How to wait tables

Open scene: My husband is pausing from his meal at a little ‘hood place we’ve come to think of as “ours” to sip on something called an Angry Orchard. I take a giant bite of a fajita – the type of bite you don’t want anyone capturing on their cell phone and tagging you in on Facebook. I can’t talk, it’s like having a sock stuffed in my mouth (a delicious one!). Celebrities don’t take bites like this at the Ivy. I’m verbally immobilized when our server slides up to our table like Kramer (perhaps as on cue?) and says, “can I get those plates out of your way?” and the other half of our dinner floats on a tray back to the kitchen to become alley rat food. My eyes burn holes into the back of the his head. I guess our Sunday meal is over.

It occurs to me that maybe people who wait tables for a living do not know how to wait tables. Maybe they were never properly trained. I mean, it might be the case they just don’t care about doing a good job, like maybe servers are assuming the zombie apocalypse will git ’em any day now so #yolo plus #entitlement (did I miss any millenial slurs? Good). But I doubt that. Everyone wants to do a good job, right? Well, servers of the world, today’s your lucky day. I waited tables for years and I’m ready to school you on how to serve tables The Awesome Way. Aren’t you excited?! You’re welcome in advance.

Sure, some people see eating as just an item checklist in their day. If they order an appetizer it’s only because they like deep fried cheese. They want their entree to arrive seven minutes after they order. They do not engage in dinner conversation (I once observed a date where each member of the couple seemed to be there alone, unaware of the other person the entire meal). They want the dishes cleared the moment they’re finished (they even stack them up for you!) and then they stand by their table holding their credit card as you bring the bill. Forget these people. Just because they don’t know how to eat doesn’t mean you forget how to serve. The great irony is that as little as we Americans enjoy a meal, we’re certainly fat enough. So get these peoples’ world view out of your mind.

I know, as a server, you think the faster the service, the happier the customers, the bigger the tip. FALSE. I will point out a truth to you: your tip actually has little to do with how fast you clear the dishes and everything to do with beliefs about tipping the customer brings to the table. But you can’t control that! Unfair! Rage beast! It’s a fact, though, that unless you set me on fire, you’re always going to get 20-25% from me. Moms eating salad together during the week or college kids? 15%. Groups of celebrating business men? 25-30%. Your actions only come into play to make the difference between a big tip and a bigger one, so you need to cater your service around what bigger tippers want. Hint: It’s not to inhale their food and jet.

Quit serving all tables like they have the demands of 10% crowd who treats your table like the bathroom stall, just a place to get in and out of to get a job done. Treat everyone like the 30% people. It takes little to no effort and pays off.

Here’s how to wait a table:

1. Drinks first. Drink orders should be taken and executed immediately, just like a guest in your living room. This is the only real thing that requires speed the entire meal. Don’t hover, but refill them when they get to the bottom third of the glass. If alcohol is involved, don’t even think of rushing anything the rest of the meal.

2. Heavy tippers order appetizers not necessarily just to have more food, but to buy more time at the table. We want something to munch on while we enjoy our own company. Don’t be a gnat flying around bugging people about ordering. Let it ride. We want to get a feel for the food here so we know what and how to order the rest of the meal. Oh, you’re a garlicy guac place? Now I know to order the fajitas. Two rules for when people order appetizers: 1. Go put that in the system and then come back later to take the order. Appetizers arriving at the same time as entrees? Thatz not okay. 2) Bring appetizer plates to the table so you don’t forget them later or have to carry a bunch of stuff at once. Just do it. It’s not that big of deal. Get over yourself. It’s your job. Appetizer plates.

BONUS TIP about getting over yourself: Kindness is great, being nice is lovely, but unless you are at Ed Debevic’s, there is no need to put on a show. I have known servers who jibber jabber their whole life story to the table they’re serving, but the sad truth nug I have to deliver to you is that the guests didn’t come here to talk to you, they came to talk themselves into each others’ pants or maybe just to hash out the bi-weekly household budget. Ouch. Burn. Sorry about that. The diners still care about you as a person! Like, sort of!

3. When you take an entree order, write it down. I know your amazing brain is a wiz at storing facts and you’ve worked here long enough to memorize the four items on the menu everyone orders, but humor me. (This is as much directed at you as it is 2004 me who used to write in air pencil.)When a perfectly good omelet is ruined by the green peppers your guests detest, they may not deduct your tip, but they might Yelp. We don’t want that.

4. Do not auction off food at the table. People don’t always remember what they ordered and you look like a professional when you arrive with everyone’s entree straight. You keep track of this by assigning the seat closest to the kitchen the number one, then go clockwise around the table. Keep this order from when the people are sat and execute it when the food comes out. No one has to know that you count on your fingers to do math, they’ll think you’re a magic person for keeping a table of six straight. Be a star. Remember who ordered what.

5. After you deliver the entree, leave. Then come back about two minutes later. People need a few minutes to access if everything really is fine and what they need. If you ask this question as you are setting a plate in front of someone, they don’t always realize right away the hot sauce isn’t on the table or that they’re missing a fork or that they are out of water. Either they’ll flag you down and make you run as you’re tending to other business, or they seethe when you go on your 15 minute break right after delivering the meal. If people wanted to get up in search of their own pepper, they would have stayed home. Does it suck like, Malala-Yousafzai-got-shot-by-the-Taliban suck? No. But it’s annoying, so just check in two minutes after we get the food and then go have a nice, long e-cigarette.

6. Do not bring the check without asking. Maybe they want more drinks. Maybe they want coffee or dessert. Maybe they didn’t think of those things until you ask, but it adds to the bill and makes for happier, more relaxed, better tipping people. Don’t shave 5% off your tip after all that hard work just to get people out of there 15 minutes sooner. I can see this argument after closing time (when hi, I filled my time with side work in the back) or during a very busy weekend night when you want to turn tables over, but to be honest, if your goal is just to turn tables, maybe you should be working at the type of place that appeals to ten-percenters. Just don’t complain to me when you come home exhausted from running your butt on a double shift and only have $40 to show for your time. Coffee and dessert. Offer it.

If you share this info with your server friends and everyone executes this service, your restaurant will eventually attract lots of 25-percenters. Also, the baby Jebus won’t cry so click “like” and share this post.

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Also, you should always wear this outfit.


Image via Wylio


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