Learnings on Restaurant Service and Managing Teams’ Ever Changing Workload

Tago Fabic
Aug 20, 2018 · 5 min read

I was rewatching this fairly recent movie called Burnt last weekend starring Bradley Cooper and his character’s quest for his 3rd Michelin Star.

While the food is indeed important, the movie highlights the (equal) significance of a good quality service. No spoilers here — but here’s one of the scenes that explains how perfection is needed to obtain that 3rd star.

In fiction and in real life, it’s always fascinating how a good or bad service in a café or a restaurant makes or breaks the establishment.

Ok, before I further proceed — I need to lay down the expectations here. This piece is not about the tipping culture, work rights, and / or common issues of the profession. It’s my amazement on how they do their work.

Curious Question 1 — How do the waiters know when I need a top up of my water glass?

It always astounds me when you and your friends are having a great time in a good restaurant and you drink your wine / water and it gets refilled by the waiter as if on cue.

Or conversely, when I find myself looking for the waiter just to get a refill.

Curious Question 2 — How do they manage to keep track of a section of the restaurant?

With them managing at least three or four tables (based on my conversations) , how do the waiters keep track of each and everyone’s needs? As per my first question — how do they look to see if one needs something without standing awkwardly near the tables just to be on top of it?

Curious Question 3 — How do they handle “difficult” patrons?

You know, the picky ones, the rude ones, etc.

It is true what they say, the service indeed makes or breaks a restaurant. Photo from Berlin, 2018.

My fascination towards this attention to detail led me to do a little bit of research (starting with an article on tips on getting good tipslove the play on words there) and have chats with friends who had experience waiting.

So here are some of the learnings I got after the conversations and investigations that I find quite useful not just in service sector, but also in teams and projects.

Learning 1 — “Find three things to do.”

Perhaps this is one of the most powerful things I’ve learned in the conversations I’ve had. One of my dear friends shared this nifty little trick that he used when he was working as a waiter — find three things to do.

As a waiter, he would do his walk in the floor in the section he is responsible to, and look for three things that needs to be done. After enumerating in his head the three things, he would execute it, and then repeat the process — because, as he fondly remembers, there are things that need to be done always.

It terms of the team, how does this relate to our backlog? For me, it’s a reminder that the backlog is alive and needs constant attention. As a recent agile training reminded myself — “the backlog is the fuel that feeds the (development) team”. With that significance — it’s crucial to keep it prioritised; to revisit and review the acceptance criteria, especially before a sprint intake; and to ensure the team has a ready task to pick up and data is available whenever it is available. I’ll try and practice this approach soon. Find 3 things to do in the backlog and as the sprint progress with the team — then repeat. There’s always work that needs to be done.

Learning 2 — The customer is not always right. What’s more important is mutual respect.

The reasoning that I paid for this meal, therefore I’m right is no longer valid. As a good diner, I’d expect the service to be impeccable, and as the service provider, I’d expect the diner to respect that I am doing my job. The more this mutual respect is established and is rooted on constructive criticism, the better the experience.

This mutual respect is definitely helpful when working with different groups / areas of expertise in the team. Each part / group figuratively brings different things to the table, and the mutual respect of knowing that each and everyone is doing their best will help make the collaboration seemless and geared towards success.

Learning 3 — Upselling is an art.

Oh, the subtle art of upselling. Another interesting part of my recent discussion — there will be times when, instead of offering dessert, it might be better to offer more sides instead. Maybe you’ve noticed that as a group, they would want to share so maybe it’s better to upsell share plates instead. These ways of thinking I’ve never really paid attention to before when we dine is quite interesting!

How does it apply to the end user of a platform? Find (and, as a given, ideally test and iterate) the best place to add value to the user and, at the same time, provide gain to the business.

Learning 4 — Hone the gift of foresight.

One of the important things a waiter need to do is to gauge where the stage a customer is at. Is it time to offer coffee or tea? Is the customer done with his meal? What’s the next request could possibly be? Having this attention to detail and a gift of foresight that spans multiple tables and people really make a service spectacular.

Same, I think, is applicable to the team and the sprint. Anticipate the next set of steps the team members will be in. Does it require support outside the team? Should we start engaging the site ops on a ticket that is almost done in terms of development? Or will it be better to engage earlier? What can we do now in preparation for that?

I do think though that as you work more and more with the team and the platform, (or dealing with third party / external groups for that matter) this foresight becomes more and more instinctive and will be rooted on experience.


I absolutely loved the recent conversations and (re)discoveries on this curious observation I had.

Now, on to planning the next restaurant adventure.


For Tago Fabic’s portraiture work / blogs — visit https://www.portraitures.photo.

Tago Fabic

Written by

Software Developer and Technical Lead by day, a Portrait Photographer whenever he can squeeze in the time. For photo work, visit https://www.portraitures.photo

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade