The Rules of Serving: Rule Seven

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Unfortunately, none of the class could read the rules. Those who cannot read Animal Farm are doomed to repeat it.

 

Rule Seven: Be the coworker you want to have.

Once you have been at a particular restaurant for any length of time, the floor chart can tell you a great deal about how your shift will go.  Most servers can see the people they are working with and find reason for either optimism or frustration.  Some shifts, you see names that you know can take care of whatever is thrown at them and still be able to help you if you need it.  Other shifts, you are surrounded by people who are lazy and unwilling to help.  The difference between a smooth shift and one you have to struggle through can often be just a couple of coworkers.

Which begs a question.  When your coworkers see your name on the floor chart are they put at ease or anticipating extra work?  No one likes to work with a person who is a ball of stress and can barely keep ahead of their own section.  No one likes working with someone who does only the minimum to keep their guests happy.  If you are not someone who people feel confident working beside, then you are part of the problem.

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Memorizing Orders

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When I started my first serving job years ago I worked for a company I will affectionately refer to as “Five Four.”  That isn’t what it says on the signs out front, but it what we all called it.  My first day a manager who introduced himself as “CSV” told me that if I couldn’t figure out how to carry three plates at once by the end of the shift, I was fired.  I wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth, but I learned to carry three plates.  A couple days later I was training with a guy named “Timmy” who never wrote down his orders.  I asked him why and he said, “Only rookies write down orders.”

There are any number of managers who would read that last sentence and be horrified.  The thought of not writing down orders puts fear in the heart of managers who are responsible for the rise in food costs related to misrung food.  A former boss once put it this way; “I would rather have a stubby pencil than a sharp mind.”  The debate on whether or not to write down orders has pretty much been won by the side of managers who want to eliminate mistakes.  I do not disagree with them, but I also do not write down orders.

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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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Understanding French Sauces (Part Two)

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Celebrity chefs seem to be everywhere today.  If you are a foodie, you can probably name a handful off the top of your head.  They have their own TV shows, books, and websites.  Entire networks are built upon the idea of bringing you the next celebrity chef.  Reality shows feature aspiring chefs competing to be the best. Each of these chefs owes a debt of gratitude to the founder of modern cuisine, Auguste Escoffier.

Auguste Escoffier

Even today no chef has contributed more to modern cuisine than Escoffier.  In his day he was called “The Emperor of Chefs.”  He is responsible for more than 10,000 recipes.  He took the work of Careme and updated it into a framework still used today.  He designed the “Brigade de cuisine” which serves as the model for all modern kitchens.  He worked at restaurants with names that are familiar to most people a century later.  Escoffier did not invent cooking, but no one before or since has had a greater impact on what we eat.

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Foodie Friday: Types of Crab

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Guests often bring up the names of Food Network and Cooking Channel chefs to me at work.  The jokes usually go right over my head.  People assume that I am somewhat familiar with these chefs because of my job.  It is actually quite the opposite.  After spending a shift staring into a kitchen wondering if that well-done filet is every going to be plated, the last thing I want to do is watch people cook on television.  There is one exception; I love Deadliest Catch.

So does most of America it seems.  I receive several good crab questions every week from guests who are perhaps more familiar with crab than any other type of seafood.  This has required that I in turn learn more about crab to stay ahead of them.  So whether you are a server looking for answers or a guest just curious to know more about the fascinating creatures, this post is for you.  I will look at the four main types of crabs on restaurant menus and try to share a few fun facts.

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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: 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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