11 Things You Learn Serving Tables

For eight years of my life I spent anywhere from three to six days a week working in the restaurant industry. When I started I was 17 and was a host who made what I thought was a good paycheck every two weeks; usually around $200.00. From there I started bussing where I could make a pay check and tip-out and was bringing home slightly less on the paychecks but a good sum of hard cash each night. Finally at 18 I started serving tables and it wasn’t long before I was bartending. I’m sure you are thinking that I made great money bartending and although I did it was less than what most of my bartending buddies were making. I didn’t work in a nice bar that slung drinks all night or even a dive that poured beers till 2 a.m. I worked in an Italian restaurant that had slow bar business so majority of my tips were made from taking tables and packaging to-go orders. Although I wasn’t the richest man by a long shot I did learn a few things in the industry that apply to all server jobs, if not any job you will ever have. I wanted to share those lessons with you here in a list I like to call: 11 Things You Learn Serving Tables.

1. Never let the customer see you sweat, in a literal sense this is obvious, sweat is heavily affected by gravity and can land in people’s food so keep yourself dry. Metaphorically speaking, looking like you have no control of your situation shows weakness and customers don’t respond well to weakness, so much in fact that it can result in a loss of a tip. The more you keep it together and roll with the punches the more likely you are to earn someone’s respect whether it is the customer or a co-worker.

2. Never let the boss catch you slacking off, if you look like you have extra time on your hands and everything under control then guess who is getting the twenty top that just walked in without a reservation. There is nothing wrong with the twenty top, it’s the other 3 tables you get before you manage to get a food order in that hurts you. This also brings me to my next point…

3. If you have time to play then there is no need to stay. If you can stand around and play grab-ass then you are not making any money. You should be asking for tables or sharking them from the host stand. If there is no one coming in then ask to go home and present a reasonable explanation as to why, especially if it is prime rush time and no one is coming in. This tactic will either give you time to take care of your personal affairs, or end up resulting in a few tables being forced on you.

4. Never have empty hands, this should be self-explanatory, if you have empty hands then you must not be busy, and if you are busy and have empty hands then you must be an impractical worker. Always have full hands going out and full hands coming in, that way you set a good example but also manage to stay one step ahead of everyone else.

5. Everything cost something, it can cost money or time and it can cost you, or the customer, or the house. The idea of hooking up the customer for a better tip seldom works and the few times it does it is because your customer is also from the service industry and even that fails to work. Anything your table asks for extra of costs the house money and you time, even water. Find a way to everything cost effective and worth your time.

6. Mise en Place, it’s French for “Everything in its place” and often used as a kitchen term but applies to all aspects. If you take time to prep your station and secure shortcuts for yourself then you can save yourself time, make some money, and prevent yourself from sweating. Simply put, make sure everything is stocked before the rush and you are prepped for any disaster that could occur.

7. Coupons, they are great for the consumer but bad for you. Coupons should not be the reason you have business, that is pandering and although it brings customers in it teaches them a Pavlovian concept to return for more discounts. I’m not saying people who use coupons are bad people, but most coupon users do not understand how to tip…or they are just cheap fucks. If your restaurants business is driven by coupons then it is time to find a new restaurant.

8. Never repeat your boss’s answer to a question word for word. Odds are your boss answered your question, which was probably about whether your coupon toting customer could apply it to their promotional buy one get one entrée, with some very colorful language that we would not use in front of the customer. (S)He probably has an attitude that they would never show the customer either. If your manager will not go out and address the issue on their own do not repeat their colorful word choice to your customer, find a better way to mask their explanation and handle the issue.

9. Self-profiling prophecies can and will end you. The better your attitude is the more likely you are to make money. If you succumb to stereotypes odds are your customers will live up to them.

10. Good money isn’t always decided by how much you make, but sometimes by how hard you worked and how long you worked. Take some time to do the breakdown. Making $200 for a day that you opened, worked straight through, and closed on while taking 80 tables and having $4000.00 in sales is not a good day. In that scenario you made $16.66 an hour but you also made less than 10% in tips of your overall sales and you worked 12 plus hours with no lunch so odds are you were overworking. Now this is a much exaggerated example but you get the point.

11. Lastly, always put money aside. You never know when a slow period is going to hit even if restaurant business follows a pretty typical trend. You never know when you could get fired or arrested, or both. I understand one of the draws to the service industry is cash in hand and the freedoms of not waking up early and pretty much staying intoxicated at most hours, but trust me, putting at least 30% of what you make each night into a stash or maybe bank account is a good idea. I personally would take what I made each night and split it, half went to fun and everyday expenses, the other half went to savings. It doesn’t matter if you make $18 in tips or $800, stash some of it!

Spaghetti Bucotini