Top Secret


About This Book

There are three very important things you should know before reading this book.

This book is NOT a training manual.  Due to the fact that you picked up this book, it is assumed you know how to wait tables.  This book will not teach you how to wait tables.  This book will not teach you how to carry three glasses in one hand.  It will not teach you how to declare your tips or tell you what kind of shirt to wear.  This is a book for servers.  The information that follows is advice, insight, and techniques to help you earn more and be a better server.

This book is NOT a bunch of theories.  I have spent the better part of the last 15 years waiting tables.  Every concept described here has been tested, tweaked, and retested on hundreds of actual tables. A server, not an author, wrote this book.  This book is a compilation of chapters written in between shifts on a double, after being cut on a slow night, and wrapped up before heading in for dinner shifts.  These are tested and true techniques to help every server who applies them make more money on their next shift.

This book is NOT absorbed by osmosis.  The only way you can take advantage of the information contained in this book is to read it and apply it.  This book will make you a better server.  This book will help you make more money.  It cannot do either of those things though if you do not use the techniques it teaches.  If you invest your time and energy into learning and applying this information, you will be a better server.


Waiting tables is an honorable profession for which I have a tremendous appreciation.  You may not intend to make a career out of it, but you should try to make as much money as you can for as long as you are serving.  These tips are designed to work in any style of restaurant and can be used by servers at any experience level.  Whether you wait tables for extra money or to support a family, this book will help you earn more. 

I wrote this book for any server wanting to be better at what they do.  It is the compilation of my experience in over a dozen restaurants waiting on over a hundred thousand guests.  It is derived from working with some incredible servers and a constant quest to improve as a server.  Each and every topic was selected with a very clear purpose: to help you make more money.

As a server people share their lives with us.  I have seen the spark ignite on a first date.  I have seen men get down on one knee.  I have seen 60th anniversaries that had more passion than either of those.  People entrust us with some of the most special moments in their lives.  We owe it to them to uphold our end and make sure that whether they are coming in to celebrate or just on their way home, we can make their day better. 

I have the greatest job on earth.  When someone asks me what I do for a living, I say, “I make people smile.”  Once you truly appreciate that, waiting tables is more than a job.  With that being said, here is how to make more money doing it.

Section One


Before the Shift




Each and every shift you work begins long before you walk into the restaurant.  In order to have the best shift you can, you must begin focusing and preparing before you pass through the door.  In fact, A great deal of the success or failure of a shift is determined before you even leave for work.  Walking in the door for your shift educated, dressed, and equipped for whatever comes your way will make your shift more successful.  Taking the time to put yourself in a position to succeed is a vital part of starting every shift.

The other part of preparation is mental.  In the time before you leave for work, you need to focus on putting yourself in a state of mind that will allow you to have a great shift.  Putting aside your worries and troubles is a necessary part of this process.  Replacing your stress with optimism will give you the best opportunity to have the best shift possible.  This is not always easy, but it is necessary if you want to make the best money you can.  Mental preparation is sometimes one of the hardest, but always one of the most valuable steps a great server takes before their shift.

This section will teach you how to prepare and the value of those preparations.  None of these steps are based on “rules” or “policies.”  These steps are designed to put you in the best possible position to make every dollar you can on every shift.  Some of this information should be common knowledge.  They are outlined here as checklists to make sure that you are walking into every shift ready to succeed.  This is your first step to making the money you want to make.




Be Dressed



The strength of any building is determined by the strength of its foundation.  Without a strong foundation anything built upon it is in jeopardy.  Cracks in the foundation of a house will decimate its value.  The foundation determines the worth of everything is built upon it.  As far as your shift goes, the most basic foundation you build upon is your appearance and your uniform.

The first impression you will make on your guests will be based upon how you are dressed.  Uniforms allow you to put your best foot forward, but they are not an excuse for laziness.  Failure to maintain a clean and professional uniform will harm your credibility with your guests before you speak your first word.  All the techniques in this book will not make up for a three-day-old ranch dressing stain on your shirt.  Being dressed for success is a necessary step to maintaining credibility with your tables.

Several areas of your uniform should be checked before you leave for a shift.  Many of these items will not only maintain your credibility in the eyes of your guests, but they also will make your shift easier.

