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March 14, 2011 | by  | in News | [ssba]

How to be a Good Waitperson/Patron


One of the joys of having a front of house position, where you deal with more people than you could ever know and for minimum wage, is that everything is blamed on you. You have to coordinate between other floor staff, a maitre’d/manager, the customers and the kitchen. It is not an easy job to do well, so here are some things to keep in mind.

Yes, you are being paid to be happy all of the time. Suck it up and smile. Your personal life is personal, and this is work. Leave your cellphone on silent in your bag, and ignore your personal life completely the moment you start. You’ll feel better.

Always carry a lighter, pen, scrap paper and wine knife. Especially on break, and even out of work.
Be nice, really nice, to the people working in the kitchen. Ask if they have a preference for how dishes are stacked and appreciate that they are busy, stressed, and don’t need ‘hungover waitress #4, who keeps sneaking into the kitchen to text her boyfriend’ to give them any problems. Make sure you know the specials and if there are any menu items that they want you to push. Then, sell them.

If asked a question, do not make up the answer but don’t outright say that you don’t know. Work on a few key sentences which will make you appear proactive and willing to ask for help. If you lie about the ingredients in a dish, even by ignorant omission, chances are it will bite you.

Instead of counting tips in a country where tipping is rare, aim for little things, like making five people laugh in one shift, or having customers talk you up to your boss.

If you have been asked to change the ingredients in a cocktail or food item, ask whoever will make it before agreeing. It is a huge pain for the kitchen and often simply not possible. Keep in mind that all dishes are put together to taste good, and removing/altering ingredients will probably just end with the customer not liking their meal.
Don’t complain to the customers about the business, or people you work with. It will get you into a lot of trouble, and the person that ends up with the worst reputation is always you.

Own up to your mistakes to your boss, and other staff if necessary. Everything else, especially to the customer, should be blamed on someone who won’t come into contact with them.

Flatter your coworkers and compliment them when they do something well. Ask them if they have time to help you if you need it, and vice versa. Keep communication lines clear—communication is very important.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people. Stupid people need patient, clear, short explanations and your pity, not your angst and stress.

Be patient and ready to learn, your job is not an easy one and you can always improve. You will learn the most amazing things from the least predictable people.

Some nights you will get a customer who simply seems to hate you. The easiest way to deal with this is wonder, as they complain at you, what makes them such a horrible person. In general, the cause is the fact that they haven’t orgasmed for at least 10 years. If you can’t smile every time their nose quivers, smelling sexual satisfaction on you as a pig smells truffles, maybe see if you can switch with another server.

You are not God’s gift to the hospitality world. You can and will be replaced in less than a month. If you aren’t, it reflects on the exceptionally bad business model of the business, not your ability.


Why is this important? To quote Ryan Reynolds in one of his many barely watchable comedies, “Don’t screw with the people who serve you food”. Keep in mind that any altercation, any ill treatment of the waitstaff, will lead to every single staff member knowing about it before you reach dessert.

Approach everything with humour and a problem-solving attitude.

It is your responsibility to ensure your dietary requirements are fulfilled by your meal. If you are allergic to something, ensure your chosen menu items are okay for you to eat, and explain when you order that you are unable to eat certain things, just in case.

In the same vein, make sure you know what you’re ordering, because its no-one else’s fault if you end up with something you can’t eat/don’t like. The difference between smoked chicken and regular chicken is huge!

Some things which may seem normal to you can really offend staff. If chips aren’t on the menu, don’t ask for them. Vegetarian dishes would not benefit from added meat. A pet hate of many bartenders is the offhand, “Oh, go on, feel free to double that amount.” Drinks are carefully measured and poured, if you want more alcohol, you will be paying for it. Go to venues which suit your tastes and intent. Much as you don’t want to get hammered beside a young family, it is simply offensive to go to an Indian restaurant and scoff at the lack of burgers on the menu.

Appreciate that many people working in hospitality genuinely love their jobs, and have chosen to work as waitstaff. Very few waitstaff are stupid—working in hospitality takes a lot more skill than one would assume. Waitstaff often include the owner/proprietor, who knows what they’re doing. Give them some respect and the benefit of the doubt.
A ‘regular’ customer is someone who visits the venue at least once a week—usually every few days. You are not special. Do not expect to be remembered by staff who probably haven’t seen you for weeks.

Being loud, bossy or strong-willed will not get you better service. You may get more face time with your waitperson, but everything will take as long if not longer—quite deliberately.

If you need attention, don’t click your fingers, wave openly, or whistle. Generally your body language will be obvious enough. If waitstaff catch your eye, then you could raise your eyebrows, smile and even mouth “when you have a minute.” Anything more will signal to all present that you are too impatient to be reasonable.

Make it clear when you’ve finished your meal by putting your cutlery together either in the middle of your plate, or pointing diagonally to the side. It is helpful to say things like, “you can take this too, if you want” with plates/glasses which aren’t empty.

Don’t move the furniture without asking. Tables, chairs, entrances and exits are all carefully placed. (Most tables are also positioned so they don’t rock.)

Don’t take plates, glasses etc directly from waitstaff unless handed to you. Trays are balanced on hands, as are plates, so trying to do a nice thing may colour your shirt wine-red.

Don’t sit at the only dirty table unless you’re just trying to engender hatred from the staff.

Never, ever, threaten to not pay for your meal, or complain about something after a time when it can be rectified. If you are unhappy with something, bring it up at the time. Staff need a chance to fix the problem.

Say thank you and smile. Ask staff how their day is going, they are human beings.

Learn to notice when the place is clearly busy and/or understaffed. Staff are (usually) doing their best and running their asses off, so act accordingly. If you’re in a hurry, ask what the wait time on a meal is, and explain that you have time constraints.


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