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We hope you'll find these "tip pool" tips helpful. Check back occasionally for newly-added tips.
Use dining room-appropriate language when interacting with guests. Remember, females aren't "You guys" and "No problem" isn't the same as you're welcome. This is especially important with older guests who are used to more traditional service.
Always use a hand tray when carrying and serving beverages. Even if it's just one glass. The tray acts as an underliner to catch any spills and using it makes you look like a professional server.
Serve directly from the hand tray. Never put the tray down on the guests' table, or a nearby table, to serve. This is a sure sign of an unskilled amateur. If you're not confident in your tray-carrying abilities, practice!
Unsanitary handling of glasses is one of the worst and most common problems in restaurant service. You see it all the time: Servers putting their hands over the glass when serving a beverage or putting fingers inside glasses when clearing to carry several at a time. Glasses are a major conductor of germs and handling them in these ways is sure to spread infection.
To handle glassware properly: Keep your hand low on the glass; far below what we call the "lip line" (where a guest's lips will be or have been). Never put fingers or hands in or above the glass, whether serving or clearing.
Spheres of Influence There are a couple of very important points in your contact with guests in your restaurant or on your property that can make or break the customer service experience. We refer to these as "spheres of influence." The first is an imaginary 20 foot radius that surrounds all employees. Any time a guest comes within this range, the staff member should smile and make eye contact. The second sphere is reached when the guest is within a 10 foot radius. The staff member should attempt to engage the guest in conversation: “Hi! How’s your day?” “May I assist you in some way?” And remember, the guest always has the right of way. Never cut across a guest’s path or rush in front of him, no matter how busy you are.
Give guests right-of-way It’s a simple rule of common courtesy and might seem obvious, but when you’re hustling to get the food out of the kitchen, refill coffees and drop the check on table four, it can be easy to forget. When guests pass through the dining room, they should be given the right-of-way. Step aside and let them pass, regardless of how busy you are. It’s a sign of professional service to always put the diner’s needs first. Here’s another, somewhat-related tip: Make it a practice to walk guests to their destination rather than just giving directions or pointing the way. In fact, you should never point in a restaurant. When necessary, always use an open-handed gesture to indicate direction.
Be efficient -- save steps Every good supervisor that I've ever worked for has instilled in me the credo, "Never go into the kitchen empty-handed." There's always something that needs to be carried to the side station, dishwasher area or bar. A bar tray can help you save steps. Using pitchers to do refills is much more efficient and sanitary than taking glasses back to the fountain. Learning the proper technique for carrying three plates at one time can help to make you more efficient. Learning a pivot system, so food isn't auctioned, can save you many trips around the table. Have checks ready to be "dropped" before the guest requests it. Utilize these tips and save wear and tear on your body.
Going Solo Do you remember the last time that you dined out by yourself? Were you greeted by the hostess with, "Party of one?" If this has happened to you, you know how it made you feel. Doesn't sound like much of a party, does it? Dining out solo can be daunting, especially in an upscale restaurant. Think about what you can do as a server to make this potentially uncomfortable meal memorable. If the kitchen is amenable, suggest an appetizer sampler instead of an entrée. This allows the guest to taste a variety of foods and preparations. Make the guest aware of a few options of outstanding wines by the glass. And remember: This diner might be eating by herself this time but she could bring back a party of twenty the next.
Bussers: An endangered species With fewer and fewer restaurants hiring bussers these days, the important tasks that were once their responsibility are now falling on the shoulders of us, the servers. Who's going to keep water and other non-alcoholic beverages filled? Do bread and butter service? Maintain, clear and reset the tables? If we're conscientious servers, we are. And if your hostesses are pros, they'll pitch in too. Sure, it would be great to have a busser's help but we need to step up, work together and take care of these myriad "assistant server" duties so that service and, in the end, the diners don't suffer.
