Waiting tables is not the easiest professional choice in the world. It is highly physically demanding
, it requires a commitment to late and unusual hours of work and, to last in it for any length of time, good manners and a highly developed sense of service. Neither is it usually very highly paid. These things attract a workforce which is transient
and not inclined to turn it into a career - namely students and people on their way to another career, like actors and musician - and turns the whole thing from a profession into a job.
This is a rather unfortunate and unnecessary state of affairs. Go anywhere in Europe with a highly developed dining tradition - France, Italy and Spain in particular - and you will encounter a situation which is very different from that in the English speaking world. The age of service staff is markedly higher, there is much more of an emphasis on professional appearance, and there are clear hierarchies in the worplace, pointing to the fact that people stay long enough in their jobs to develop positions of power they wish to reinforce. Most importantly, the profession is almost entirely male dominated, which is a good indication of the relatively high social status it traditionally enjoyed.
If you find yourself looking for a job in the "food industry" (an unattractive moniker in my opinion), you would do well to borrow this attitude to make your working life go smoother. The first and most important thing to realise is that you are not just a downtrodden waitron - although undoubtedly that is the way some workplaces will make you feel. No, you are an agent, an important intermediary between people and their food. And food is the most basic and profound of needs, as well as pleasures. Secondly, the customer is not your enemy. He or she are just a hungry person looking for the best meal they can afford or have time for, and if they are less than perfectly charming to you it is quite often because they are hungry.
The notion of good service is often bandied about in the industry, but what is not often acknowledged is that good service constitutes more than just getting plates to the table while still hot and remembering that pesky glass of water. In other words, we are talking here about attitude, not just efficiency and good manners. And I think you will find, as I always have, that keeping you attitude positive is much easier if you try and enter into the customer's mind. It stands to reason: it's that much harder to force yourself to smile prettily for no psychologcally cogent reason, and that much easier to smile if you are interested in the object as a person, and concerned about their enjoyment.
A good waiter is one who can enter into the customer's mind and behave appropriately. Examples:
- Some people come to the restaurant in a hurry, especially at lunchtime. If you notice this fact, you can run through the specials at top speed (they probably don't care anyway), then take their drinks order without leaving the table. More time can be saved by bringing the bread back together with the drinks and immediately taking the food order. They will not only thank you, but are more likely to have that extra minute at the end of their meal to remember to tip you.
- Other people come to the restaurant on a date. Trust me, they will not admire you efficiency if you hover at their elbow constantly, asking them if they're ok or if they need anything else. They want to be left alone. And, although they probably don't know it, they will love the idea of sharing a dessert. Choose the biggest, most shareable item on the dessert menu and sell it up enthusiastically. Happy couples like to show off to each other by leaving generous tips.
- On the subject of selling up: this is something that will push the total bill up and increase your tip (in places where tips are calculated as a percentage of the bill, anyway). So it's a good idea for you, not just for the owner. But you have to use your common sense while doing it! There's no sense pushing a big dessert on a slim young woman who has just had a salad followed by grilled fish, no sauce or potatoes. Try recommending the sorbet, or mention what excellent alcohol coffees the bar is famous for, instead. Or offer a glass of the special dessert wine.
- Wine is a very important part of any meal, but in all but the best restaurants it is a sadly overpriced, low quality and unregarded item. In the UK in particular, the assumption seems to be that people will buy booze on an evening out no matter what it costs or how mediocre it is. You can try and rectify the situation by informing yourself a little bit about the different wines on your establishment's menu, perhaps tasting them if you get the chance. You can then honestly tell people which are the really good buys and which are just space fillers. If they feel you've saved them money, they will reward you for it in the tip.
- Honesty is a commodity that cannot be valued highly enough in the service industry. People just love to feel that they are getting genuine insider information. So if you dislike an item on the menu, and someone asks you about it, be honest. If there is a dish you are particularly crazy about, sell it up. If you've never been given the opportunity to taste the dishes, you can honestly say what previous customers thought of them, which will put to good use all the comments people make about the food and that perhaps you were not previously interested in.
There are hundreds of little tip and tricks I can think of, but space and my time are short. In general, the best advice I can give - or rather, reiterate - to anyone who wants to make a decent living waiting tables is: be understanding of your customers. Yeah, some of them are just assholes, and some of them just don't tip. But most are nice people out to have a good time, and they will reward you if you show them that you want that too.