Shoes: Slip-resistant shoes are worth the extra money and effort to buy.  If you feel you cannot afford to invest in slip-resistant shoes, just consider how much it will cost you to spend a week off recovering from a fall.  Most shoe repair shops can put a slip-resistant sole on a normal pair of shoes for a reasonable price.  This will allow you to buy shoes that are more comfortable and still have added safety. Comfortable shoes will keep you less tired at the end of a shift and better prepared to offer the best experience to your guests. 

Take a look at your shoes for cleanliness every shift.  Many servers overlook this part of their uniform, but guests will take notice of a server’s shoes.

Socks: Your socks do need to match your shoes and slacks.  Too often servers will try to sneak in white socks with black shoes and slacks.  This is a signal to your guests that you did not take getting dressed seriously.  Choosing not to match will give your guests the impression that you do not take your job seriously.

Shirts and Slacks:  These need to be cleaned and pressed for every shift without excuse. A can of starch is an investment that will pay for itself many times over.  When you look at your uniform and declare that it is “good enough” you are already giving yourself permission to let things slide for your entire shift.  You have accepted “good enough” as the standard for the shift before even leaving the house.  This also means that you have accepted the fact that you are not trying to make every dollar you can that shift. 

Aprons: If you work in a restaurant where you are responsible for an apron, you need to treat it no differently than any other part of your uniform.  There is an understandable temptation to leave all of your supplies with your apron in your car at the end of a long day.  This harms you in two ways.  First, you do not have the ability to check to see if you have enough pens, mints, etc. before leaving the house.  Second, you do not have the opportunity to wash and iron your apron.  This is made even worse by the fact that most servers will own many more shirts and pairs of slacks than they do aprons. 

Maintaining a professional appearance is important not only in making the first impression but also in providing you added confidence throughout your shift.  It is impossible to be your best when you are hoping your guests will not notice a stain on your shirt.  Do not settle for “good enough.”  Even if a manager does not notice, your guests will.  If you want to walk into work prepared to have a great shift, you need to dress for success.




Be Equipped



Another important preparation you should make for a shift is to bring all of the tools you will need to perform your job well.  Failing to bring enough of the tools you need to effectively serve your guests is no more excusable than a mechanic who does not have a wrench or a plumber without a plunger.  A great server will not detract from the guest’s experience by not having a working pen or taking too long to make change. Being properly equipped will save you stress while maintaining the image in your guests’ minds that you are a great server.

Before going in for a shift, make sure you have the following items:

Pens:  Not having a working, professional pen is one of the most common mistakes servers can make to sabotage themselves at a critical juncture of the meal.  As a rule of thumb, you need to have one pen per table, plus two extras.  This may seem like a high number, but inevitably you will be down to your last pen more often than you would predict.  This means regardless of separate checks, loss, or every guest leaving at once, you are prepared.  Your pens should match and be professional.  A capless pen from a local mechanic’s shop can give your guests reasons to doubt the professionalism of the restaurant and server.  Ballpoint, click pens often cost more but leak less and will save you money in the long run.

A Bank:  If you are required to make change for your guests, you need to carry adequate small bills to do so.  This number is often dependent on the size of your average bill.  Forty dollars typically will cover you.  This allows you to break twenty-dollar bills for two guests.  Receiving more than two twenties from a group will usually excuse the need to get change.

Mints:  During the course of a dinner service you will be speaking to guests several times and sometimes from close proximity. Inevitably, your breath will not be “first date” fresh, and having a mint will allow you to avoid offending your guests.  This advice is good for all servers, but is imperative for all servers who smoke or drink coffee during their shift.

Bleach Pens:  If you work at a restaurant that has white as part of their uniform, bleach pens are a necessity.  Not only can these save your first impression, but they are generally cheaper than replacing white shirts and aprons.

Other Items:  Several items are dependent on the type of restaurant where you work.  A lighter or matches are required if you work at a restaurant that allows smoking.  A corkscrew is essential if your restaurant sells wine by the bottle.  If you serve wine by the bottle even occasionally, a polishing cloth is a wise investment that will save you significant time over using synthetic linens or paper towels to polish wine glasses.

