Monday, November 2, 2009

One Hundred Responses To A Non-Restaurant Staffer Who Thinks He Knows How To Run A Restaurant

Bruce Buschel has an "article" in the New York Times small business section titled, "One Hundred Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 1)," containing the first fifty of one-hundred tidbits of advice he has for the people who apparently will be working at the restaurant he is building. Why he has to publish his employee manual in the New York Times escapes me. However, here are One Hundred Responses To A Non-Restaurant Staffer Who Thinks He Knows How To Run A Restaurant:

1. Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting.
Fair enough. Please make sure there is sufficient staff so someone is watching the door at all times. Servers are not hosts.

2. Do not make a singleton feel bad. Do not say, “Are you waiting for someone?” Ask for a reservation. Ask if he or she would like to sit at the bar.
Also fair enough. Although I would add, isn't asking them if they want to sit at the bar the same thing? How about just wait on them, and they will tell you if you didn't bring enough menus. They always do.

3. Never refuse to seat three guests because a fourth has not yet arrived.
You may find this to be very unreasonable as you get down the road. Many, many restaurants have the policy that they will not seat incomplete parties. This is because they are so busy they need the tables to turn -- need them to, not just want the extra money -- because they need to accommodate everyone before closing time. When you tell someone the wait is 45 minutes and it becomes 2 hours because partial parties held up the otherwise smooth process, you have created a snowball effect that is your fault and customers will know it, tell you so, and tell everyone else so, too. This practice also throws off timing for your kitchen, creates double work load for the bar and the servers (for which they will not be double-compensated) and causes frustration cascading from the table to the parking lot and everyone in between. Seating partial parties is a bad policy.

4. If a table is not ready within a reasonable length of time, offer a free drink and/or amuse-bouche. The guests may be tired and hungry and thirsty, and they did everything right.
Yes. However, you must be clear with your staff and your customers what a "reasonable length of time" is. If your host told them 40 minutes and they are complaining after 20, someone needs to remind them politely but firmly of that. This also means an accurate recording and time keeping process at the door. Again, this also means adequate door / hosting staff -- do not make servers be responsible for people who are not at their tables.

5. Tables should be level without anyone asking. Fix it before guests are seated.

6. Do not lead the witness with, “Bottled water or just tap?” Both are fine. Remain neutral.
What do you mean by this? If your restaurant offers bottled water, severs are doing their job by offering it. If you mean don't call it, "just tap," that's fine. Although I don't believe I've ever been asked that question by a server, nor have I heard it referred to as "tap." In fact, I would lay out money that in 95% of restaurants, if you ask for water, you get tap. Most places leave it incumbent on the customer to specifically ask for bottled or sparkling water.

7. Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness.
While I personally agree, and find it totally unnecessary to announce your name, most restaurants encourage it. This is a curious pronouncement, particularly when paired with jokes, flirting and cuteness. Do you assume telling your name to a table is the prelude to coming on to them? And, obviously you are not building a "Hooters." Also, after 20+ years of working in the service industry, I can assure you, if you don't tell them you're name, they will ask.

8. Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials. Wait for the right moment.
This is an absolute crock. A restaurant is a business and a server is a sales person. When a server comes to a table it is for a specific business-related reason, not to chit-chat (or joke, flirt or be cute) and customers should know that they need to address business when it comes their way. Not to mention the nearly endless list of things that are time-sensitive and customer-dependent in a restaurant. When a server comes to a table and customers are talking, a polite pause is all that is needed before saying, "Excuse me," or, "Sorry to interrupt, but..."

9. Do not recite the specials too fast or robotically or dramatically. It is not a soliloquy. This is not an audition.
So let me get this right. Not too fast. But not robotically (condescending code word for "slow",) either. And no drama. So really, just don't bother.

10. Do not inject your personal favorites when explaining the specials.
Agreed. Your personal favorites probably aren't specials anyway. "Inject" those when asked what you like, or "what's good."

11. Do not hustle the lobsters. That is, do not say, “We only have two lobsters left.” Even if there are only two lobsters left.
Obviously you are opening a restaurant in the Northeast, as this is the only place in the country lobster is really even a concern. And why not "hustle" them? Don't you want the specials sold? This one barely even makes sense. A house rule, apparently. No experienced server would take this advice seriously.

