Tuesday, May 21, 2013

NAT'L WAITERS & WAITRESSES DAY

     This post is dedicated to all the wonderful and amazing people whom I have worked with, or have known who hold or have held the job description "server".  Since I don't have any conflict of interest at the moment, I thought I would write a piece to address some common misconceptions, as well as shed some light again,  on things you need to know if you are eating out in 2013.  All the cartoons were created by my husband, Davis Jaye.  If you would like to see more of his work click on his name, and you will be whisked away to his online portfolio; or check out his cartoon website, The Squirrel's Nest.
     Even though I opened up the door, I did not receive any suggestions for this post.  I believe I will manage on my own to shed some light on what may not be "the world's oldest profession"; but I'm sure is a close second, time wise, and by all accounts feels like a close relative to.

     My first job was with Taco Bell.  I was 16, and for a first job, it was labor intensive, and the hours were late.  I am glad to say that it is still my favorite fast food, followed closely by Wendy's.  A tip of the hat to all who are involved with the fast food industry.  Since fast food is not the predominant reason for this piece this is all I will mention about it; still it is where I got my start in the food industry so I thought it bear mentioning.

     After that, I was a server and a bartender throughout college.  I worked holiday breaks and summers and for a year after graduating college.   I moved to Chicago in the 90's and worked as a server for a well known, popular, company.  It was with this company that I moved into training and later into management.  I managed for 6 years in Chicago, and 4 in Southern California.   My next management job, was close to 7 years later, and if you've read The Perks of Being Fired, you know what that entailed.
     I have found working in restaurants to require love of food and more importantly love of people.  Multitasking, unflappability and a good head for numbers are also essential.  Now, while this is not rocket science, neither is it easy.  Neither is it community service, or just for fun.  To work in the restaurant business, one needs to be immersed in the restaurant; to live and breathe that restaurant.  When I was in my 20's and even early 30's I was great at this.  My goal was to be a sponge and learn as much everywhere I turned.  I was "hungry"and eager to prove myself.  I still aim to be a sponge, however, my priorities have changed.  I have a family now; have buried two parents; so a restaurant is no longer my beginning or my end.  I am also no longer a night owl, and have with my ethics and beliefs on how things should go; I tend to be stubborn.  I am no longer eager to prove anything or hungry to get ahead.  Just not me anymore.  I tell you all this to ensure you, that I know what I am talking about.

      So, now onto the points that everyone needs to be aware of. 

      First, the basics.

     A person chooses to work in the waiting industry for a number of reasons.  Not one of which is because it's easy.  Usually, they require a job with flexible hours and a "make your own fate" atmosphere.  A server may be a student, actor, musician, writer, trader, teacher, mom, dad; and usually at least two if not more of this list.  Many have degrees, and are working on the next.   If you treat them with disrespect, many will be able to give you a new "title" in a few different languages.

     The tip standard in most restaurants is 20%.  You may see 15% elsewhere, but 20% is expected these days for the casual to upscale restaurant.  For large parties- 6 or 8 and over, the restaurant will usually add an automatic gratuity of 18%.  Understand, servers are at the restaurant to earn a living.  I cannot say this enough, and you'll probably see it spelled out again before the post is through.  The automatic gratuity is a sort of insurance that they will be compensated for a party that requires more work than a party of 4, as well as takes up their entire work station for an unknown period of time.   Servers make their money from selling, turning their tables, and providing a service that hopefully they will be tipped accordingly.
     A server generally has 3-5 table station.  Given that a dinner shift will usually run from 4-10, in a perfect world, the restaurant would open to full stampede of awaiting guests. Every table would turn with 100% efficiency.  Let's say that a server has a 4 table station,  and a check average of $50 (app/entree/2 glass of wine).  So, in that perfect world: the server would have 3 turns, 16 guests per turn at $40/person= 48 guests for the night= $50x48= $2400 in sales; keeping with that perfect world, everyone tips 20%, $2400x20%= $480.  Not bad.  However, I don't think I need to inform anyone, that we don't live in a perfect world.
      More often than not, a server needs to wait a while before one table gets sat, much less their whole station filled.  Still, the server may use their skills to sell, and care for their guests to make their goal.  Also, if guests leave happy and develop a rapport with their server, chances are good the server will build a clientele.  That is how this game is played.

     For the 20% gratuity, (whether a party of 1 or 15) the following is what you can and should expect. A pleasant individual that acts as a liaison to you for your time at the restaurant.  The server should know about all aspects of the restaurant.  They should have an extensive knowledge of all menus and be able to describe all to you and make recommendations.  If there is something they don't know, there should be a earnest willingness to find out.  It is their job to anticipate your needs.  However,  if you have an allergy, PLEASE TELL THEM.  They are not mind readers.



RULE:  IF YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT, IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO  TELL THEM.  They understand, as many of them have allergies, (it's true) and above and beyond that, it's in their best interest to insure that you leave the restaurant happy and alive.  Heck, most of them actually care.

RULE: If there's an ingredient that you don't like, let your server know that as well and they will do all to ensure that it is left out of your meal as well.  Do not call it an "allergy" unless it is an allergy.  I could elaborate on the reasons to follow this rule; instead I am going to give everyone that reads this, the benefit of the doubt, and hope that all will follow this rule.  I don't care what Carrie did in Sex and the City.

     When you come into a restaurant you are there to eat, and enjoy yourselves.  To a point.  Most everyone has seen the classic movie, When Harry Met Sally.  One of Sally's traits that Harry learns to love, is that it takes her "half an hour to order a sandwich."  Harry notes this trait in a more favorable light by saying "Sally knows how to order a dish, that even the chef didn't know how good it could be"; and in a less favorable light by calling her "the worst kind: high maintenance, but you think you're low maintenance."  In other words, impossible and oblivious that you're impossible.
     I once waited on a woman who reinvented a dish, then in a high pitched squeal chirped to her friend, "OH! I'm just like Sally!" To which they both laughed hysterically.  I was not amused. 


     Everyone likes things the way they like them.  That's great.  Keep in mind though, that that great Mexican place probably won't have a spring roll, or minestrone, or all the ingredients to just "whip it up."  Most restaurants will try their best to create whatever you want, IF they have the ingredients, the space and the time.  They want to make you happy; however if it will hamper all other guests' happiness, or if they feel they will not be able to create the ideal, they may, what I hope is understandably, say no.   Chefs are many times the core of the reason that the restaurant exists.  Most are very talented, professional, and flexible people.  Some are not.  That's for another post.  Point is, regardless, whether or not your special request gets made is usually not a decision that your server makes. 

     Your server is responsible for helping you make informed decisions, so that you will enjoy your meal.  Your server is responsible for getting things to you in a timely manner, however there are many, many things that may affect/prevent timeliness.  They should communicate with you if there is an issue somewhere, with a limited explanation.  Trust me;  you want a limited explanation.  I am not saying it is shocking, most likely it's not.  It probably does however involve more people and circumstances than you want to know about.  Hopefully, you are out with someone you like and are enjoying the time despite whatever is going on.  If you are on a time limit, communicate with your server early on, so they can expedite when possible, and communicate when not.

      Again, your server is there to earn a living.  As a former server and a restaurant manager, I can assure you that everyone at the restaurant is there for that one simple purpose.  As a manager I look to hire happy, smart, fun, people who care.  That is no easy task in itself, however when accomplished it helps to ensure success.   So, in the event that you are unhappy with the service of the server, BRING IT TO THE ATTENTION OF THE MANAGER.  That way, the manager can communicate with the server, to improve everything all around.  Now, if you are fine with the service you received, but just don't believe in tipping accordingly, or you always tip 15% unless wowed, that's fine.  Remember though, the server will remember.  Because they care.  (No, they will not spit in your soup next time or any of that nonsense.  I hate the movie Waiting, because it led people who have never worked in the restaurant industry to believe that behavior is common in restaurants.  It's not.  Enough said.)  Back to servers remembering... and remember they will; and communicate.  So the next time you come in, you will receive service that merits 15%.

