The Rules of Serving: Rule Six

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Rule Six: Never spend money you haven’t made.

I am glad July of 2010 is behind me.  I cannot recall a month that was less lucrative in my serving career.  My income dropped by well over 50% last month.  Unbearable heat combined with a disproportionate number of patio shifts took a chunk out of my savings.  I had planned for a slow month, but not one this slow.

I was fortunate enough to follow my own advice on saving and budgeting.  I keep my living expenses low and save during good months.  This allowed me to avoid the month being devastating financially. I stay out of debt and carry no credit cards.  My car is paid for and my rent is minimal.  My savings was depleted, but not drained.

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The Rules of Serving: Rule Five

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Rule Five: Always recommend what is in the guest’s best interest, not yours.

(Note: There are many hyperlinks today that will send you to posts were I have previously addressed specifically issues that I address in this post.)

This is the second time in two days I have sat down to write this post.  Yesterday, I got caught up in a tangent which I think serves as an important preface to this post.  It even inspired a comment immediately that proved its accuracy.  In the preface, I discuss how restaurant companies have encouraged servers to focus on upselling and thus significantly damaged the relationship between servers and their guests.

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The Rules of Serving: Rule Four

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Rule Four: Guests do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care

We have truly become a nation of cynics.  We doubt the sincerity of others and feel that no deal comes without a catch.  We have good reason.  Every special offer comes with fine print.  We are constantly being faced with offers that seem too good to be true and usually are.  In the modern world, we have decided it is better to be a cynic than a sucker.

Restaurant guests are no different.  Deals that seem too good to be true get questioned.  The motives of restaurant servers are constantly in question.  Is the recommendation honest or to help them win a contest?  Is the more expensive wine really worth it?  Are the nachos really as awesome as the server says they are?  Their concerns are warranted because servers are often more interested in raising their bill than earning the guest’s confidence.

This is particularly troublesome because servers should be one of the most trusted professions.  We give guests the opportunity to decide what the value of our service is.  While there are societal norms for tipping, the guest is often willing to exceed them if the service we provide merits it (see rule 3).  The consequences of being caught making recommendations not in the guest’s interest will be financial.  Losing rapport with your table will invalidate all of your speed and knowledge.  Clearly maintaining that bond of trust with your table is far more important to earning the exceptional tip than your knowledge or efficiency.  Only when that bond is formed does your skill and expertise come into play.

Here are three quick tips for establishing rapport and showing the table you care about their dining experience.

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The Rules of Serving: Rule Three

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Rule Three: Generic Servers Receive Generic Tips.

We all have seen it before.  The server who walks up to a table and lifelessly repeats the corporate approved script when greeting a table.  They seem as if they are only about three more repetitions from developing a facial tick from irritation.  No inflection or signs of life.  Reading between the lines is not difficult and roughly translates to “what do I have to bring you to get you to leave?”

Then there is the other kind.  They walk up to the table and give you a more enthusiastic greeting than you got on your last birthday.  They ramble on through the generic script punctuating it with adjectives like “awesome” and “incredible.”  They suggest 37 specific drinks to start you off with before looking at the table to see you got your first round at the bar.  As they turn away from the table their posture immediately changes in a way that translates to, “thank goodness that is over.”

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The Rules of Serving: Rules One and Two

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Rule One:  If you worry about the guest, the money will take care of itself.

Rule Two:  If you worry about the money, the guests will not take care of themselves.

Rules one and two are corollaries of the same basic principle.  Your focus as a server must be on the guest and not the money.  We all know that the reason for serving is to make money.  No one should pretend they are altruistic enough to wait tables 40 hours a week just for the fun.  At the same time, the key to making money is to not focus on making the money, but the process by which you make it.  Focusing on the guest is the key to insuring that at the end of the shift you have made the money you want.

There is no denying that focusing on the guest can still lead to disappointment. The odds of you making what you need are infinitely more in your favor though if you focus on the guest first and the money second.  The only thing you can do to control how much you make is to make every guest as happy as you can.  Guest counts, guest spending, and the amount the guest leaves are beyond your control.  Instead focus on the guests and trust that it is the best way to make the money work out in your favor.

Here are three commonly violated guidelines to keep your money on track:

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The Rules: Rules 1-10

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If I were not a server, I think I would make a good scientist.  My approach to serving is very similar to scientists testing new theories.  I form hypothesis and experiment to see if it can be proves true or false.  Everything I write about here has been tested on thousands of guests and over years of serving.  With this critical eye, I think I have proven some theories to the extent that I refer to them as rules.  These are truism that have been proven in my mind time and time again.

In the coming weeks I will expound upon these rules in greater detail.  For the moment though, here are my first ten rules of serving:

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