These are all items that a guest will, and should, expect you to have.  You will lose valuable time chasing down what you need to do your job instead of servicing your guests.  Save yourself stress at critical times by preparing in advance. This time will not only be reflected in your service, but also in your tip.




Be the Expert



How much confidence would you have if ,when you walked into your doctor’s office with basic symptoms and instead of a diagnosis, she said, “I don’t know what’s wrong, let me ask someone else”?   If you brought your car in for an oil change and the mechanic had to ask someone else how to do it, would you bring your car back to that mechanic?  When you choose to spend money with any skilled professional you want to know that they are an expert.  The people who sit down at your table are no different.  They want to have confidence in your ability to give them the correct answer to their questions and guide them through their dining experience.

The easiest way to shake their confidence is to not know the answer to their basic questions.  So many of the tasks that make a good server a great server are dependent on your ability to maintain their confidence in you.  Why should they take your recommendation on an entrée or bottle of wine if you are not able to justify your opinion with accurate facts?  If you want to be treated as a professional server and have your opinions carry weight, you need to maintain their confidence in you.  In order to do this, you have to be the expert.

Being the expert means more than knowing the ingredients in a particular salad.  Being the expert means that you know your menu, your beverages, and your restaurant in greater detail than most of your guests will ever care about.  Being the expert means that you are prepared to answer 99% of all questions your guests will ask and knowing the additional selling points to move your guests toward the items you want to sell them.

Most restaurants require you learn the components of every dish when starting a job.  To be a great server, your knowledge needs to extend beyond the basics.  Know what items are safe for people with allergies to any number of ingredients.  Know why your steak is better than the restaurant across the street.  Know why the more expensive wine is superior to the cheap stuff and how to describe this to a guest.  When the guest is wondering why they should spend more on the items you are recommending, you need to have an answer.  Not being able to justify your opinions is likely to cost you any credibility you may have with a table.

There are many sources you can look at to find the knowledge you need to be an expert.  The internet contains information on every type of spice, fish, sauce, wine, and steak imaginable.  Know the basics, as well as a few trivial facts to impress your guests.  Most Managers and Kitchen Managers have resources which provide them in depth knowledge on the food they sell.  Ask if you can read some of it.  Once you learn something, share it with you coworkers so they can gain from it as well.  Fellow servers might even be willing to research one area of the menu while you research another if you agree to share your findings.  If you are bored at work during a slow period, take a walk through the kitchen and walk-in cooler.  Labels on boxes are an excellent source of information on the food you serve.  The information is available to make you an expert if you take the time to study it.

The way to become an expert is to study.  You should not stop learning about the food and beverages you sell when you stop training.  Take the time to look up food terms you do not know.  Ask your manager if there is more in-depth training information available from the company.  Chefs and Kitchen Managers can often provide valuable knowledge.  When you get asked a question you do not know the answer to, commit yourself to learning and never forgetting the answer.  It does take some effort inside and outside of work, but it will enhance your credibility and increase the money you make every shift.




Be Optimistic

There is no greater stumbling block for good servers than optimism, but there is also no more common characteristic among great servers.  Serving will give you reason to doubt yourself, your restaurant, and your guests.  Your very faith in humanity will inevitably be called into question.  Some nights you will have a hard time finding a reason to smile.  Waiting tables is a difficult profession, and there will be shifts where all signs point to you walking out with empty pockets.

The only way to be a great server is to be optimistic anyway.

There are nights when the weather, the local team, the economy, the calendar, the competition, and the government all seem to be working against you.

The only way to be a great server is to be optimistic anyway.

You can have a manager who gave you the worst section, a hostess that won’t seat you, and co-workers who don’t even know where the ice machine is.

The only way to be a great server is to be optimistic anyway.

Optimism won’t make every night great, but it will make every night better.  Cynicism won’t make every night terrible, but it will make every night worse.  Either way, your attitude affects your outcome more than any other factor.  Approach every evening, every section, and every guest with the mentality that they are more than you need to have a great night and you put yourself in the best position to succeed. 

The key to optimism is the spin you put on events.  Every situation has an optimistic spin.  Look over these two servers in the same situation and determine who is going to have the better night.