You're the expert You've studied the menu. You've (hopefully) had pre-shift samplings of both food and wine. You know the product and the preparations. So here's your chance to put that expertise to work. The guest is often looking for guidance throughout the meal. Use your confidence in your knowledge base to make suggestions. Walk new guests through the menu if they're amenable. Be conscientious not to always recommend the most expensive items. If you feel that there's room to improve your mastery of your restaurant's food and beverage offerings, ask your managers, your fellow servers or the chef to help bring you up to speed.
Are you annoying your guests? As servers, we know those little things that guests do that get under our skin. But have you ever thought about those things that you do that tick-off your guests? A few things to think about:
Your verbiage -- "You guys." "Honey." "Dear." "No problem." "Do you need change?"
Your body language -- Eye rolls; impatiently looking around at your other tables; arms folded across your chest
Encourage Sweet Endings You just boxed up half of that senior couple's meal. The toddlers at table four have barely touched their lunches; their moms only ordered small salads. The construction workers at the counter wolfed down double cheeseburgers and fries. Nobody's going to want dessert, right? Don't be so fast to assume that! Many older people have a sweet tooth and will forgo part of their main meal to indulge in dessert. The youngsters might have been promised hot fudge sundaes if they ate their peas. Their mothers may have eaten lightly so they could share a slice of cheesecake. And what burly guy's gonna turn down house-made apple pie a la mode? Make it a practice to suggest dessert to each and every guest, both at lunch and dinner. We know of a restaurant that's made it a policy to give free dessert and coffee to their guests if the server doesn't offer them. If you're not making an effort to encourage a sweet ending to your diners' meals, you're missing out on a lucrative revenue stream.
"Are you at leisure?" Determine your dinner guests' time constraints early on in the relationship. It helps you, as the server, to better gauge the diners' expectations for the evening. My friend and mentor, Mr. Louie, always asked guests, "Are you at leisure this evening?". Their answer helped him to time the meal. If the guests had movie or theater plans, the order would be taken earlier, service expedited and the check ready for presentation as soon as dessert was either declined or finished. By asking a simple question in the appropriate tone, the guest knows that you are tailoring the dining experience to him.
Servers should have the appropriate tools to make their job easier and more efficient. Then have a few extras that show their concern for their guests.
What do YOU know??? When we train service teams -- especially those at upscale restaurants -- one of our modules is a game about menu ingredients and preparations (and sometimes their wine list). The goal is to give service staff additional knowledge about the items along with some history and "fun facts". Did you know that Maytag blue (no, it's not bleu) cheese is produced at Maytag Dairy Farms in Iowa, former home of the Maytag appliance corporation? Or that juicy, tender, heavily-marbled Berkshire pork originated in the English county of the same name? Béarnaise sauce was invented by a Paris chef in honor of Henry IV, born in Bearn, France. Take a look at your menu. What do you know about the specific ingredients and preparations your chefs have incorporated? If you don't know, Google it! As restaurants trend toward sourcing their ingredients from local producers, you'll have even more opportunities to become a more knowledgeable service professional.
Is left really right? We teach industry-standard, American- style table service in which food is served from the left of the guest and plates are cleared from the right. In European-style service, both serving and clearing are done from the right. Does it really matter which side of the guest the server is on? Not so much. Three important things to remember: 1) Be consistent! All servers in your restaurant should be serving and clearing from the same sides. 2) You should serve at the convenience of the guest, not reaching over anyone or interrupting a conversation. 3) You should always be moving forward around the table. If you find that you're walking backwards, change direction. And announcing, "behind!" isn't just for the kitchen staff. If you're in close proximity to anyone in either the dining room or the kitchen and they might not be aware you're there, let them know. Many potential accidents can be headed off with the use of that one simple word.
Eye contact in the iPad age With so many restaurants, from casual to fine dining, bringing technology to the table, how do servers continue to interact with guests and not become merely food runners? Here are some ways you can add a human touch that a tablet can't match. Share your knowledge -- help guests make food and beverage selections based on your own experiences tasting menu items, wines, beers or cocktails. Remember, you're the expert. Know more about your guests than what's kept in a database. Ask about their vacation. Bring crayons and coloring sheets to the kids. Customize an order (with a go-ahead from the kitchen, of course)! A server at a large chain -- that uses tablets for ordering and payment -- recently did that for us and we appreciated it. Think up your own ways to engage and interact with your guests to supplement those "cyber servers." After all, guests aren't going to tip a tablet, are they?
