Wow. All I have to say is that I'm not a writer, but I've been offered an opportunity to do something interesting and fun. A little bit about me: I'm a regular reviewer of Chopstix Houston and I've also waited tables during my undergrad years. This column is a Q and A about the waitressing life. Since this is my first column, I asked five friends to submit some start-up questions for it. Next time, we'll answer ones from you. To ask questions, write to email@example.com. And here we go...
Q: I'm new to the waitressing game and not really hauling in a lot of tips. On a scale of 1-10, how much do looks play into it? I'm not bad-looking, but two of the other waitresses here are knockouts. I do my job, take their orders right and make minimal mistakes, yet I barely get the 15% tip. I wanna give up. It seems the pretty ones get all the attention.
- Irma V.
Irma, I understand what you mean. I started having to support myself at an early age to make ends meet. I kept working on sushi restaurants, and those were the places with the best looking staff. I was on the verge of quitting too when I learned something odd. The waitresses who were prettier than I was made just a little more, but not too much. Looks may work on lonely hearts, but you got to remember that a lot of the customers are also families, couples, or other women. In other words, they weren't the type who cared about looks. This led me to realize something which soon had me hauling in the highest amount of tips when I was waitressing: the secret to customers is establishing a relationship with them. It may sound crazy, but to most people what they feel about you is more important than how little mistakes you make. Of course, you can't make a whole lot of mistakes, that's a given, but they're forgiving if they see you as a friend. So put a lot of effort into remembering details about them, memorize a few charming lines, and especially if you see the moody, try and bring a smile to their face. Soon, regulars will know you by your name and ask to sit in your section. Remember, when customers are waiting for their meal, they've got nothing to do but observe. Even when you're not their server, they'll look across and see you interacting with your customers. When customers are considering going out to dinner, you want them to consider you in their minds. Once they associate you with the restaurant, you'll have tips going up 25% to even 35%!
Remember several things:
- Introduce yourself the right way and make eye contact. If they have kids, assist them with high-chairs without being asked. If they have elderly people, be sure to adjust to their needs. Don't seat them at inconvenient angles.
- Memorize the regular menu. A lot of waiters and waitresses are good at remembering specials. But a lot of the customers truly don't care about the specials. Notice how when you're talking about specials, they tend to zone out. Be honest with them and tell them what's good on the menu. Don't say everything is good, because then you come across as someone selling for the restaurant and not on the side of the customers.
- Ask about allergies. 99% of the waiters don't ask if the customers are allergic. This question will surely impress the customers. Customers usually have to make their allergies know by themselves. To do so is to show that you care. And that's what they *really* want in a server.
Looks are overrated in most waitressing jobs unless it's Hooters. Charisma and common sense matters more.
Q: Having just gone through the most uncomfortable pervert customer of my life, I'm wondering how I could handle it better this time. To summarize, the guy was a middle-aged perv and I was the waitress. There was a lot of attempts to grab my hand and feel me up. I finally snapped and said he was crossing the line. He then proceeded to my manager and made up some [explicit] about me messing up his order and lying to him. Luckily, my manager is cool and defused the situation without blaming me. The same guy then had the audicity to ask for my number or he'd give me no tips. I ignored him and charged him without any tip. I ended up making $3 of salary money for that whole hour. Should I have done differently?
- Marsha W.
Let's consider the options, and I'm going to assume you didn't do anything to provoke him. Let's say you snap, let him have it and possibly lose your job. I don't know how cool your manager is, but even if your manager is okay with it, you've made a scene with many customers who've seen you snap. They'll remember you as the crazy waitress who lost her mind. Even if you aren't fired right on the spot, no customer will ever want you to be their waitress again. In an age of Yelp, B4UEAT and websites like Chopstix Houston, word spreads out fast. Your reputation will be gone. In their viewpoint, they didn't know the guy was a pervert...they only see you snapping and going crazy. All restaurants have their "hall of shame" employees. The ones people talk about years after they're gone. You don't want to be "that Martha lady that worked here 5 years ago. Legend has it that..."
On the other hand, doing what you did, you may have lost the battle, but you won the war. Even if Mr. Pervert were to return, he'll realize you were no fun and may harass another waitress. You're also prepared to request for him to be served by someone else once you see him walking in. As long as this kind of customer isn't a frequent occurance, it's okay to let one rotten apple go away. But if the place you're working on is full of these slimeballs, perhaps it's time to look for another restaurant.
Q: Why is it that I have to struggle with getting the check? Is it something personal? Do they not like me? What's going on?
- Johnson T.
