Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On Serving (because it's annoying me)

I've been reading Waiter Rant, a blog written by an anonymous fine dining waiter in New York. He's an excellent writer, if regularly more spicy with the language than is family-friendly. It's easiest to start at the beginning and click forward through his 430+ posts one at a time.

Part of the reason I enjoy the blog so much is that the Waiter is a very good writer. But part of it is also because I can relate. I waited tables for a half-dozen or so years. And as a result of reading all that the Waiter had to say, bunches of things have been burbling through my mind while I'm at work, relating to a job I haven't held for six or seven years.

Working for Tips:

I'm of the opinion that those service professionals who work for tips prefer it to a fixed wage. I certainly did. I wasn't a fabulous waiter, but I was fairly good and I did enjoy it. There is satisfaction in knowing you are helping others have a better time, in knowing you are doing a good job, in being a sales professional, and in knowing you have earned the money you've made.

The whole point of working for tips is this: it gives the service pro a direct and powerful incentive to put his patron's wishes first. This is good business sense for both the server and the owners. Any business does best by developing continuing relationships with loyal customers. Such relationships are made by providing good service and good products. Putting the server's compensation directly in the hands of those they serve makes it far more likely that the server will seek to provide good service.

The reason that good service deserves a 20% tip in fine dining restaurants is that the server is required to tip the barkeep and the bussers, and sometimes the hostess and the cooks, for at least 5% of his sales, regardless of what you leave for him. I worked in family restaurants with no bars, so for me that wasn't an issue and 15% was regarded as a solid tip, but in many other places that's not how it will be.

Evangelizing servers:

I have a deep Christian faith, and I laud anyone who is trying to win souls for Christ. I have never, ever seen a tract left for the server do so. I understand your mindset; what could be better for your server than salvation and resting eternally in the Beatific Vision? But it fails because you are leaving two witnesses, which are contradictory.

On the one hand, the tract tells the server, "I love you and want the most wonderful of things to happen for you!" Yet every tract I've ever seen left for a server has always come with either a stingy tip or no tip at all. And so the witness of the tract is contradicted by the witness of the tip.

With a stingy tip, you tell your server these things:
  • I do not value your work, no matter how sasisfying you find it to help people enjoy the blessings of God's creation.
  • I do not value your service, no matter what Jesus said about how his followers should become servants.
  • I do not value you, either.
  • It is stinginess that is next to Godliness, not generousity.
With that witness, you give scandal. You lead your server to the sin of holding Christ and His followers in contempt. You give your server reason to think that Christians are all sanctimonious hypocrites who can mouth prayers one minute, treat others badly the next, and never feel a twinge of conscience. You convince him that Christians are not known by their love. I do not know a single service professional who would not rather serve a generous pimp than a stingy preacher.

Sometimes, the tract is printed to resemble a large, folded bill. That is infuriating enough, but such tracts nearly always chide the server for wanting money, as if the worker was not worthy of his wage! It adds insult to injury.

If you truly wish to have the witness of your tract bear fruit, make sure that your generousity to those not saved shows in your tip.

Advice to Servers:

You're actually a sales professional. As such, it behooves you to not antagonize those whom you depend upon to provide your product and serve your patrons. This particularly includes everyone in the back of the house.

One thing you can do to reduce friction is to remember this: if your patron asks, all annoyed, "Why is it taking so long?", they do not care why their food is taking so long. What they really want to know, and what you should ask the cook, is this: "Table X wants to know, how long for their food?" With that information, you can tell your table what they really want to know, which is when they will eat. Patrons get be much less stressed when you calmly tell them, "We are having some difficulties in the kitchen, and I am sorry, but you should have your food in X minutes."

I would help the cooks any way I could if they were in trouble.

I avoided cussing. There was a cook I worked with, and he used foul language like punctuation in ordinary conversation, and most of us couldn't tell when the cussing went from punctuation to expressions of frustration. On the other hand, I had merely to snarl, "Dog's blood!" and two or three of my coworkers asked me what help I needed.

Finally, a sales professional gets wealthy by developing and cutlivating a regular clientele. Your goal is to wow your customers with such fabulous service that they return often, ask for your section, and tip heavily each and every time. Some customers will never be generous, no matter how good you are. As long as they aren't making things bad for other patrons, consider being as good to them as you can, as an expression of Christian charity or an act of penance.

3 comments:

Food Service Ninja said...

lol I love the comment on asking the kitchen how long it will take-to get a LEGITMATE time you have to all but throw a fit to get them to provide you with a time EVEN after explaining the table is asking & I need a real time so I can spin it in terms they will be happy with. I love it when one of the guests has ordered some thing well done or the long cook time item and I can shift the onus onto that guest.

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

I put a lot of effort into getting along with everyone in the place, including the line cooks, the prep cooks, the bussers, the hostesses, the cashiers, the dishwashers, and even the managers. I didn't take my frustrations out on them (I am blessed with a long temper and patience), I helped them when I could, and I treated them with respect at all times.

I may not have been the best server in the place, but I was one of the best-liked. I was even offered management training on two or three occasions. I turned it down, because I didn't want to do 80% more work for 20% more money.

To repeat: "[I]t behooves you to not antagonize those whom you depend upon to provide your product and serve your patrons. This particularly includes everyone in the back of the house."

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Hey! This is a great post. You recently left a comment on my site referring to it. I apologize that I didn't put it through -- I can explain more if you want to email me. There wasn't anything inherently wrong with it, but I was worried that the reference to evangelicals in particular might be of concern (again, I have a specific reason for that that I can't really detail here). Thanks as always for a thought-provoking post!