When you are working as a waiter or waitress in a restaurant, the tips your guests leave are far more important than the hourly wage. Whether the job is part of your career or temporary, the people skills needed will be useful for the rest of your life.
In my four years of experience working with food as a cinema concession stand worker (Popcorn Princess), Denny’s waitress, and Red Robin waitress, I’ve learned that a lot of the serving skills needed are technical. For example, a guest needs to be acknowledged immediately after being seated. The rest is cultural, like being able to smile at the guest, make an emotional connection, and make the guest feel as if he is receiving a personal and customized experience every time.
1. Look presentable. There is nothing worse than loud gum in your mouth or greasy hair dangling over the table. A smile is worth a thousand refills.
2. Greet the guests as soon as possible, and at least say, “I’m John Smith and I’ll be helping you; I’ll be right back,” if you absolutely need another minute. Educate the guest by telling him about the newest promotion, a special dish, or an unusual drink. Advertise which items come with free refills – the word “free” makes mouths water.
3. Have the first round of beverages out within two minutes – guests forgive a long cooking time if they have something fun to sip! Offer appetizers as the drink is brought to the table, if they haven’t been ordered already.
4. Be willing to go at the guest’s pace and put him in the driver’s seat. If he’s ready to order, take the order. If he wants dessert first – bring it. As you listen, write and repeat each order before moving on to the next person at the table. This way there are no mistakes in communication.
5. Make sure to ring all orders in the moment you leave the table. Guests should be waiting for the food to cook – not for you.
6. Deliver the appetizer as if it’s the most important thing in the world. The goal is to keep the guests busy with something to eat or drink at all times. Deliver entrees as quickly, complete with any side sauces or condiments you already know the guests will need.
7. After the guests have had their first bites, check on the table. Ask specific questions about food items so each table feels unique. Offer drink refills and pre-bus as much as possible. Pre-bussing is when a server starts to pick up dishes or trash off the table once they are unneeded to begin the process of cleaning the table at the end of the meal. This gives the guests more space to move and eat, and makes cleanup faster. Even if your restaurant has a bus boy (dishwasher who clears the tables once the guests leave), pre-bussing is always a good idea for a server. Pick up appetizer plates or empty glasses.
8. Make a connection! If the guest is wearing the shirt of your favorite football team, let him know. Don’t be afraid to ask a child’s name and speak directly to the child. Some parents like this. If the table is willing to talk to you, chit chat. If you let the table see you are a poor, hungry college student with a big heart, they’ll think of you as a person and not just a service. The tip will reflect this.
9. Before the first guest finishes eating, present the check but make sure to imply there is no rush to pay. Offer refills again, and pick up any empty glasses or dishes. Offer dessert, and be descriptive when recommending a popular treat.
10. Once a card or cash is put down, process the payment within a minute or two. No one likes waiting for change or wondering where his credit card went. Also, keep in mind that people eat on the way to other activities, and they may be in a rush to move on.
11. If possible, connect with the guests again. Call the guest by name if his name is on a credit card, or tell him about upcoming promotions he may find next time he comes in. Slip in incentives to come back. For example, you might say things like, “Next week we’re getting a new menu item,” or “Tuesday is happy hour,” or “Remember, kids eat free on Saturday,” if it applies to your restaurant.
12. Continue to pre-bus, and be ready to reset the table once the guests are gone. Start with the table first, then seats, and then sweep the floor. Make sure not to leave the table damp, so you can be immediately reseated.
13. Throughout this process, don’t be afraid to be part of the total team during down moments. Run food for another server, clean a dirty table even if it isn’t yours, or seat a guest waiting at the front for a busy host.
14. Throughout the meal, show the customers your best side and make use of your personality. If you’re funny, make an appropriate joke. If you’re charming, unleash the charm. Let cuteness or a polite demeanor shine through. If you like to flirt, feel free to wink sometimes, depending on the age and gender of a guest. Even if he isn’t interested, he’ll appreciate the attention and might be flattered. Every impression in the restaurant business is a first impression, and all too often a last impression. Make the most of it.
15. Too often it is easy to take a bad tip personally, or be too proud of a generous tip. Your wages will only reflect an average of your hard work. Take a deep breath. Each table is different, and each is a unique opportunity to make a connection and earn a fantastic tip.