CRUSHED! A.K.A. When Rubber Meets The Road
“GAAHHH MY HAIR IS ON FIRE WHAT DO I DO ? !”
You are thirsty. Things move slowly. You feel like you are walking on molasses. Table 22 wants more mustard. Your heartbeat is racing. Your hair feels like it is on fire. Some get hungry. Some get horny. We all face the monster at some point. What to do? How do you manage it? Ah, that is one of the hardest lessons to learn. Fear not, Ol’ Adrian is here for you. I’ll go with a list to make it easier to remember. The most important lesson is preparation. With good preparation most chaos can be avoided. Or at least it feels that way. . . Anyway:
- DO NOT PANIC
Though it feels like you are being chased by a bear, chances are you are not. Nobody will die either. You are not saving lives. It’s easy to say but having perspective in difficult moments helps a lot.
Deep breaths tame the fear. It seems silly but it works. Just a few deep breaths is enough.
- IT WILL PASS
Keep in mind that it’s here and now and it feels like the world, but this will end. You will go home and have another day tomorrow.
- PEOPLE ARE FORGIVING
As long as you are honest and show that you work hard people can forgive mistakes. The key is to recognize errors and correct them. Nobody will snap your neck or hurt you physically. So breathe!
- TIME IS LIKELY DILATED FOR YOU
Adrenaline and stress do funny things to people. What you perceive as a long wait is likely no longer than a few minutes. On the other hand, time can fly as well. Which is why monitoring yourself is important. Having a watch helps. Your senses may trick you. I have seen people that write down the time they punched in orders, or what time they took the order. That can be a big help.
- THINK POSITIVE AND AVOID TUNNEL VISION
As mentioned before, if you keep yourself smiling and positive the burden will feel much lighter, and the good vibes will rub off on colleagues and guests. Keep perspective. Plus negativity ages you faster. No thanks.
- SING YOURSELF A SONG / REPEAT YOUR MANTRA
Think of a song or a little tune that makes you happy. Or a phrase that helps you focus. It will make your mind more at ease and let the autopilot of your mind do its thing. It helps immensely and I am not sure why. But most people I’ve worked with, both FOH and BOH, do it at times. Again, simple but it works.
8. STRESS IN LIFE IS UNAVOIDABLE
All life is a series of stresses. I got that from Blue Planet on Netflix. Without stressors here and there you would be stressed. Weird but true. Learn to ride the wave and you will be unbeatable in life (or so used to say Marcus Aurelius, dude that ruled the Roman Empire. Worth reading!). ALSO, LEAVE THE STRESS AT WORK. No need to bring it home.
9. BE PREPARED, KNOW YOUR STUFF
A lot of stress will come from not knowing things when you need to know them. If you are ready to go and know all the things people could ask for, your job will be much easier and your mind will also be calmer. How do you do this? GET LEARNING.
10. ACKNOWLEDGE AND AWARENESS
Here is one borrowed from Buddhism. Learn to recognize that you are stressed, embrace it, acknowledge. Tell the monkey brain you are ok, you noticed you are under pressure, but tell the monkey you will be ok. And then let it go. This one takes much more practice but its GOLD.
Adopt a table, make a new friend
Sometimes, mid-service, a fellow waitron might develop a blind spot for a table. Maybe it’s out of the way, or maybe they are just the type that one forgets easily. For whatever reason, nobody pays attention to the patron(s) and they are having a negative experience.
Here is where my handy tip comes in: The key is to adopt a table from your next door waitron before this happens. Not for money. Just for the sake of making someone’s life easier and the customer’s interaction more positive.
You don’t have to take over the table (and then argue who gets the tip), just keep an eye on them and do little things if you can —refilling water, clearing small things, etc. on your way. This makes for good esprit de corps, and guests love that. Explain to them, if they ask, that at the end of the day everyone is your guest. BAM! Money thrown at you and drinks for everyone!
Sometimes guests just want to chat, which is great on a slow Monday, not so great on a Saturday. So, try to develop a system or signal when you need a hand being extracted from a table or group, or even if you just need help with keeping an eye on your section. It could be something like rubbing your earlobe, or adjusting your tie. Something subtle that the staff can recognize and use to help you pull out from a table when needed.
Learning how to graciously get away from tables is a valuable skill that can be very handy.
Saying ”excuse me, I am going to check on your xyz, I’ll be right back,” works wonders.
So does, “oh, I think I see your xyz / drinks / apps being prepared,”‘everyone likes to feel they are being paid attention to. . . even if the attention is fleeting.
April 5 2021
THE INFAMOUS KOSHER PORK SANDWICH!
Saying No and have it slide
Sometimes the hardest thing (and the first thing you should avoid) is saying NO to a client.
There are many reasons why, but the most important is that a big part of the kayfabe is to do whatever it takes to avoid saying no. And this is what everyone is getting paid to do.
Let me put it this way: once we had a customer coming into the resto asking for, I kid you not, ”a Kosher pork sandwich.”
How would you react to this? What is the best line of defense? Try, ”Okay, let me look into it.” ( and DO IT).
It’s subtle, it’s honest , rolls out easily, and makes you look like you care. Of course go talk to the manager (or the kitchen), most kitchens should go out of their way to make the impossible possible, but if it’s simply not possible, here is how you can deliver bad news:
“I’m afraid that…”
“We looked into it, but it doesn’t seem possible with our current setup…”’
“I’m afraid that we are out of x. Or y. . .”
“Sadly it’s been sold out. The chef would love to help, but it proved wildly popular today as you may imagine. . .”
“Chef loves the idea, and will consider it for next time. . . however . . .”
“Please let us know next time you will come and we will do our best. . .”
How’d we solve the kosher pork sammich conundrum? I ain’t no Moses but I know it’s not possible to make a kosher pork sammich. What we did was ask the guest for clarification. Turns out what the guest really wanted was a pork sandwich without cheese… just put the cheese on the side. That, in his eyes, made it kosher. Amazing what people will order!
Whenever possible, the manager should intervene if there is an issue.The issue is obviously important to the guest (you will know by how they say it, so pay attention to body language).
Adding another layer of separation allows for two things:
- Customers feel that the restaurant really cares
- They won’t take it out on you, or the restaurant
- Appeases the caveman that a bigger chief leader is involved in bringing justice
- It is the manager’s job after all, and they have tools to make things work you don’t
- It helps put the issue in perspective for all parties, win-win
The lesson here is to always clarify. If you are certain of a No, then say it as nicely and smoothly as possible. It’s polite and makes for good business. AND NEVER GET INTO AN ARGUMENT WITH A CUSTOMER. PASS THE PUCK. CHARISMA, WIN.
A manager is like the goalkeeper of the team —he or she will be the buffer between clients and the restaurant. Let them do their thing.
The manager is better off helping waiters sell more (for the business’ sake), making more money (for the waiters’ sake) and for the overall well-being of both restaurant and staff (and avoiding having to train a new person). A good manager is like a coach of a sports team, brings out the talent in each player and finds the right fit at the right time for the right position. Of course this is not easy, but it needs to be done for the dance to continue.
Here’s to those great managers that make a difference in people’s lives!.
May 4, 2021 (may the force be with you)
THE MEAN MANAGER
“But Tinto,” you may say, “my manager is a mean jerk that is impossible to please. What do I do?” Ah, here is the thing: sometimes in life someone has to be the bad guy. At the end of the day, if there isn’t a coach or teacher (or policeman!) to make sure things get done most of us would have never learned to read, for example. Would you have learned on your own? Unlikely. So accepting criticism is a part of growing up, and learning from mistakes is even better.
However, now and then you’ll come across the maladjusted character who just likes to rag on people for sport. It is unfortunate but it happens. Don’t let it get to you, they win. Instead listen, learn what you have to and move on to better things and better people. (And again, chances are it is not personal, it is about getting things done for the business). The management – waiters relation is a complex issue, but if you find yourself doing things right and still getting berated the problem is not you.
Bottom line is that if you learned and tried your best but the bad vibes continue and feel gratuitous it’s perhaps best to move along to another place. Bring it up to their superiors if you can (gracefully), and see if they care. If they don’t you know what to do: vote with your feet and move on somewhere else. Working with toxic people is way worse for your sanity than finding another job.
May 10, 2021
Write it down, why?
Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth I used to take orders without having to write everything down. Made for a great impression but eventually the job just becomes harder and harder as orders get more complex. God help me with the long-list of allergies to consider and the diets people follow these days.
Not writing things down can also lead to serious mistakes, and having to argue with kitchen, manager and worse case, the customer, may result in a situation from which you can’t come back (NEVER GET INTO AN ARGUMENT WITH A CUSTOMER!)
Your notepad should be classy-looking on the outside (crumpled-up paper won’t do). Here is the low-tech template that has saved me many headaches (from top to bottom):
Table number (top right corner)
Relevant notes (anniv, bday, graduation)
Allergies (highlighted for your own sake)
Time of seating (to make sure they get things timely)
Any commentary they may have made or particular preferences for drinks, food, etc. (this will be invaluable for the CRM database, as we will see later).
Most importantly, do yourself a favor and write clearly. You may have to ask a coworker to punch in the order for you, and if they need clarification, this will slow everyone down. Get it done right and fast, and win.
Another very important note:
“There is no shame in asking for help, but there is shame in screwing up majorly because you didn’t ask for help,” as Neal McCotter (a notorious hospitality guy) would say.
PUNCH ORDER IN: GET IT DONE
As a general rule, get things in ASAP before going to the next table. . One never knows how much time will pass until the next interaction, and although it might be 10 minutes, it will look and feel like 50 to a waiting customer.
If someone asks you a question, be accurate and describe things with as much detail as possible, but don’t take forever. A few sentences, highlights of the item, then move on (gracefully, of course). Keep things relatable and succinct. Bam.
If there are special requests, make sure to repeat them back to the guest and write them down. In the computer, be sure to include your notes for the dish. Cover your ass.
Consult with the manager or kitchen point-person before punching in something complex. Clarity is important !.
It’s important to write things down because any manager that blames you for kitchen mistakes when they were in fact the kitchen’s mishaps is not worth their salt.
Always confirm with the kitchen or manager though, if certain things and modifications are possible, then write them down and punch them in. Don’t leave things to chance, or hope for the best. Make it happen.
Knowing when to say pass
It’s better to look after 15 customers well (and that seems to be the upper limit for me at once, in a complex setting, don’t ask me why), than to give mediocre or bad service to 20. Tell your colleagues, and don’t be afraid to pass if you have just been seated another table and you are jammed.
In a well-run restaurant you should be always full, but never over-crowded.
And since we don’t live in Fantasyland, always ask for help if you are in a jam. This bears repeating: “There is no shame in asking for help, but there is shame in fucking up majorly because you didn’t ask for help.” You may get the help you need or not, but hey, they can’t yell at you for asking!