12. Do not touch the rim of a water glass. Or any other glass.

13. Handle wine glasses by their stems and silverware by the handles.
Absolutely. Although this does not really warrant being separated from #12, since "any other glass" is already mentioned there.

14. When you ask, “How’s everything?” or “How was the meal?” listen to the answer and fix whatever is not right.
Absolutely. Particularly listen.

15. Never say “I don’t know” to any question without following with, “I’ll find out.”
Any question? How about questions about the restaurant. Servers often act as an impromptu Chamber of Commerce, answering questions about attractions, the surrounding area, etc. Not knowing one of those answers is just fine, and there is no need to go find out.

16. If someone requests more sauce or gravy or cheese, bring a side dish of same. No pouring. Let them help themselves.
Good advice.

17. Do not take an empty plate from one guest while others are still eating the same course. Wait, wait, wait.
Again, this is a complete crock. Even in fine dining it is now an accepted custom to clear plates as they are emptied. Universal sign that it is time to clear a plate: napkin on it. Also, most restaurants expect tables to be "pre-bussed" meaning, plates and silverware cleared before the table is vacated. Not doing so again creates more work for everyone, slows down the entire operation, effecting everyone in the building, customers included. Plates should be cleared as they are emptied. Period.

18. Know before approaching a table who has ordered what. Do not ask, “Who’s having the shrimp?”
By this you must mean, after you have taken their order. Unless you plan to hire psychic wait staff. So, yes, absolutely -- not table auctions. However, this also means there must be adaquate support staff to ensure that servers can, 100% of the time, carry out their own food. Or, there will be an auction.

19. Offer guests butter and/or olive oil with their bread.
Does anyone not do this? I can't remember ever getting bread or rolls at a restaurant my entire life without at least a few butter patties thrown in.

20. Never refuse to substitute one vegetable for another.
Again, I can't imagine any place that restrictive. However, when a customer wants an entire house salad, served in advance of the meal (again, double work for no more money, for anyone, server or business) instead of a scoop full of carrots, they should know they need to pay more for it.

21. Never serve anything that looks creepy or runny or wrong.
This is your way of saying don't serve anything you would not eat. Absolutely, double absolutely. However, this also means that the chefs must be willing to accept send-backs from the servers. No refusing to remake. No threatening, shouting, or arguing. If it's not good enough to go to the table, it does not leave the kitchen. Period, no arguments.

22. If someone is unsure about a wine choice, help him. That might mean sending someone else to the table or offering a taste or two.
This also means you need to educate your staff on wines, or hire staff who already know wine. This may mean staff tastings as well. If you want to run a restaurant that "knows its wine" you need to be willing to write off a few bottles.

23. If someone likes a wine, steam the label off the bottle and give it to the guest with the bill. It has the year, the vintner, the importer, etc.
This is fair as an in-house policy. However, be aware by doing this you are likely forfeiting any recycling or bottle deposit refunds. A bottle here and there is no big deal, but if you get a reputation for such a thing, it is a business concern. Additionally, again, this means you must have adaquate support staff to allow for one person to be dedicated to steaming a bottle for 5-10 minutes.

24. Never use the same glass for a second drink.
This is a matter of taste. And I assume you mean beer, wine and cocktails. Refilling sodas, hot drinks, juices and water certainly bears no call for a fresh glass. And many bar customers prefer to keep their same glass. This is not a rule you can really make and enforce. It is an acceptable general guideline at best. The rest should be entrusted to your staff, who should be able to gauge their own customer's needs and preferences.

25. Make sure the glasses are clean. Inspect them before placing them on the table.

26. Never assume people want their white wine in an ice bucket. Inquire.
The only beverage that is traditionally served in an ice bucket is champagne.

27. For red wine, ask if the guests want to pour their own or prefer the waiter to pour.
This is a well-known convention. And, it should be covered along with general wine knowledge from #22 and #23.

28. Do not put your hands all over the spout of a wine bottle while removing the cork.
Again, more well-known wine serving etiquette.

