Sunday, November 1, 2009

What Should Waiters Do?

 Waiter Rant responded to an NY Times article from the perspective as a waiter. I'm responding as someone who both understands the staff perspective AND as a patron. My responses are bolded.

One Hundred Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do! WTF?
October 29th, 2009 by Waiter

There was an entry in today’s “You’re the Boss” blog on the New York Times website entitled “One Hundred Things Restaurant Staffers should never do. (Part 1).” Oh man, I just had this rip a new one. My responses are in italics.


Herewith is a modest list of dos and don’ts for servers at the seafood restaurant I am building. Veteran waiters, moonlighting actresses, libertarians and baristas will no doubt protest some or most of what follows. They will claim it homogenizes them or stifles their true nature. And yet, if 100 different actors play Hamlet, hitting all the same marks, reciting all the same lines, cannot each one bring something unique to that role?

1. Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting. Translation - “I’ll be happy to make you feel warm, cuddly and take you for everything you’re worth.” A simple hello will suffice.

2. Do not make a singleton feel bad. Do not say, “Are you waiting for someone?” Ask for a reservation. Ask if he or she would like to sit at the bar. Yeah, but we waiters know you’re on a blind date and are already laying bets if you’re gonna bolt when you discover your internet love is 300 pounds of unwashed manic-depressive goodness. If you feel bad being asked if you're dining alone, then you need to spend more time with your therapist. There is nothing shameful about taking yourself out for a meal.

3. Never refuse to seat three guests because a fourth has not yet arrived. This is complete bullshit and a money loser for the restaurant. What happens when you seat those three people but their friend doesn’t show up for an hour? I’ll tell you what – they’ll eat bread and water while waiting for their friend to get his or her chronically passive-aggressive late ass in gear. The result being that the restaurant can’t turn the table and no one, including the waiter, makes money. If 3/4 of my party is available and on time, then you are wasting my time by not seating me and I'm more likely to leave. As a rule, I will wait at the bar for no more than 20 minutes and then I will start without the tardy member of my party. This is a courtesy to both the restaurant and to them.

4. If a table is not ready within a reasonable length of time, offer a free drink and/or amuse-bouche. The guests may be tired and hungry and thirsty, and they did everything right. Okay, that might work if your restaurant has a bar or some other space for people to enjoy their “amuse-bouche.” But have you seen how tightly packed restaurants are in Manhattan? Enjoy your free cocktail in that coat closet! If I have reservations at a restaurant, and have waited patiently, and you are holding up my meal for more than 30 minutes without offering some concession, I will leave. Overbooking is not a proper excuse for treating loyal clientele poorly. Expecting me to wait for a reasonable amount of time is acceptable. Expecting me to wait for longer than that without offering something to make up for it is not. Period. Sorry, Waiter, tiny restaurants and large crowds don't excuse rudeness.

5. Tables should be level without anyone asking. Fix it before guests are seated. Yeah, we had little rubber wedges called “Shuv-Its” to level the table. Whenever I had a customer who whined about their table (After they knocked it askew with their goddamn baby carriage) I’d tell them it’d help them “Shove it.” Got some priceless looks with that line. They *should* be level, but the reality is, a lot of places have turnover that's too high for this. If the table wobbles a little, it's not offensive to let someone know. In a perfect world all tables would be level. In this one, shit happens. Deal with the problem, then move on.

6. Do not lead the witness with, “Bottled water or just tap?” Both are fine. Remain neutral. Since when did customers become witnesses? Maybe when the waiter goes postal and indulges in some blunt force trauma fun with a bottle of Perrier. This is a restaurant's way of making money and the waiters are trying to upcharge you for it. I would find it refreshing to meet one that wasn't trying to poach more money from my wallet.

7. Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness. I agree with this one. Telling a customer your name just gives them permission to shout it across the dining room when they run out of bread. But no cuteness? How can I not be me? I agree as well. Be professional. Unless I'm a regular and have established a friendship with you. Obviously that changes the rules.

8. Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials. Wait for the right moment. But if they’re rude and talking on a cell phone for ten minutes – interrupt away. Half the time they’re talking to their therapist anyway. Smashing the phone to bits is a nice touch too. If you must interrupt me, be polite about it and acknowledge the fact with an "excuse me." You need to turn your table over as quickly as possible and that's fine, but advertising that fact is rude and will not net you a good tip.

9. Do not recite the specials too fast or robotically or dramatically. It is not a soliloquy. This is not an audition. So how are the actors waiting tables ever going to get any practice in? How can they bring “something unique to their role?” Recite the specials in a normal conversational tone. It's common sense and we both should be using it.

10. Do not inject your personal favorites when explaining the specials. So what do you do when a customers asks, “Well, what do you like?” Tell them it’s all good? Something sucks. Customers aren’t that stupid. You *should* tell me what you prefer. Just because something is a special, doesn't make it worth eating. If the seasonal vegetables are particularly nice, or the fish is especially delicious, I want to know. Conversely, if the meat is dry or the sauce is a bit salty, I want to know that too. I'm paying money for this and if it sucks, I'm not going to be pleased.

11. Do not hustle the lobsters. That is, do not say, “We only have two lobsters left.” Even if there are only two lobsters left. But if you hear a waiter say “the lobster’s been very popular tonight” that means we’re running low. I agree with the Waiter here. If done tactfully, there's a right way to move certain items on the menu. Being a good waiter is being a good salesman.

12. Do not touch the rim of a water glass. Or any other glass. Agreed. You can really never know if your waiter washed his hands after taking a dump. Sadly, I agree as well. Waiters, wash your damn hands. Patrons too.

13. Handle wine glasses by their stems and silverware by the handles. See above. Ditto.

14. When you ask, “How’s everything?” or “How was the meal?” listen to the answer and fix whatever is not right. Wrong. A good waiter should never ask “How’s everything?” That entertains the possibility that the kitchen produced crap. Perish the thought! Customers need to grow a set and tell the waiter they don’t like their food. We’re not mind readers. Wrong. You should ask me if I'm enjoying my meal. I agree that it is my responsibility to inform you of a problem, but you work in the "hospitality industry" and that involves being hospitable which includes an inquiry to my level of satisfaction during a meal. Sorry.

15. Never say “I don’t know” to any question without following with, “I’ll find out.” Aw man, just Google the answer on your iPhone table side. Get with the 21st century. If you don't know, I'd rather you tell me than make something up, but I agree that the follow up should be to find out.

16. If someone requests more sauce or gravy or cheese, bring a side dish of same. No pouring. Let them help themselves. Yes, the restaurant doesn’t want to be named in a lawsuit when the customer finally has that heart attack. Lawsuits aside, if I'm helping myself, I'm doing your job as a server. If that's the case, then why am I tipping you again?

17. Do not take an empty plate from one guest while others are still eating the same course. Wait, wait, wait. Yeah, but some customers hate having an empty plate in front of them whether or not someone else is eating. What do you do in that circumstance? Tell them they’re being rude? Maybe smashing the plate on the floor’s the answer. Wait. If I want you to remove the dish from the table before my companion is finished, I will inform you. Etiquette wins on this one. If you're the one to deviate from that, then it's your responsibilty to say something to your server about it.

18. Know before approaching a table who has ordered what. Do not ask, “Who’s having the shrimp?” I agree with this. That’s why waiters note the position of the diner on their dupe pad. But what do you do when the customers pay musical chairs? It’s auction off the food time! I agree. Especially in a time when so many people have (real, imagined, or en vogue) food allergies, you simply cannot afford to put the wrong plate in front of the wrong person. Know your stuff.

19. Offer guests butter and/or olive oil with their bread. Wait a minute. I though Bloomberg banned all fats from New York City! Why isn't the butter or olive oil coming out at the same time as the bread?  

20. Never refuse to substitute one vegetable for another. So when you run out of that organically farmed heirloom asparagus grown by environmental pot smoking hippies give them nothing. That's not your call as a waiter anyway.

21. Never serve anything that looks creepy or runny or wrong. Sound like some of the blind dates I’ve seen my customers reel in. Throw it back! So don't serve sauce because it's runny. Or eggs with underdone yolks. I think you mean, don't serve crappy food. Again, common sense people.

