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Six Things You Need to Know to be a Good Waiter or Server

The most important principles one should adhere to in order to do the job well and make the most money possible in the process.

In my life, I have had many jobs. There is one job, however, that I have turned to again and again when I needed money quickly. This job is waiting tables. Waiting tables, if you’re good at it, is an easy job that yields you cash-in-pocket on a daily basis.

At first blush, many people would think of this job as menial or beneath them. Some people might even think, “What’s so hard about taking orders?” Becoming a good server takes time and practice. Many people cannot deal with the pressure that is ever-present in the food service industry. Organization and time management are essential factors in perfecting the art of waiting tables.

This being said, if you are one of those people who can handle the pressure, stay calm and organized, and keep a positive attitude through it all, then by all means wait tables. It is the blue-collar job of the twenty-first century. There are a few things you need to know, however, to be a good server or waitperson. The following is a list of six things you need to know to be a great server, in no particular order.

  1. Know Your Menu

    Chances are if you work at a reputable establishment, you must know the menu inside and out before ever even hitting the floor. Not knowing the menu is the death-blow to your rapport with your tables. Sure, some people can charm their way out of this situation, but it is always better to be proactive. Knowing the ingredients of an item and what it comes with is your job, and it’s not rocket science. If you have to return to your table to ask those questions you should have asked on the first go-round, you have diminished your customers’ faith in you, which could definitely harm your tip.

  2. Learn to Read People

    In general, people are easy to read. If you walk up to a table and the customers don’t even pause their conversation to look at you, you know right away that they don’t want to be bothered. Get them what they ask for and don’t interrupt unless you absolutely have to; be attentive, not intrusive. Get refills before they ask, etc. Let them know your name up front and ask them to let you know when they need anything.

    There are also people who are in a rush, people who have had a bad day, or people who want to relax and take their time. Dealing with these different types of people and situations in a consistent and professional manner will help your tips grow.

    If someone is in a rush and starts telling you what they want as soon as you approach the table, take their order, smile, and reassure them that you realize they are in a hurry and that you will do your best to get them what they need in a timely fashion. Additionally, have their check ready for them as soon as you drop off their food. Let them know that if they want anything else, you can definitely modify the check as needed.

    On the other hand, if you have people that want to relax, don’t rush them! Put the ball in their court and let them know you’ll be around when they need you. Tell them to simply get your attention when they need something. Always smile.

  3. Stay Calm and Positive

    As easy as it is to read people, it is equally easy for them to read your mood as well. Do your very best to project a calm and pleasant attitude. You don’t have to overact or be a fake, because that is just as obvious to people as a bad attitude.

    Panic is contagious. If you are slammed (very busy) and in the weeds (overwhelmed), it can be difficult to approach a table calmly, knowing everything you have to do when you get back to the kitchen. However, projecting a calm attitude will go a long way in reassuring your customers that they will receive good service.

    Perception is key when it comes to customer service. If a customer thinks something is going wrong, it is going wrong-no matter what you do to earn their trust. It is of paramount importance that you stay calm in their eyes no matter what. No running around, making excuses, or apologizing unnecessarily. All of these things convey a lack of confidence and a sense of ineptitude. If they feel this way, chances are your tips will go down. Basically, staying calm and positive in the customers’ eyes will help ensure that you receive good tips for your hard work.

  4. Know When to Ask For Help: Be a Team Player

    Nobody is perfect and nobody is a machine. No matter how good you think you are, there are times when you need help. You have a lot of things on your plate when waiting tables, no pun intended. Asking your co-workers for help fosters an environment of teamwork, which is most definitely necessary in the foodservice industry.

    Many corporate restaurants have requirements for teamwork, such as FIFO (full hands in, full hands out). Policies will vary from restaurant to restaurant. However, being a team player at all times also earns recognition from management, which can get you better shifts and, in turn, more money. Fill the ice bin, run food, take out the trash, make drinks for your fellow employees when they’re busy. Do what you can, when you can. Everyone will appreciate it, and your shift will go by more quickly if you keep yourself busy.

  5. Keep The End In Sight

    A busy shift at a restaurant can be overwhelming and draining, if you let that happen to yourself. Some days will no doubt be better than others, but many restaurants have employees that never seem to want to work or be busy. Keep the end result in mind: If you are busy, you are making money. And, if you are practicing the other principles listed above, you are probably making good money.

    Everything in a restaurant is temporary. The food is there, then gone. The same goes for the customers in your section, the mess on the floor, or the time you feel overwhelmed. Don’t let it get to you. If you have a table that is being rude to you, just shrug it off, smile, and know they’ll be gone soon. When you are slammed and in the weeds, just remember that it will all be over in a little while, and that at the end of it all, you’ll have a bit more money in your pocket.

  6. Closing Out

    Waiting tables isn’t always going to be easy, but it can become easier the more you practice the principles outlined in this article. Practicing these things during each shift will get you closer to becoming a professional waiter that sees one-hundred plus dollars each and every shift. Then, you’ll have more time and money to do the things that you really want to do. Remember, waiters work while others play.

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