Please, enough of the “How to be a Perfect Server” commentary

Suddenly, everyday, I read or hear about yet another “What Servers Should Do” article, blog post, etc. Frankly, I am surprised that so many feel the topic important enough to speak about it in such inglorious, minute detail. (I did enjoy Waiter’s recent rebuttal, to one such article, however.)

Why isn’t anyone writing about “100 Things Bank Tellers Should Do” or “Top 20 Pet Peeves about Electronics Store Employees?”

I guess it has to do with food, the big kahuna of human survival: You, the dining public, must eat to survive, thus you, the dining public, feels emboldened and empowered to tell those in the service industry how to ensure your survival by spelling out in sometimes whining and nit-picking detail exactly the way you prefer to pound your food in a restaurant setting.

Oh, I know. You were once a waitress or a bartender in college, so you are justified to make these semi-arrogant suggestions about not talking too much to your table unless I am handsome/beautiful and want to comp drinks or dessert, or to not leave plates on the table too long after you are finished. Ha ha ha. We’re all in this together, right?

No, we are not.

Spend a day serving. Spend a day tending bar. Today.

Better yet, spend the next two months depending on this income to live, so you get to know the best and the worst aspects of serving the public as well as that of bonding with your co-workers, upon whom you will depend for laughs and venting, but mostly for covering your ass when you’re weeded and for picking up your shift when you are too hungover or actually sick to work.

Better yet, make the hospitality venue your full-time profession. Hone your skills and be able to work plenty of doubles and still have the energy to get the orders in and the food served after 13 hours on your feet. See how much you care about striving for that perfect balance of not-too-perky but oh-so-jovial with your customers.

Some days you will have other stuff on your mind and will get distracted and forget an iced tea or a side of spinach. Some days you won’t feel well but you have to work to earn money, and you don’t want to lose your place on the schedule by calling out. Some days the cook will be hopeless and strung out and you will bear the brunt of it on the floor.

Some days your customers will drive you insane with insane demands, but you will laugh it off with your fellow servers in a successful attempt not to give in to the overwhelming urge to dump food in said customers’ laps. Some days you will have customers whom you would love to wrap up and save for tomorrow’s shift, because they are incredibly nice to be around, which makes them incredibly easy to serve well.

One day you will have more tables and customers than you ever have, and somehow on that day you will stay in your zone and get it done just right so that you, your customers, the kitchen, and your managers are all pleased, which will result in a fat bundle of cash in your wallet after your shift is done.

Some days you will understand that, by and large, most customers are simply okay to really great, and that the truly heinous ones–mostly an exception–feel as demanding as a table of 20 all by themselves, and they are the ones you never forget and who can ruin what was otherwise a good shift.

Learn to do your serving job well by knowing your menu and understanding the overall pace of your store, keep your focus, welcome the reasonable customers and cope with the terrible ones as best you can, and your profitable, good days will outnumber the others. You won’t be perfect, even though the rest of the world expects you to be as evidenced by recent press on the topic, but you will be a pro.

I detest bad service as much as anyone. I like to enjoy my dining-out experience, too. But so much of what I have been reading lately seems so petty and, well, unimportant in the grand scheme, you know? Go out, have a good time. Focus on your friends, your lover, your spouse, your kid, and don’t waste those minutes setting yourself and your server up for disappointment because you’re over analyzing the whole damn thing.

Still feeling a need to chastise your server for bringing out the entrees too soon because one member of your party kept texting someone and didn’t finish the soup 10 minutes ago like the rest of you did?

To quote one of my favorite co-workers: It’s just food. Everyone will get fed–some sooner than others.



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12 responses to “Please, enough of the “How to be a Perfect Server” commentary”

  1. Kelly Avatar

    I was a full time server for years. Eventually I went back to school full time, while serving full time. Bottom line, when you’re a server, service is your job, so you can’t blame the demands of the job for giving bad service. I’m now a tax accountant. I can’t blame the stress, pressure & constantly changing laws if I do a bad job. In fact, I could go to jail. You chose service as your career, then give good service.

  2. Yogi Avatar

    Well, I HAVE worked hospitality: FOH and BOH. And other customer service jobs as well as owning a yarn shop for 4 years. And I will tell you that there is NO other place where, as a customer, you have the privilege of paying for your purchase, whether or not it is 1) as ordered, 2) done correctlly, and 3) at your most vulnerable time for most people: entertaining. And then, regardless of anything that preceeded the end of the meal, you are asked NOT to evaluate your experience, but just add on 20%.

    You know, there’s a reason why these things keep getting written (and I am well aware that there are many customer who haven’t read the equivalent list for themselves), and I swear on the bones of my sainted grandmother that if the servers at the restaurants that I frequent would embrace 1/10 of what was on that list, their tips would go up 10-20% OVERNIGHT.

    And yes, I realize that the drumbeat is monotonous. But like I tell my students, I HAVE to keep telling you the same things over and over, because you don’t KNOW them yet.

    If you really understood that your paragraph starting: “Learn your menu..” is something that MOST servers in MOST restaurants simply don’t understand and don’t do, you would understand the frustration that accompanies dining out.