     Here's the thing: like all industries, the good ones know they're good.  Good servers are confident in their abilities.  If a guest has left less than an appropriate gratuity, good servers will seek out a manager to inquire if the guest said anything to them, and then mull it over in their head.  This is their livelihood they want to be the best/make the most they can.  Many of them have families that they support.  When they have worked in the industry a few years they have invested time and money, even classes on ways to do their job better.  Their job is to anticipate guests needs, and in doing this for awhile they acquire the ability to read people much with the accuracy of Patrick Jane of The Mentalist.

     If you have received good service, I strongly advise you, to tip accordingly.  The difference between 15% and 20% of $100.00 is $5.  If you have already spent $100- that extra $5 can make a world of difference.  Be assured that is also communicated.   Also remember that your server will be tipping out other individuals and that most restaurants don't offer health insurance, and if they do, it's with very high premiums.   I'm not saying you need empty your pockets and support them, just pointing out, that tips are not "extra curricular money".  Just as with your salary, they use theirs to pay their bills.  If you dine regularly at a place and are known as nice, and a good tipper, word gets around.  Believe me, it's nice to have servers on your side.  It bears mentioning that the days of unreported tips are a thing of the past.  Most restaurants require and take measures to ensure that 100% of employee tips are reported.  Just, the more you know, the less chance of being oblivious.

     Once your meal has concluded, you need to be thinking about and moving on to your next location.  Most restaurants, if not all, should not serve as your living room.  If it's been years since you've seen each other, do a little planning ahead of time and find an appropriate place.  Again, the table that you sit at, is the means of how your server makes a living and often for more than just themselves.  Bear that in mind if you visit a restaurant close to their last seating, or what they quote as the time they'll serve till.  Usually 10pm weekdays, maybe a little later on Fridays and Saturdays.  If you walk into a restaurant 15 minutes before their closing time, try to be aware and look around.  If they're on a wait, or visually still busy, the staff is prepared for a late night.  However, if you see that most tables are empty, and reset, the bar area is virtually empty, and it looks as if a good bit of the staff has left for the evening; this is not the time to see who can be the last one to leave, nor is it the place to have a reunion.  Nor is a restaurant your work area.  Business luncheons/dinners fine; many restaurants have separated rooms and a party/meeting coordinator for just such an occasion.  Taking up a large table for just you and your work, or tax forms, while the restaurant has a wait, or is trying to close, is not fine.  This has happened more times than I care to recall.
     For all you lovebirds out there, that goes double when I say that a restaurant should not serve as your bedroom, so keep the groping to a minimum.  Restaurants will allow a little more leniency if you just got engaged,  but don't you want to get busy? Please do it elsewhere.

     Remember how I said it's nice to have servers on your side?  If you happen to be with someone you definitely don't want to get busy with, or anyone or situation that you need to make a quick getaway from, here's where a good relation with your server comes in.  They can help.  Hell, a lot of them are actors or other creative folk, so the chances of you making a stealthy exit worthy of an Oscar, greatly increases.  Communication is the key.

     Lastly, I want to end with a note about alcohol.  If your server says you won't be served anymore, accept it.  There is no point of arguing.  Your judgement is shot.  You will just verify they have made the right decision if you argue, swear, or worse, threaten.  They have taken a class, passed a test, and taken an oath, to serve alcohol responsibly.  If they chance it, and you wreck and kill someone, they and everyone in the chain of command could lose everything.  If you feel the need to be snotty, ask them to call you a cab in a snotty tone, and everyone will live to argue another day.
There's too much at stake.

  
 So, Happy National Waiters and Waitresses Day.  Hope this is taken in the manner that it was intended.  Just another attempt from lil ol' me to achieve world peace.
 Bon Appetit!