4 Business Lessons from a Waiter

Being a waiter can be brutally hard sometimes. You’re on your feet all day, running around the restaurant taking orders, bussing, serving, cleaning up, resetting. On a busy day you wish you had a third arm so you didn’t have to make as many trips back and forth from the line or the dish pit. I’m haunted by the words “Pick-up!” being screamed at me. And let’s be honest, being a server doesn’t exactly get you a ton of respect.

But after 18 years in the hospitality industry working in all the FOH (front of the house) positions, I’ve learned these 4 important lessons for your business.

1. Problem popped up? Don’t bury your head in the sand.

I can’t stress this enough, if you make a mistake or the kitchen makes a mistake…it doesn’t matter to the customer. They want their order fast, hot and fresh just like it’s supposed to happen. You can’t ignore them, walk by them and put them off, embarrassed to apologize for something that maybe isn’t your fault to begin with. But you have to go to them sooner or later so make it sooner.

If you see something isn’t working out as planned, or maybe keeping the schedule is going to be impossible or costs are starting to balloon, try to be upfront with the client. Chances are they can see things aren’t running as smoothly as they should and you have a chance to address concerns before they become full blown stressors. And your client will appreciate your being proactive instead of reactionary. In short, try to defuse a problem before it explodes.

2. Prepare for the busy season.

7:30 pm on a Saturday night is prime time for restaurants. It’s the busiest day of the week at the time that’s the most sought after by customers. But besides the importance of having everything you need prepped and ready, it’s also really important that you keep things simple. That means no big menu changes, no new trial software, or different server sections. Your staff need to be familiar and work comfortably to be as efficient as possible.

In business that means that you have the foresight to plan ahead and have staff hired and trained for the busy season. Anticipate your needs, prepare for the most common problems and follow these two well-known adages, the Law of the 7 Ps and KISS.

3. The customer may not be right, but they’re paying you so make it right.

This is a toughie because, in the end, the customer is paying for a good/service that you’re providing. It’s really that simple but sometimes customers can make this simple transaction way too complicated and stressful. Bossy, pushy, arrogant, and demanding customers are an almost daily occurrence for most servers. Yet it is possible to sharpen your communication and negotiation skills such that you can satisfy (most) guests.

And that’s the secret, communicating your desire to your guest to make them happy in a calm, polite manner. Instead of saying “but” or “can’t”, tell your guests what you will do for them and show how that it’s above and beyond what you normally provide. It’s accommodate, not acquiesce. Realize that helping your customer pays dividends and that you both benefit in the end.

4. It’s all about the experience.

Whether or not a guest comes back to a restaurant depends on their own criteria but more often than not it’s about value, personal tastes, and the experience. While you can tinker with prices and portion sizes and try new recipes every once in a while, you interact with your guests every day and a great deal of these interactions form the overall experience they have with you.

Every contact point with your customer should be checked to ensure that you’re providing a positive experience. Do your staff know proper phone etiquette? Do you have a list of important information that staff may need to know (so they don’t have to put someone on hold to find out what your hours of operation are, which happens a lot)? Is there anything broken or in need of repair? Is your business clean and welcoming? All these things are routinely overlooked but so important.

It doesn’t take a genius to be a good server, but surprisingly there are many terrible servers out there. The same applies to any business and yet we’ve all heard horror stories that have left us wincing. But if you remember to acknowledge and communicate, prepare, accommodate, and create a positive experience, I believe you’ll cement your reputation in the hearts and minds (and wallets) of your customers.

~Rob

For close to 20 years, Rob has worked in bars, pubs, pool halls, fine dining restaurants, bistros, banquet halls and everything in between doing every job there is to do.

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