Server A: “This is the worst section buried in the back of the restaurant.”

Server B: “Back here my tables won’t have many distractions and I can give them a much better experience.”

Server A: “No one is coming out in this weather.”

Server B: “No one is going to be barbecuing in this weather, we are going to be packed.”

Server A: “These people act like they have never eaten out before.”

Server B: “I am really going to impress this table with my service.”

When faced with any situation, you have the choice to react positively or negatively.  You need to be aware that how you choose to respond will have a tremendous impact on your evening.  Optimism puts you in the position to earn everything you can from every table.  Cynicism is the equivalent of telling your guests to keep money that they otherwise would have given to you if you had given it your full effort.   Your outlook is vital to giving 100% to every shift and every guest.  The good news is that it is the only part of your night that is fully within your control.




Be Early

The maxim of the early bird getting the worm may be overused, but it is also underappreciated.  It has stood the test of time because it is sage advice in handling nearly every situation that arises.  As servers, we are too often running in the front door checking our watches and dodging managers.  Strolling into work casually and stress-free is important to providing the service experience your guests deserve. It will give you the opportunity to prepare properly for your shift rather than racing to catch up.

Many servers would argue that this is a quality of life issue.  These are the people getting that last drag of a cigarette or sending that last text message while counting down the seconds before their shift begins.  They believe the fifteen minutes before they are scheduled to be at work is their time and they should spend them however they please.  While this is true, a more convincing argument can be made that those fifteen minutes are the most lucrative of the night.

If you are the first server in for a shift, you stand to gain in a number of ways.  Simply arriving before your coworkers and being the first server ready to take tables can leave you with a 15-minute window where you are the only available server.  This provides the opportunity to receive a disproportionate number of the tables that come in.  At dinner, it also leaves the opportunity to take over early for the person you are relieving.  Transferred tables, the opportunity to catch a few early tables, and often the undying gratitude of the person you are relieving make this a good practice to build into your routine.

There is an even greater reason to try to get those early tables on a busy night.  Most restaurants have a limited window when they have guests waiting for your next open table.  Early tables may not be the most lucrative, but they set you up in the best position to have a lucrative night.  Most high-volume restaurants will not call you in more than an hour before the rush begins.  This means that by the time you turn around those first tables, there will be a replacement in the lobby.  On average this first round is going to occur 30 to 45 minutes before the first rush of the night.  This gives you the best opportunity to get the last of the reservations or waitlist by getting a head start on the turning of tables.  Not only are you getting an extra turn at the beginning of the night, but often the last turn of the evening as well.  This can very easily turn midweek sales numbers into weekend income for you.

Better preparation, less stress, and more money are a solid trade for the fifteen minutes you are giving up.  These could be the most valuable fifteen minutes of your day.  This is not to say that your free time is not valuable, but you need to be fully aware what you are trading it for.  The choice is yours.  The early bird may get the worm, but the early server walks in with a smile and walks out with a fatter wallet.




Be There



Nearly every server has heard a manager say, “Leave your troubles at the door.”  As if magically walking through the front door will make all your worries and stress dissolve.  This is not an easy task sometimes.  Pressure, stress, and worries are a part of life; however you cannot be a great server while letting factors outside of work influence your attitude and how you interact with your guests.  You are there to give your guests the best dining experience possible, and you simply cannot do that if you are preoccupied with your own troubles.  While it is not always possible to solve or forget about all your problems before walking in the door, there are steps you can take to minimize the impact they will have on the quality of your service.

Take a Timeout: There is usually very little you can do to solve any of your problems while you are at work.  Unless your problem is directly related to money, there is probably nothing being at work will do to fix it.  If your problem is directly related to money, then you have even more incentive to not let it affect your attitude during the shift.  Give yourself permission to take a timeout and not worry about your problems during your shift.  Taking a timeout is helpful because it gives you a mental break.  Giving yourself an excuse to stop worrying not only gives you a respite, but it often gives you the opportunity to have a fresh outlook on your troubles when you are finished with the shift.

Put it in Perspective: A vast majority of the things we worry about never come to fruition.   Most people’s worries are about things that could occur rather than things that have occurred.  This results in unnecessary anxiety.  Worry about the things that could happen when they do happen and leave the speculation to gamblers and investors. If whatever has you worried has not happened yet, it probably will not happen during your shift. 

Find Distractions:  Being a server affords you the luxury of a job filled with distractions.  You can be as busy as you choose to be.  Sometimes just allowing your mind to be consumed with serving your guests can push out your worries and concerns.  Challenge yourself to sell your favorite drink or bottle of wine.  Pick a word and see if you can use it in conversation with five tables.  Try to keep every side station fully stocked throughout the shift.  You can make yourself too busy to worry and force yourself to take a timeout.

Use Your Commute:  In building a pre-shift routine, too many good servers will leave out their commute.  You have the opportunity to turn your drive time into the period where you put yourself in a mindset to succeed.  Stay off the phone and start blocking out your troubles during your commute.  Treat yourself to a coffee.  Listen to music that makes you feel good.  Buy motivational tapes to listen to during your drive on bad days.  It is far easier to leave your problems at the door when you left them in your car.

The only factor of your evening that you have total control over during the course of your shift is your attitude.  Accept that any worries you have will not be remedied during the shift.  Excellence during your shift is built on the foundation of your attitude.  You cannot be carrying excess mental burdens and give your best performance.  If you truly want to make every dollar you can during a shift, you cannot afford to be preoccupied.

Section Two


Starting Your Shift

You have arrived early, well dressed, fully equipped, well studied, and in a great mood.  Now what?   Too often servers will arrive at the restaurant and get caught up on the new gossip or just wander around the dining room.  Since you have no tables, you are not really harming the guest experience, right?  This is absolutely the wrong outlook to take on your shift.  This is the only time you have to make sure you are set up for success going into your shift.  The last section showed you how to build momentum going into your shift, and this section shows you how to capitalize on it.

As soon as you enter the restaurant you need to have a solid routine of steps to set yourself up for success.  Having this routine in place will ensure that everything that must be done for you to have a great shift is completed in advance.  Each of the chapters in this section discusses the steps that should be part of your routine when you arrive.  Learning to integrate them all into a habit will make sure you take a running start on your shift.  Each step gives you an advantage on approaching the upcoming service.

You may not even have your first guests of the shift, but you are positively or negatively affecting their dining experience.  In order to give them the dining experience they deserve, you must take time for these steps.  If you do not, you will be playing “catch up” for the rest of your shift.  Turn these skills into a routine that you complete when you arrive for each shift.  These skills help you maintain the momentum you arrived with.  This will mean less stress and more money when the tables begin to arrive.




Getting Set for Success



Even great servers sometimes have shifts that feel like scavenger hunts.  Some shifts it seems as though everything your guest needs will be in the third or fourth place you go to look for it.  Certain nights your guests will seem to have sixth sense that guides them to order every item on your menu that the kitchen or bar has run out of.  There are even shifts where your kitchen will be operating so slow, you swear they are filming a training video.  While even a great server will have to deal with these issues, they will also do everything in their power to prevent them from occurring by setting themselves up for success.

Throughout your shift, especially in the beginning, take the time for the following steps to put yourself in the best position to succeed:


Stock Up:  Move as many of the things you will need throughout the night as close to your guests as you can get them.  Stock your side stations to capacity.  Try to move the items you will need throughout the shift to your side station without making it an eyesore for your guests.  Taking the time to do this before you get busy will save you time when it is more precious.  As you are stocking up, be aware of any items you are running short on.  Knowing the restaurant is running low on steak knives, pasta spoons, cocktail forks, small plates, etc. will let you focus on bringing them to your table in advance.

Know What You Have: You also need to know any menu items you are low on or out of.  Never start the evening selling items you are low on.  If you run out while you are still selling it to your table, you will lose goodwill and credibility with your guests. 

Painting a picture of a meal for your guests and then denying it to them will spell trouble for your tip.  It is your responsibility to know this in advance.  Returning to the table to tell them you are out of the entrée they ordered will make you look unprofessional, upset your guests, and cost you additional time.  After learning what you are low on, be prepared with an alternative to recommend to your guests.  With an alternative in mind, you can move your guests to an item they will love and turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one.


