your best.

100. Guests, like servers, come in all packages. Show a “good table” your appreciation with a free glass of port, a plate of biscotti or something else management approves. Trust me, it’s more fun to give the customer something management doesn’t approve of! Just don’t get caught. Free scotch always upped my tips. Now Mr. Buschel has contradicted himself. I thought we weren't supposed to treat guests differently, but rather, treat them all as equals. I happen to agree with him here, but I thought I should point out the inconsistency in his rules.

Bonus Track: As Bill Gates has said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” (Of course, Microsoft is one of the most litigious companies in history, so one can take Mr. Gates’s counsel with a grain of salt. Gray sea salt is a nice addition to any table.) Microsoft listens to their unhappy customers? Window’s Vista. Enough said. The Waiter has a point here. Bill Gates might be right, but Microsoft's customer service is not to be admired.

I know I ragged on you Bruce but believe me when I say I never want to see a restaurant go under. Not even yours! Waiters need all the jobs the can get. And who knows? Maybe I’ll visit your restaurant and review it on my blog! My best wishes for your success.

Good luck, Mr. Buschel. Although I disagree with you about some things, I appreciate your focus on customer satisfaction, and have no doubt that you will do well.

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