Food Allergies: A Responsible Approach

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None of these are a good way to end a meal.

I have one hard and fast rule when it comes to waiting tables.  No one dies on my watch.  I have had several guests leave the restaurant in an ambulance, but none of them have died.  It is a simple thing, but it helps me sleep better at night.  I may not be changing the world with this rule, but I cannot imagine the guilt of breaking it.

This is why I am particularly careful about food allergies.  Knowledge of food allergies is the most basic tool  a server has to prevent guests from facing life-threatening reactions in their restaurants.  This is too often treated lightly.  I once heard a surgeon say that the only minor surgery is the one someone else is having.  The same can be said of food allergies.  While it may not seem important to every guest, the difference between a peanut and a tree nut can be the difference between an enjoyable meal and a trip to the emergency room for some of your guests.

Read the full post at Foodie Knowledge

Recommended Viewing 11/15

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For this week’s recommended reading post, I decided to try something a little different.  Normally on Mondays I post a series of articles that I found interesting over the last week.  This week, I decided to highlight some of the funniest videos on the internet about servers.  Most of us get to work with some incredibly talented people. Some of those talented people spend their time in side stations trying to come up with ideas to make us all laugh.  After spending a few hours looking up old favorites and finding some new ones, I wanted to share some of the best groups out there making funny videos about serving.

Read the full post at Restaurant Laughs

A World Without Tips

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A world without tips

I am still incredibly grateful for my recent guest post on tipping.  It inspired my response that discussed the economics of tipping.  It also raised a few other interesting points that I am now learning are common misconceptions about restaurants.  For people who have never worked in a restaurant, these misconceptions can easily be mistaken as facts.  Upon further consideration they may not be wise to pursue.  One interesting idea that she raised in the post was raising the wages paid to server by restaurants to replace tipping.  While on the surface it seems quite logical, it would have a disastrous impact on the industry.

Restaurants are operated on incredibly thin profit margins.  As discussed in a previous post, large corporate restaurant chains are extremely susceptible to anything that affects their stock prices. With a huge spike in the cost of labor, restaurant stock prices would crumble.  Independent restaurant owners struggling to stay afloat would shutter.  Consumers would lose choices.  A vast majority of restaurants would survive this initial wave, but be forced into the next step.

The remaining restaurants would set a wage for servers considerably lower than what the servers make now.  Professional servers with years of experience would have to settle for the new rate or venture into a new career field.  Between servers quitting and terminations, restaurants would reduce the size of their server staff by about a third.  Servers who worked four table sections before would now be required to work six tables for less money.  This would reduce the damage to the restaurant’s bottom line, but also drastically reduce the quality of service that was provided to guests.

Read the full post at Tips For Improving Your Tips

The Economics of Tipping

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A reminder for all of us.

I still occasionally get the guest who will say, “I can buy this wine for half this price at the store.”  Which is true, but it doesn’t come with a staff to serve it and a crew of chefs ready to cook you an incredible meal from a fully stocked kitchen.  I wonder if the same people have ever priced grapes at the grocery store.  If they want to get really serious about cutting out the mark up, that would be an even cheaper place to start.  Better yet, if they buy seeded grapes they could plant the seeds and never have to pay for a bottle of wine again.

Most of you understand the absurdity of this logic.  Those who do not understand have already stopped reading to go buy grapes.  At each step along the process of making the bottle of wine the cost of goods and service, along with a healthy profit margin, are passed along to the next stage.  From grape to cellar, farmers, vintners, bottlers, distributors, and restaurants all add to the price of the bottle in advance.  There is one exception to this rule.  The person who opens the bottle and pours it actually makes that wine less expensive.  At the most basic level, the person who serves the wine pays for part of the bottle for you.

Read the full post at Tips For Improving Your Tips

Leadership: Empowering Others

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Provide the power and watch your staff come to life.

“If you don’t understand that you work for your mislabeled ‘subordinates,’ then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.” -Dee Hock

You have two choices as a manager.  You can force every staff member to do things as you would do them or you can encourage them to achieve the results you want to achieve.  The first choice will force you into a great deal of resistance and move you further from your goal.  The second will reduce your stress as your staff finds innovative new ways to achieve your shared goal.  In the past I have addressed the desire for autonomy as a vital motivating force for restaurant employees.  Today I will address it from the perspective of a leader and how it benefits the leader as well.

Read the full post at The Manager’s Office

Leadership: Creating A Shared Goal

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Each person climbs the mountain for their own reason

“Leaders don’t force people to follow-they invite them on a journey.” -Charles S. Lauer

The fundamental question behind the desire to manage rather than lead is, “How can I get people to do what I want them to do if they do not want to do it?”  Failure to answer this question is what leads so many managers to lead by force and threat of force.  The answer to this question is simple.  You must create a vision for your staff, which allows them to achieve what they want by achieving what you want.  This is what I will refer to as a shared goal, vision, or sense of purpose.  I have discussed the idea of selling a sense of purpose in the past.  Today I want to go deeper into how to develop it.

Read the full post at The Manager’s Office

What I Use

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My well worn money clamp and rialto

After my less than flattering review of Hot Schedules I feel like I need to say something nice.  I am in general a pretty optimistic person.  After sitting here and writing 2500 words on why I dislike Hot Schedules, I need to cleanse my pallet.  I never intended for this to turn into “review week” on the blog   I might as well balance out my last two posts with some things that I do like.

None of this is sponsored.  No one pays me for these opinions.  These are the actual tools that after 15 years as a server I find work best for me.  I am constantly looking for products that allow me to do my job more effectively.  I feel each of these do so and would benefit you as well.

Read the full post at Tips For Improving Your Tips

Hot Schedules Reviewed: Part One

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The future of scheduling?

A few months ago the restaurant I work at (and who my opinions in no way represent) began using the Hot Schedules program for scheduling.  For those of you not familiar with this system, it is a web based system for scheduling employees.  It is experiencing incredibly rapid growth and is becoming more commonplace within the restaurant industry.  I have waited to become acclimated with the system before writing about it.  These are my thoughts as a user of this system.

There were difficulties in launching the program.  It took a few weeks to work out all the bugs from the time the system was adopted.  One of the primary difficulties was employees without access to the internet.  I work at a restaurant where the servers make well above the national average.  Some servers whether by choice or financial difficulties do not have a computer at home.  Many cooks and bussers also had the same difficulties.  Some companies accommodate for this problem by having the system set up to allow their staff to access this system through their POS terminals.  Mine does not.  This should be taken as a disclaimer.  Choosing to allow that access would remedy a great number of the issues I will address in this review.

Read the full post at The Manager’s Office

When visiting the Hot Schedules website they offer four significant advantages to their system: communication, time savings, reduced turnover, and labor cost controls.  I will address the program using the same criteria to give both advantages and disadvantages.

Communication: Any hot schedules user can send messages to any other user or to all users.  A message can also be sent to any subgroup (servers, hosts, etc) within the system.  Each message sent requires checking a disclaimer box stating you will be responsible for messages sent through the system.  This allows for managers to communicate with employees about promotions or a server to send a mass message to other servers to get shifts covered.  These messages are copied to the recipient’s email and sent via text message if the recipient chooses.

In other words it is just like facebook, twitter, or email.  Some people have none of those and if the temptation to see the pictures from last Saturday night on facebook or forwarded emails from their Aunt weren’t enough to get them online, this won’t be either.  For those people who are routinely online it is just one more account to have to check on a regular basis.  Sending a mass email would have a greater likelihood of being read quickly and can be done for free.

Communication is also a two edged sword. All users, including management, must use diplomacy and judgment.  Nothing says “welcome home” like returning from vacation to find hostile messages waiting for you chastising you for poor customer feedback during your absence.  The text message feature is a bonus, but this means that a shift change will result in three text messages (confirming you released it, confirming someone else picked it up, and confirming it has been approved).  I am not aware of any co-workers who still have the text message feature active after the onslaught of texts lead to our phones blowing up like 12 year old girls at a sleepover.