Know Your Crew:  Preparing yourself for success requires you to be aware of any looming backups.  Know where you are short-staffed and where any weak spots are at the beginning of the shift.  Preparing for success means doing everything you can to steer yourself clear of any potential problems.  Know who you can look to for assistance and offer them help when you can.  Having that extra set of hands can be invaluable when you need them.


Know Your Evening:  Part of the thrill of the restaurant business is that you never really know how busy you are going to be on any given night.  However, there are some facts that you can learn to help predict how the evening will progress.  Know about any concerts or sporting events going on in your area.  If the local sports team is playing on TV or the top-rated show on television is having its finale, you can expect a rush before and/or after.  This knowledge can put you a step ahead when anticipating the evening.

During the shift, knowledge is power.  Having the knowledge of what resources you have, where they are, and who can help you get them will allow you to avoid many pitfalls throughout your shift.  Avoiding these traps will reduce your stress and improve your guests’ experience.  Take the time to learn these things and you will be surprised how much more smoothly your shift progresses.  More importantly, your guests will thank you when paying the bill. 




Polishing Your Section



Once you have arrived at work dressed, equipped, and with a positive attitude, another step must be executed to make sure you are making a positive first impression.  Your tables must not give your guests any reason to doubt your professionalism.  Guests will often still have a sneer on their face when you approach them after they have found a dirty fork or wine glass.  You cannot afford to have your guests starting their meal anticipating a sub par experience.

Guests will look for reasons to justify their first impression, whether it is positive or negative.  Having a clean table will not guarantee a positive first impression, but a dirty table will make a negative first impression every time.  This is why it is imperative to inspect your table before every group arrives.  If there is a problem with the table, you will have to take the time to fix it, regardless of whether it is before or after the guest points it out.  When the guest finds it before you, it will cost you time, credibility, and goodwill.  If you do not have time to inspect their table before they arrive, you will probably not have time to drop everything to fix the problem and apologize for it after the fact.

When polishing your section, note all of the following items:


Silverware:  Is it all clean and free of water spots?   This will go in your guest’s mouth and should be spotless.  If it is laid out on the table, turn it over and check both sides.  Your guests will.


Glasses and Plates:  Any glasses or plates on the table must be sparkling. Check the top and bottom of all plates.  Wine glasses in particular must be spotless if you expect to inspire the necessary confidence to sell your top tier wines.


Table Top: Make sure that there are no sticky parts of the table surface.  Look at it from a couple of angles to catch anything you may have missed.  Any items on the tabletop must be clean, stocked, and grease-free.

Seats:  Make sure all seats are clean and free of sticky spots.  If you have a booth, make sure the crack is clean.  If you have chairs, make sure they are all balanced and in good repair.  Check the backs of the seats for debris as well.

Floors:  Make sure the carpets in your area are clean.  If you are in a high-traffic area or cater to younger diners, this should be a constant concern.

Surroundings:  All pictures, windowsills, and ledges need to be dusted.  Glass must be smudge free.  Any blinds should be adjusted to uniform angles.

All of these things should be checked before each table is seated.  Make the time to do this in your routine.  At the point you have accepted that any of the items is “good enough” or “not that bad,” you have accepted that you are willing to make less money on that table.  A great server works too hard to allow this.  If you truly are concerned about making every dollar you can from every table, you cannot afford a bad first impression.




Knowing Your Team



At the beginning of each baseball game, the manager turns in the lineup to the umpire.  He or she also accepts that not all players are equally skilled.  The manager has to take into account the strength of each player, offensively and defensively, to determine who will start.  Some of the best players in the game have been outstanding with a bat, but a liability with a glove.  A great manager knows how to identify the strength of the team while limiting their weaknesses.

A great server is similar to a great baseball manager.  Just like a baseball team, not all of the members of your crew are stars.  Knowing where the strength of your team is on any given night will allow you to compensate for any weaknesses.  As a server, you do not get to select the crew for the shift, but you can steer your guests towards the strengths of your team.  Knowing where potential problems are before they happen will keep your tables happily dining while others are waiting for their food.  This means more happy guests and more tables turned for you.