  3. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    It dawns on me that I am guilty of writing yet another tome on the subject!

    Kelly, I actually agree. Service industry as a career choice = be prepared to offer professional service. But some of the suggestions I have been reading….

    Yogi–A decent place is receptive to comments and suggestions. A decent place will hear you if your food is awful or if service sucks. Sorry that you have had mostly terrible experiences dining out. As for the idea that providing good service always leads to receiving good tips–a nice thought. Sometimes , however, people are simply cheap, no matter how great the service.

  4. Yogi Avatar

    Yes, clearly some people are jerks, customers as well as servers. Not what I said or meant. Nor that I “mostly” have bad experiences: where did you get that from?

    It’s not about “awful” or “terrible”. It’s about disappointing, unfriendly, careless service. It’s about why should I have to wait to eat when my food is cold and the server gives me the stink-eye when i call it to his/her attention?

    “A decent place is receptive..” Sure. Now tell me how many of the 1000s of restaurants are really receptive to the idea that “It could have been better if I had actually been allowed to drink my coffee the way I like it.” Hmm? Or, “Actually, medium rare is not bloody all the way through.”

    Look, RG, many, many places have lovely, hard-working staff that are functionally clueless about what makes a good experience. Or more accurately, what does not damage an acceptable one. THAT”S what is being talked about here, not perfection, not experts, just how not to screw up a customer’s good time. And yes, of course there will always be jerks. But that’s not the point.

    Survey after survey has shown that attitude counts for more than food when it comes to tips. I don’t want anyone to kiss ass, just don’t blow it off.

  5. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    Yogi–I would urge you to speak up when it’s not right. Talk to a manager. Offer the constructive criticism. I know my DC stores would have wanted you to, and would have responded. I know my Fort Lauderdale store was the same way. And, ultimately, you have the ultimate power–do not patronize those places that continually disappoint. They won’t be around long, anyway.

  6. last one home Avatar

    I know for a fact that Bikram is a douchebag, because I have endured his f ool ishly torturous classes–perhaps though it is just that every “yogi” is a douchebag–the answer to almost every question and every problem lies within–sound familiar?

  7. Yogi Avatar

    LOH: this yogi has nothing to do with Bikram, or any other yoga, for that matter.
    Ah, well, how about a joke?

    What did the buddhist say to the Hot Dog Vendor?
    > Make me one with everything.
    When he asked for his change, what did the vendor reply?
    >Change comes from within.

  8. Sophia Avatar

    Thanks for this post, RG! I certainly don’t depend on my waitressing job to pay the bills as I’m only a uni student, but I have been doing it for three years, and the endless lists on “how to be a better server” really drive me up the wall. I know my menu, I know how to give great service with a smile, and I have off-days too. Did I choose service as my profession (at least for now)? I suppose I did. Do I give poor service some days? I’m sure some would say that I do.

    But if more people who were dining out would focus on the important things in life, as you said, rather than nitpicking every little tiny thing I did, or whether or not it took me an extra 30 seconds to pick up that appetizer plate, then I’m sure they would not only be easier to serve, but they would enjoy life a lot more. To get truly great service, that means being a truly great customer/guest as well. All I ask is to be treated like another human being, rather than that girl in the uniform who didn’t bring someone another glass of wine fast enough (even though that someone might not know that the service bar was completely swamped).

    In the end, we’re all in this together, and servers are just trying to do the same thing as their customers — make a living.

  9. Mary Avatar

    in a prior job, I had a co-worker who put herself thru college by waitressing at a coffeeshop. There was one customer that gave everyone the heebie-jeebies – his breakfast order was always “liver, rare and eggs, sunnyside up”

  10. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    last one home–dinner on me someday, if I ever get to your part of the world.
    Sophia–Yep, you’re human. Yep, you’re a server making a living. Yep, you get it.
    Mary–Thanks for the visual.

  11. Yogi Avatar

    At the risk of beating all the way into the ground, let me offer 3 things:
    1) When there is a real problem, I have always spoken up, mostly very softly, but spoken up. That’s not the issue here.
    2) LOH’s comment is indicative of why neither my wife nor most of our friends will speak up unless the problem is huge. Who wants to be made fun of?
    3) There is a middle ground between a dining disaster and “OMFG, the server didn’t see me for 30 seconds.” Most of what the lists point out is in that middle ground. Overfilling coffee, pushing bottled water by being condescending, asking how things are but not waiting for an answer: do you really think that any manager wants to hear this in the middle of lunch? Of course they’ll listen, but that’s the end of it. But those things affect how people think about their meals, and therefor to some degree, the tip they leave.

    I guess that trying to tell people what makes it work for you isn’t OK. Reading Steve’s blog and yours (among others’) leaves me with the feeling of “just give me the 20% and fucking well leave, thanks.”

    LOH, given your situation, maybe you should look in a mirror, buddy.

  12. Danielle Avatar

    Forget about the “What Servers Should Do” commentary; this is my “What Tippers Should Do” rant:

    Enjoy 🙂