Time Savings: On their website, the company claims that managers typically report a 75% reduction in the time it takes to write a schedule.  Having written more than a few schedules myself over the years I can attest to the time it can consume.  Having all of the requests off and availabilities in one place would be very convenient.  The system allows servers to make these requests and update them up until the schedule is posted.  It also takes the place of managers having to approve shift changes by hand.

The managers who report a 75% time reduction must have had a horrendous system in place before.  The system is user friendly, but it does not do all of the work for you.  The time spent inputting and working out scheduling conflicts is still there.  It simply brings all of the information to one place.  When I wrote schedules I typically would do so from a table on the floor.  This allowed me to be accessible to my staff and keep an eye on what was happening.  This option is not available when doing the schedule online where all of the information is now kept.

The time savings is also completely wiped out by the time spent after the schedule is written.  Shift changes that once required an initial in the “blue book” now require the employee giving up the shift to go home and change it online.  The employee who wants the shift must wait for this to occur to pick up the shift online.  Then both employees must wait for a manager to update the system from the office.  Again this would be greatly remedied by having the system live through the POS system.  The result is a manager fielding a phone call from either employee asking them to approve it.  They then have to go to the office, login (the automatic logout time is very short) and approve the shift.  All of these are additional steps the place the manager in the office instead of on the floor.

This isn’t even the most time consuming aspect of the system.  If a manager decides to move you to a different station with an earlier in time or call you in early for a special party, things get really interesting.  The POS system prevents you from clocking in before the time it is told from Hot Schedules at the beginning of the day.  This is the mechanism by which they are able to achieve labor savings. This means that the manager must manually clock you in.  This is a minor inconvenience when done once.  When done multiple times per shift several times per week it can drive a manager to drink.

Tomorrow in part two I will address the main selling points of Hot Schedules.  The issues I discussed today would be easily overlooked to gain the cost savings they promote on their website.  Do these claims really pan out?  Are there more unforeseen problems ahead?  Check out part two to find out.  In the meantime I need to go log into Hot Schedules to see if my shift change had been approved yet.

Making a Difference

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Hey guys could we get some saucers?

The weekend is upon us.  Friday and Saturday nights get busy and take a lot out of us.  The pace is faster, the side stations are more crowded, and all of the saucers in the restaurant seem to hide.  The guests do not seem to understand any of this and have far less patience.  This leads to frustration on our part and the feeling of  a battle.  A normally nice restaurant turns into a fortress.  The staff fortifies as an army defending against the invading hordes.  Trying to get them fed so they will retreat.  The evening ends with the restaurant looking like a battlefield.  We gather our wounded at the end of the night and plan our invasion of someplace that stays open later than our restaurant does.

Friday and Saturday nights are called “amateur hour” because the guests are less restaurant savvy.  They are not as aware of the burdens they place on us by all deciding to come out to eat on the same night.  They are less patient, less informed, and less generous.  We wish for one moment they could step in our shoes and know our struggles.  Yet, how often do we extend them the same courtesy?  Take a couple minutes to watch this video before answering.

Read the full post at Tips For Improving Your Tips

Serving Sober

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I spent alot of time with him, but not sure I would call him a friend.

I am back from vacation and sitting down at my desk again.  It feels nice to get back into my writing routine.  It was an incredible trip.  I was able to hang out with some great old friends, see an incredible show, and revisit my roots.  I was also able to share a celebration of the fifth anniversary of my last drink.

It is no secret that alcoholism and binge drinking are common in the restaurant business.  What passes for going out for a couple drinks after a shift for some is a recognizable problem for others.  I doubt any restaurant in America is without at least one person currently struggling with alcohol.  I’ve never written about this topic because of an intense desire not to be a hypocrite.  Two thirds of my serving career was spent looking forward to a Dewars and water or Sam Adams when I got off work.

Read the full post at Tips For Improving Your Tips

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