When looking over your crew for the evening, look for the potential problems in the following areas:

Kitchen:  Know what cooks will be working on which stations on any given night.  If your best grill cook called in sick and was replaced by the dishwasher, it might be a good night to sell pastas.  Take note that all stations are fully staffed.  If a station is short staffed, give yourself extra time by ringing in their food a couple minutes earlier than you normally would.
Front Door:  Some nights the front door may be understaffed or poorly staffed.  Look for the possibility to help out.  Seating guests, answering the phone, or retrieving menus can take some of the burden off of them during a rush.  Gaining the goodwill of your host staff will pay dividends in the long run.  Oftentimes, offering to seat a table for an overworked or lazy host will land the guests at your table.


Bar:  Proper staffing at the bar is vital to the smooth functioning of an evening.  Know when you are short handed or short on talent.  When you do not have a strong crew in the bar, recommend easy drinks.  The bottled beer and glasses of wine orders will almost always get priority over the Pina Colada in a busy period with an understaffed bar.

Managers:  Each manager has their own personality that they bring to the shift.  Know where your manager gravitates to during the rush whether it is the service window, floor, or front desk.  This will help you find them in a hurry.  Know what their hot button issues are and how to avoid them. 

Steering your guests toward the strengths of your crew will improve their experience and yours.  This knowledge will allow you to give assistance where it will have the greatest impact.  You cannot cook every meal, but you will be held responsible for each of them.  Knowing who is on your team is vital to the great server who knows the importance of each teammate.  Looking ahead to avoid slowdowns will take you a long way towards hitting a home run with your guests.




Walking the Circuit



Throughout the course of the shift, you should be aware of several areas in the restaurant.  Knowing what is happening in different areas will allow you to serve your guests more efficiently.  Your section is not an island, and servicing your guests requires the help of many other areas.  Staying alert to back-ups and helping to alleviate them will keep your guests dining smoothly throughout their meal.  The best way to keep track of numerous sections of the restaurant is to incorporate into your routine a “loop” or “circuit” that you walk through during the shift.

Develop a route through the restaurant that allows you to check on the following areas:

Front Door:  If your lobby is filling up, maybe the host needs help seating your tables.  Even if you do not have open tables, be aware of how many guests are waiting.  This will allow you to gauge how much to expedite your current guests in order to get another round of tables.  Take the opportunity to answer the phone for a guest trying to make reservations.  The front door represents your next table; do not let it get behind and make a negative impression on your future guests.

Bar:  Be aware of how busy your bartender is.  This knowledge allows you to determine the priority of ordering bar drinks.  Often when a bartender is busy, they cannot leave the bar to check on food or appetizers for their guests.  Offer assistance to your bartender and they may assist you by making your drinks faster than those who do not.

Kitchen:  Learn to gauge your kitchen.  If a grill is completely full or all fryer baskets are down, food coming off these stations may take longer.  If a cook has had to leave the line to prep more of an item they have run out of, expect your food to take longer.  When the cooks are standing around, you can expect your food to come out faster than normal.  Knowing the status of your kitchen can allow you to create the best possible experience by avoiding potential slowdowns.


Service Line:  Check to make sure food is not “dying” in the window.  Dropping off a plate of fresh food to another server’s table will not immediately benefit you, but a returning guest might be at your table on their next visit.  Check to make sure nothing needs to be stocked.  Stocking items you see getting low may save you the hassle of doing it when your time is more scarce and the need is more urgent

In addition to being aware of the different areas of your restaurant, two additional benefits can be achieved from walking the circuit.  First, you are more visible to your coworkers and managers.  Being around when people need help will gain you good standing as a team player.  Second, knowing how long it takes to walk the circuit allows you to use it as a timing mechanism.  If it take 60 seconds to walk your circuit, that can serve as a timing standard to determine when to check back on tables after dropping off their food.  This will not be necessary during your peak times, but it will help prevent you from smothering your tables during your slower times.

Building a circuit around your restaurant means taking full advantage of every step. It can also serve as a vital internal timing mechanism.  This effort yields numerous benefits.  You are constantly aware of your surroundings, which can prevent emergency trips to check on specific areas.  As a result of this added awareness, walking a circuit can electrify your tips.