Thinking outside your station The area you've been assigned to serve during your shift should be your priority -- absolutely! But that doesn't mean you should build walls around those tables and laser focus on them alone. Walking through the dining room and see plates that need clearing? Go ahead and pick 'em up! Serving beverage refills? Take those pitchers to other tables in the area, too. And we should take a hint from those sushi chefs who shout, "Irasshaimase!" when you enter. Not that the entire service staff needs to yell in unison but if you're near the door when someone arrives, greet them. And say goodbye and thank you, even if the diners weren't in your station. Make an effort to mentor less-experienced servers, too. The more we can work as a team, the better the service we're giving our guests. Happy National Waiters and Waitresses Day on May 21st!
Older diners expect "Old School" Service Many of you work in restaurants or dining rooms that cater to an older demographic. Baby Boomers (and The Silent Generation, before them) grew up in an era of more formal dining. They appreciate traditional, classic service. Here are some gripes that we've heard from friends and relatives of a "certain age": Servers not taking orders individually but, instead, standing at a fixed spot and taking all orders. Servers not taking all the women's orders first. Servers bending or kneeling down to take the order. (Several women we know have no qualms about asking, "Young man, will you please stand up?") Servers clearing the table before everyone is finished eating. Yes, we know it's come to be expected, but older diners find it rude and pushy. Servers using terms of endearment -- calling guests "honey," "sweetie" or "dear." Try not to think of these foibles as a nuisance but as a lesson in "old school" table service!
Saying So-long to "No Substitutions"? Last month, we offered some tips for serving baby boomers and older diners. So this month we decided we’d turn the tables and address millennials. As it turns out, the majority of younger diners don’t want to be served. They’re not frequenting sit-down restaurants with servers but prefer to pre-order (or use a kiosk) and pick up their own food at the counter -- or, in some cases, a "food locker". Apparently, the less face-to-face time with restaurant staff, the better. But one tendency that will confront both you and the kitchen is the desire to customize their meals. Okay, we know what you’re thinking: “The chef will kill me!” But for a restaurant to draw in younger diners, flexibility is the key. What does that mean for you as a server? You need to know the possibilities. What variations can be made from the dishes you’re offering. And what ingredients are in the kitchen that can be used to tweak a menu item to the guest’s satisfaction. Yes, it’s extra work for everyone. You'll encounter some back-of-house resistance unless everybody's on board. If it draws in a whole new generation of diners to your restaurant, though, isn’t it worth it?
Reading those subtle signs Anyone who's been a server for any length of time has learned the importance of "reading a table" to assess how to interact, serve and pace a party's meal. This goes well beyond guests signaling they're ready to order by closing their menus. Unless they appear to be conducting business at the table, diners dressed in business attire are more likely to want expedited service so they can return to work. Guests dressed up in the evening might have after-dinner plans so won't want to linger over a meal. With some practice, you can pick up the mood of the party through their response to your greeting or by their body language. Does the group seem more interested in chatting with each other than in looking at their menus? Give them some time. Is someone looking puzzled or scanning the room? They might have a question or need something. And if that couple who started out lovey-dovey is now arguing or someone's in tears -- keep your distance. The more observant you are, the better you'll be able to provide your guests with just the right dining experience.
Tips for Boosting Buffet Tips When we train buffet staffs there's usually a lot of grumbling about the meager tips they receive. But when we ask them what service they're providing guests, it usually boils down to clearing used plates. While there's no denying that this is better than leaving a stack of dirty dishes on the table, there's so much more service they could provide. Offer to carry plates or trays for seniors, children or anyone who looks like they could use assistance. Replace guests' utensils regularly, especially when you see they've gone up for dessert. Nobody wants to eat their cake with the fork they used for their cod. Make sure guests have plenty of napkins -- and wet wipes, if there are foods that are eaten with fingers. Refill beverages using pitchers, or bring fresh beverages to the table. Offer to bring dessert. Make conversation with guests: "First time here? Be sure to try the . . . " Know what's on the buffet so you can answer questions. Thank your guests for coming. Yes, we know not everyone will leave a tip, but these few simple steps give you a much better chance of multiplying the tips you do receive.