22. If someone is unsure about a wine choice, help him. That might mean sending someone else to the table or offering a taste or two. But if the customer wants to try every wine in the place they’re trying to get drunk on your dime. Happens. There's a fine line here. Know it, and obey it.

23. If someone likes a wine, steam the label off the bottle and give it to the guest with the bill. It has the year, the vintner, the importer, etc. I guess Mr. Buschel has never worked in place that was kick ass crazy busy. I’d write the info down on a piece of paper. Busy waiters don’t have time for arts and crafts projects. Just write it down for me. I'm not looking for a pretty picture, I just want the information.

24. Never use the same glass for a second drink. When the dishwasher’s on his marijuana break and there are no clean glasses to be found, you better believe we reuse that glass. Or somebody else’s! A quick rinse in the slop sink and you’re good to go. Don't be *obvious* about reusing the glass, unless you're refilling it tableside.

25. Make sure the glasses are clean. Inspect them before placing them on the table. That’s because the lipstick some chicks smear on their mouths has the staying power of grout sealant. Agreed.

26. Never assume people want their white wine in an ice bucket. Inquire. And make sure not to laugh when they want ice cubes in their Brunello! Snicker, snicker……. Wrong. White wine is best served slightly chilled. Put the damn bottle in a bucket. If they don't want it cold, it's their responsibility to say so.

27. For red wine, ask if the guests want to pour their own or prefer the waiter to pour. So just how are we supposed to hustle wine and increase everyone’s profits? I give Buschel’s restaurant less than a year. Again, customers need to grow a set here. If you want to control your intake tell the waiter you’ll do all the pouring. If I want to pour it myself, I will inform you. Asking me if I want you to do part of your job for you is inappropriate.

28. Do not put your hands all over the spout of a wine bottle while removing the cork. Don’t want to give anyone a dose of that H1N1 you’ve been fighting but can’t take time off to recuperate from because your boss is a soulless, mercenary asshole. See the note about washing your hands.

29. Do not pop a champagne cork. Remove it quietly, gracefully. The less noise the better. Agreed. But if the customer’s a real pain in the ass aim for their eye. Agreed. It's a waste of precious bubbles, and it's loud and obnoxious.

30. Never let the wine bottle touch the glass into which you are pouring. No one wants to drink the dust or dirt from the bottle. Does that’s that hold true for serving beer too? I don't want the dust or the germs from you having your mitts all over it when you took out the cork and didn't wash your hands.

31. Never remove a plate full of food without asking what went wrong. Obviously, something went wrong. Have you seen the Brobdingnagian portions some restaurants serve? If you ate if all you’d explode like Mr. Creosote! Something didn't necessarily go wrong, but please inquire anyway.

32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them. So what do you do if that three martini cougar offers you a handjob? Waiter's snark aside, this is a good rule. The exception is if I'm a regular and have established that level of familiarity with you. I hug the staff at Giorgio's all the time and would be upset if they didn't reciprocate.

33. Do not bang into chairs or tables when passing by. I’d agree with this if greedy NYC restauranteurs didn’t pack their guests cheek to jowl like chickens on a poultry farm. Because heaven forbid that you accidentally brush against something when you move around. Get real kids.

34. Do not have a personal conversation with another server within earshot of customers. But if its the end of the night and you have a romantic couple that just won’t get out, a high volume discussion about genital warts is in order. Idle chatter with your coworker is one thing, but a complete rudown of your drama is another. Save it for after your shift. In return, I'll keep my drama away from the dinner table as well. Let's breed some mutual respect, ok?

35. Do not eat or drink in plain view of guests. I’d agree with this if restaurants weren’t so cheap and actually fed their employees! I worked at one place where they deducted $2 per shift for staff meals and didn’t give us any! “Madam, if your done with your osso bucco may I have it?” Honestly, I don't care if you eat in front of me. You deserve a meal as much as I do.