The answer, dear Johnson, is that a good waiter/waitress actually won't bring the check to you unless asked. The biggest mistake customers do is assume the check will be coming your way after the meal is done. Sometimes the server may ask if you'd like some desserts or coffee, and use that as way to let the customer say the magic words "no, we're good, check please". But until you say "check please", we won't put it in front of you. By doing so, it seems like we're telling you to leave and we're just after your money. The customer should leave when *they* are ready, and they indicate so with asking for their check. Other ways to signal would be for ladies to put their purses together on the top of the table or putting out your credit card on the table. Just remember that any waiter or waitress that slams a check right after you've eaten without asking for it is a rude server.
Q: My friend and I got into a heated debate over something I feel we shouldn't do. She's one of those people who insist on staying forever in a restaurant long after we're done. I don't think that's right at all, and I think my feelings seem justified when the restaurant staff are giving us annoying looks. Keep in mind that we do this when the place is filled up and people are waiting to be seated. She insists we have rights as a customer, but I think customers have a time limit. I'm not sure what my question here is...maybe the question is, since we're doing it anyway, should we tip more? Would that compensate for it?
- Mai N.
Yes...and...no. Mostly no.
With the waiters, the primary factor is the tip. If you're able to give a 100% increase of the original 15-18% (assuming the bill total is decent), then maybe they'll be temperment about it. But this includes two major factors: a.) If you and your friend are annoying, then it could just be that they want you gone. They've done their jobs, so why should they put up with the nonsense? b.) If they know there is a much bigger group coming and you two are holding them out. No amount of extra tipping would compensate for it (well, unless you pay 600%). When I was waiting tables I really felt irritated toward customers that sat there and wouldn't leave. It felt like burning money. When this happens, I would deliberately pester them if they wanted desserts or coffee. This is our code for "get the hell out of here".
But the main person who'd be pissed would be the restaurant owner. They don't care what you tip, but that you're preventing them from getting business. If your friend wants to just talk, most restaurants have nice outside patios or there are coffee shops nearby. Even talking in the parking lot isn't that bad at times. There's just no reason to stay there and prevent a restaurant from earning a living. Your friend is technically right, but she is also morally wrong. If she's ever waited tables she surely would understand this.
By the way, when this happens, the restaurant owners push the wait staff to nudge them out. When the wait staff fails to do this, they're often the ones who get punished. It functions a little like prostitution. Waiters and waitresses have to put a smile on their face and basically are at the mercy of the customer. When we fail to turn in good business, we get yelled at and blamed by the owner, who watches us like a hawk. These are times when you realize waiting tables is one of the lowest rungs on the societal ladder.
Q: Aside from the ones who don't tip very well, what kinds of customers do you dislike the most?
- Louis L.
Now that I'm no longer waitressing, I can get a few things off my chest! Haha. No offense, but I don't snobby New Yorkers. The ones who threaten you with how they know everything and how cultural they are. I waited tables at San Diego and Houston, both of which are large cities. Was I supposed to be amazed by their statement? And is it me, or are people from New York the only ones who constantly tell everyone which city they're from? I've never had a customer from LA tell me "just remember...I'm from...LA!!!!!!" New Yorkers...so the [explicit] what?
My other pet peeve are parents who don't take care of screaming children. Sure, toddlers cry, it's natural and they make a mess. But some parents just let their children run around and basically turn them into obstacles. Waitressing is a very physically athletic job because of this. It's almost like an Olympic sport the way we have to balance plates upon plates while dodging little children coming at us like missiles. And the worst part about it? When the parents laugh out loud how sorry they are. That's just insulting.
Well, one more thing that annoys me: people who have a set time limit to be somewhere. I worked in a sushi restaurant where even if it's lunch, it's intended for casual lunch. If a customer truly has a 30 minute lunch break and it takes them 15 minutes to drive to our restaurant, they really shouldn't be eating there. I can tell them a mile away. They're always looking at their watch, they look annoyed the moment they walk in, and, as always, drop the "I've got 20 minutes. I'll order the.........unagi!" (just in case someone doesn't know, unagi is eel and it takes awhile to make). And then they usally also ask "can you get my order out faster than everyone else's? I have to be somewhere!" Sorry, no. These are the same people who haul a cab and tell them they have to get to the airport in 20 minutes on a 50 minute ride. You know, if you're going to be bad at time management, I suggest ordering salads at fast food places. Or buy some 5-Hour Energy.
Thanks for the five people who asked! This was a fun! To ask questions, please send to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please leave your first name and the first letter of your last name (example: John S.). We'll take the five we like every 15 days! Enjoy the delayed winter!