When back-of-house has your back -- and vice versa The most important thing any server can do is develop a good relationship with the kitchen staff. When they’re willing to help you out, your job is so much easier. Say the couple on table 4 is getting antsy for their meals. If your chef or cook is willing to put a rush on their order, you’ll all look great in the guests’ eyes. Talk with the kitchen, too, about ways that you can ease the pain of long waits for tables or long intervals between courses. A restaurant we mystery-shopped had an excellent policy. When the server noted that our order went into the kitchen after that of a large party, she brought us a small sorbet course between our apps and entrees. That smart move bought the kitchen an extra 10 or 15 minutes to get our order out. If there are typically long waits for tables, see if your kitchen team can come up with a simple, prepped-ahead amuse bouche that you can offer waiting guests. One chef I worked for kept inexpensive sparkling wine on hand and always had tiny hors d’oeuvres at the ready. That kind of hospitality turns what could be an irritating situation into a more festive and positive experience. And remember, the front- and back-of-house relationship goes both ways. Make sure your orders are correct; any special requests are obvious. Do what you can to make their jobs easier, too.
Elect to keep your opinions to yourself With the upcoming midterm elections, chances are good that some of your guests might be discussing politics while they dine. Regardless of how strongly you agree or disagree with their opinions, don't share your thoughts. If you can't hold your tongue, walk away from the table until you're under control. A co-worker of mine was fired when he jumped into his guests' political debate. Stay away from discussing any potentially "hot button" issue, be it immigration, religion or gender equality. Even seemingly innocuous topics like sports can be tricky if you and your guests have different loyalties. As a rule, conversation with guests should be polite and professional without crossing the line into overly-friendly. Never include yourself in diners' conversations unless specifically asked to participate. And even then, use tact and restraint.
Adding special to their occasions It happens to us all. We fall into our routine at work and become jaded. We don't really see the restaurant experience from our guests' point of view. Yes, you're there to serve them -- and, hopefully, you're doing it well. But when was the last time you stopped to think about why your guests are dining at your restaurant? Their hopes and expectations? A restaurant service is a little like live theater, with us playing a pivotal role in the experience. We need to keep in mind that this is not an everyday occurrence for the guest. Maybe it’s a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation or other special occasion. Maybe it’s just a hard-earned night out with a significant other. By exhibiting genuine hospitality, being generous and welcoming and going that extra step for every guest, we show our true professionalism. And might just make someone’s day.
Write. It. Down! If you're multi-time World Memory Champion Alex Mullen, I might forgive you for not writing down my order. But if you're one of us mere-mortal servers, there's no excuse. You might be impressed by your ability to put an order into the kitchen for a 6-top without ever jotting it down. But the guest who ordered medium rare and got well done or the one whose meal is dragging because you forgot it isn't going to be so dazzled by your supposed mental prowess. When we're slammed during service there are a million things we need to focus on to give our guests a positive dining experience. Ensuring that meals come out precisely as ordered shouldn't be one of them. So . . . write. it. down!
What's with the "finger hook"?
This time we're going to "turn the tables" (so to speak) and ask you to help us solve a mystery. Years ago, we started seeing people grip their forks with their index finger curled around the end. Since then it's become almost the norm. We've even seen advertising with someone holding a fork this way. We contacted Emily Post Institute to ask if they knew when or how this came about. Their reply: they've never seen it. Our best guess is that it evolved from the use of short-handled, disposable utensils on which your index finger naturally gravitates to the end. What's your thinking? If you hold a fork this way, we'd love to know how you adopted the grip. If you know someone who does, please ask them and post a comment. We've been wondering about this for years and would be excited to finally have an explanation (or several).
Don't take trash to the table! We're all in favor of efficiency and saving steps. But a few weeks ago we, once again, saw a server continually carrying used plates and glasses from one table to another. Whether she was picking up more plates or talking to the guests she always had dirty tablewares in hand. Who wants to look at other diners' detritus while they're eating?!? Picture how unappetizing it would be for someone who'd just created what we refer to as "trash sculptures" (clearing everything from a table onto one beverage tray) to hold this mess just inches from your face while they do their check-back. If someone tries to get your attention en route to the bus station or dish area, let them know you'll be right back. Put yourself in your guests' place -- dirty dishes aren't a pretty sight while you're trying to enjoy your meal.
F&B: Make the pandemic productive Our thoughts are with all of you, in the F&B industry, as your lives and livelihoods are affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s hoping that things will turn around sooner rather than later. In the meantime, consider using some of your unexpected (and possibly unwelcome) down time to learn a little more about your craft. Googling “tips for restaurant servers” brings up volumes of information on becoming more productive, increasing guest satisfaction, building check averages and, of course, increasing your tips. Obviously, many of you can’t put all of this new knowledge into practice at the moment. But once things are back up to speed, you’ll be all the more prepared to be the best front-of-house team member that you can be. Be safe . . . be well . . . and be confident that the industry will find its way through this.
Server or host? You're actually both When diners are seated in your section, you become, for the duration of their meal, a de facto host. Whether it’s a party of one or 20, it’s your responsibility to treat the guests in a caring and welcoming way. In his The Physiology of Taste, Brillat-Savarin stated, “To invite people to dine with us is to make ourselves responsible for their well-being for as long as they are under our roofs.” To paraphrase an old hospitality text, many special restaurateurs were born in hamlets or on farms. The simplicity, hospitality and honesty taught them in their homes were the fundamental principles used in their dealings with their customers. Conrad Hilton once said, “The thing I have liked best about the hotel business is the fun of being the host. I’ve always liked having people around me; people never fail to fascinate me. Take a cue from these respected hospitality professionals. Be a conscientious, considerate, generous host to every guest who enters your restaurant “home.”
Oh, the infractions we've seen! We don’t eat in restaurants much these days as dine-in options are limited in our area. During our few experiences over the past few months, we’ve seen some abuses of PPE usage, sanitation and etiquette that have made us even less inclined to patronize our local foodservice establishments. Servers wearing masks over just their mouths and not their noses. Managers who think covering their lower faces with open, clear shields provides adequate protection. (According to the Center for Infection Disease Dynamics: "There is no evidence that face shields, that are open by design, prevent the inhalation or exhalation of viruses.”) Fast food workers wearing the same gloves while delivering food, handling cash and running the register. Guests who wear a mask into the restaurant but not when they get up to request something from the counter staff or server. Servers spraying sanitizer directly to the table (rather than onto the cloth) so it wafts onto nearby diners. Packed bars with absolutely no social distancing. And please remember . . . Tables spaced six feet apart doesn’t mean diners are six feet apart.Yes, we know it’s extremely uncomfortable and inconvenient for all concerned. And it certainly takes the fun out of dining out. But please be super-conscious of your sanitation — and perceived sanitation infractions — both during your shifts and whenever you visit your favorite restaurants.
Need a hand up? Here's where to look. For much of my career, I worked in fine dining. I thought I'd always have a job. People would always eat at upscale restaurants. How times have changed! The hospitality industry is facing a dire situation as a result of the current global pandemic. Due to indoor dining bans and restaurant closures in areas here in the U.S. and internationally, many in the service industry are suddenly unable to support our families and pay our bills. If you’re finding yourself in need of financial assistance, check out coolworks.com for a multitude of resources. Please know we’re thinking of you during these difficult times and wishing that there's hope on the horizon.
Happy 2023 to all in hospitality! It's still not too late to make some new year's resolutions. Here are a few suggestions for those in the hospitality industry:
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Please contact Barbara or David Rothschild at: 602.569.2051 or e-mail