29. Do not pop a champagne cork. Remove it quietly, gracefully. The less noise the better.
See #28.

30. Never let the wine bottle touch the glass into which you are pouring. No one wants to drink the dust or dirt from the bottle.
See #29. So, #'s 22-23 and 28-30 are all about wine service. Allow me to reiterate: if you are running a restaurant that even has a wine list big enough to warrant traditional, formal wine service, you need to either a) hire service staff who are trained in fine dining wine service, or b) offer this training to servers when they are hired.

31. Never remove a plate full of food without asking what went wrong. Obviously, something went wrong.

32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them.
This is fair.

33. Do not bang into chairs or tables when passing by.
This is a curious pronouncement. I am unsure why it warrants being on a Top 100 list, as I do not know anyone who intentionally means to "bang into" things. So, service staff who you have obviously seen doing this enough times that it makes your list, either are doing it on purpose to be annoying or passive aggressive, or things are too crowded and the staff can't move around adequately. Either way it needs to be addressed -- by you, not the staff.

34. Do not have a personal conversation with another server within earshot of customers.
A good general guideline. Impossible and unrealistic to enforce. Yes, long protracted conversations about server's personal lives on the dining room floor are in poor taste / unprofessional, but staff are going to talk during their shifts. It's natural and it helps create a comfortable sense of the place.

35. Do not eat or drink in plain view of guests.
Again, a good general guideline. However, particularly on the topic of beverages, staff should have easy and regular access to water or fluids. I have never been insulted or thought I was getting poor service if I saw a busy server grab a drink of water on the fly. Hydration is important, and cannot be overlooked or banned.

36. Never reek from perfume or cigarettes. People want to smell the food and beverage.
Absolutely. Wash your hands. Use an odor neutralizing spray, not perfume or cologne.

37. Do not drink alcohol on the job, even if invited by the guests. “Not when I’m on duty” will suffice.

38.Do not call a guy a “dude.”
Absolutely. Too casual, even in the most casual environment is unprofessional. Sir, ma'am, folks, everyone, etc., is sufficient.

39. Do not call a woman “lady.”
See #38. You really had to stretch this to get to 50 didn't you?

40. Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad.
This is sound advice. However, it is acceptable to praise customer's choices, particularly if you know they were struggling with their choice. "That is delicious," or "you'll love it," are perfectly fine. Set the expectation that they are going to like what they chose. Other choices might not be acceptable, you have no idea. Customers could have health concerns or very specific taste considerations that their server has determined by developing rapport. It is a personal call by the person at the table, in the situation.

41. Saying, “No problem” is a problem. It has a tone of insincerity or sarcasm. “My pleasure” or “You’re welcome” will do.
Again, a good general guideline, but you cannot and should not dictate specific words that servers can and cannot say. The most genuine thing can sound fake an insincere -- or the other way around -- depending on the person speaking, their manner of speech, and their personal cadence. You cannot dictate speech. In #9 you caution against robotic speech -- it applies everywhere.

42. Do not compliment a guest’s attire or hairdo or makeup. You are insulting someone else.
Fair enough.

43. Never mention what your favorite dessert is. It’s irrelevant.
What about when customers ask? They do, they will, they want to know.

44. Do not discuss your own eating habits, be you vegan or lactose intolerant or diabetic.
Again, this is a personal choice. If a customer informs you that they are diabetic, and you are, too, they will feel more assured that they are getting health-safe food from you if you tell them. Allow me to reiterate: you cannot dictate speech.

45. Do not curse, no matter how young or hip the guests.
Yes. This also addresses professionalism.

46. Never acknowledge any one guest over and above any other. All guests are equal.
Including the children? OK, sure, little one. I'll bring you everything you ask for. Everything. You're equal.

47. Do not gossip about co-workers or guests within earshot of guests.

48. Do not ask what someone is eating or drinking when they ask for more; remember or consult the order.

49. Never mention the tip, unless asked.

50. Do not turn on the charm when it’s tip time. Be consistent throughout.
Agreed. It just seems disingenuous and is largely transparent. It will hurt the tip, not help it.

1 comment:

dining restaurant NY said...

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