36. Never reek from perfume or cigarettes. People want to smell the food and beverage. Man, I had to deal with waiters who never took showers! You prayed they covered up the stank with a good toke of B.C. Bud. Lather, rinse, repeat. Nevermind wanting to smell the food and beverage, some people are allergic to that nonsense.

37. Do not drink alcohol on the job, even if invited by the guests. “Not when I’m on duty” will suffice. Oh give me a fucking break. Without alcohol waiters would be killing restaurant managers and hostesses every day. Don't get sloppy drunk on the job. But if a customer invites you to share a drink and it isn't against your restaurant's policy, then why not?

38. Do not call a guy a “dude.” Unless he’s a surfer. Common sense.

39. Do not call a woman “lady.” I prefer the terms “Madam” and “Broad.” If you're being derrogatory, then don't do it. As in, "What do you want to eat, Lady?" but if you're referring to me as a lady, then I don't mind. As in, "And what would the lady like to drink, this evening?"

40. Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad. Yeah, but some of the options on the menu really do suck. Some choices are better than others, it's a simple statement of fact. This one doesn't bother me at all.

41. Saying, “No problem” is a problem. It has a tone of insincerity or sarcasm. “My pleasure” or “You’re welcome” will do. Bullshit. People who use these pleasantries are just as likely to be turds like anyone else. “ may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” You’re not the only one who can whip out Shakespeare Mr. Buschel! Sorry Waiter, I'm with Mr. Buschel on this one. Saying "No problem" implies that what I requested was problematic. It's not. It's your job.

42. Do not compliment a guest’s attire or hairdo or makeup. You are insulting someone else. But can you tell a guy when his fly’s open? There are some things I just don’t want to see. Explain to me how it's insulting to anyone to express admiration for someone. I think the world could do with more compliments.

43. Never mention what your favorite dessert is. It’s irrelevant. Translation? You’re only a waiter. You’re nobody. You’re irrelevant. Something tells me Mr. Buschel’s a bit of an elitist. Good luck with the restaurant buddy! You’re gonna have a hard time finding waiters when they read this tripe. Mention away. I want to know what's decadent and delicious. You're not holding a gun to my head and forcing the baked alaska on me by saying you think it's the best.

44. Do not discuss your own eating habits, be you vegan or lactose intolerant or diabetic. Yeah, no one wants to know you’re a sickly nuts and twigger anyway. This is probably because I suffer from a food sensitivity, but I find it reassuring when I know you do too. It means you'll treat my special request with the seriousness I require because you know how it feels.

45. Do not curse, no matter how young or hip the guests. That’s an example of ageism right there! What makes you think old people don’t appreciate salty language? “Happy Fucking Eightieth Birthday Grandma!” It is an example of ageism. But please don't swear at me or anyone else. I'll try not to do the same to you.

46. Never acknowledge any one guest over and above any other. All guests are equal. Oh please……just kiss up to the person paying the bill. No. They're not. Your regulars are your family. All guests should be treated with respect and dignity, but some people are special. Not because they pay more, but because they are better behaved, more caring, and treat your staff above and beyond the kindess and respect they deserve. You want to foster relatioships with those people by making them feel as special as they are.

47. Do not gossip about co-workers or guests within earshot of guests. But if the guests are the parents or significant other of a waiter you hate, let that story about their linen closet/cucumber dildo episode slip out. Ooops. Did I say that? Yeah, don't do it.

48. Do not ask what someone is eating or drinking when they ask for more; remember or consult the order. But waiters lose the order slip half the time anyway. I’d much rather ask the customer than deliver them the wrong dish. You know why? Because the restaurant will make you pay for it if it is! I'd rather you ask than get my order wrong.

49. Never mention the tip, unless asked. But if they do ask feel free to inquire if they’re related to Ebeneezer Scrooge. How tacky.

50. Do not turn on the charm when it’s tip time. Be consistent throughout. I’ve found a consistent, “Don’t even think of fucking with me” attitude is usually more appropriate. I'm not an idiot. If you've been a jackass all night and then suddenly get all charming when the bill comes, I will tip you less for insulting my intelligence. Again, it's that whole mutual respect things.

Man, I can't wait to see "Part 2."

Neither can I.

No comments:

Post a Comment