Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Server Lesson #3: Anticipation

I have a spare hour before I must go out and look for a job, so I thought I'd continue my posts about how to wait on tables. I know, you're thinking "why would you, an international man of mystery, need a job?" You have no idea what the mortgage payments are like on a Fortress of Solitude. These things don't come cheap, what with the arctic isolation and all the crystal. Also, Hostess doesn't give away those Ring Dings for free. And I love me the Ring Dings.

Before we move on to the edutainment portion of the blog, it's time for a little housekeeping. I see by the old followers counter on the wall that I've lost one of you. I don't know who it is, but clearly I've either offended them (what? Me be offensive?!) or they thought I'd be giving out tasty recipes. Either way, I've gone from eight followers to seven, and all I can say is bon chance. That's French for "don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out."

On to anticipation. No, not the anticipation of Christmas morning, as you sit waiting for mom and dad at the top of the stairs and stare at all the pretty boxes under the tree before you realize they're all filled with sweaters and socks. Nor is it the anticipation as someone curvy and smelling faintly of vanilla and stale cigarettes slowly peels off her stockings.... Ahem, sorry about that. No, we're talking about knowing what's going to happen before it happens. You have to anticipate the needs of your customers.

Every meal has definte stages to it. If you've ever eaten out, then you know what they are, even if you don't think you know. It's ingrained by our society and culture. If you're aware of the stages, then you have a general idea of what your customer expects. And you're going to be there about a half-beat before your customer realizes what he expects.

As an aside, I've waited on many European tourists in my day. No, this isn't going to be a tirade about non-tipping European douche-scrotes who know about tipping but choose not to do it because they think the money's better spent on more jeans. The cheap bastards. No, this is about cultural expectations. I've gone up to Europeans (typically French) who have just sat down, and you know why I'm there: To take the drink order. But these people don't seem to know that. They look at me all scared and surprised and tell me they're not ready to order yet. Yes, I know that. I'm here to find out if you want a drink. Sometimes I have to make the drinky hand sign for them. I don't know why they assume I'm there to take their food order so quickly. Don't they drink in Europe? Does everyone order everything all at once? I have no idea.

Anyway, back to anticipation. Once your customers sit down and settle, they start to look at the menu. If you're not there in a timely fashion, two or three minutes, they begin to get antsy. They begin to think that maybe they've been forgotten. They start to swivel their heads around looking like puppies in a pet shop window hoping someone will take them home and give them Liv'r Snaps. All they want to know is that you know they're there. Knowing this, you, as server, should go up and offer them a drink. Once you've given them something, they're content, and you can go back to ignoring them for five minutes while you flirt with the bartender.

The next stage of the meal is the food order. They've gotten their drinks, talked things over, made their decisions, and now your customer wants to order. One of the key ways to anticipate your customers is to watch their body language. I've seen rookies go up to the table while the customers still have their noses buried in the menu, or while they're still catching up with each other. Why would you go to take an order before your customers have even looked at the menu? Once they've put the menus down, that's your cue to go to the table. They're ready now.

See, the customer will tell you how they want you to treat them, if you can spot the signs. Some customers want you to be funny and joke around with them; they'll start off by joking with you. Others want you to be Jeeves the Butler -- quiet, efficient, invisible; they'll be a little brusque with you to establish the mood. A few customers want to treat you like you're beneath them, because you have a menial service industry job while they work in a law office or bank; they'll start things off by talking down to you, rolling their eyes a lot, and treating you like a two-year old. Knowing how your customer wants to be served helps you anticipate their needs.

Watching the table top also helps. Do your customers want to wait until they've finished their drinks before ordering? Then they want to go slow through the whole meal. Are they taking their time eating their salads? They're slow eaters, and you can wait to fire their food. Are they shovelling the appetizers into their mouths? Then they're either fast eaters or have someplace to be. You should fire their food a little faster, so it comes out quicker. Do they have a mouthful of wine left in their glasses? Then you should be ready to offer them another. Did they order a steak? Bring the steak knife, ketchup, and A-1 before the food gets there. Ditto for dessert; make sure the dessert forks are on the table before the dessert.

You want to be there before your customer needs something, holding the exact thing he or she will need before they need it. You don't want your customer waiting on you. You are waiting on your customer.

You want to be aware of the stage each of your tables is at. If table 10 is about to finish their appetizers, you don't want to go to the six-top at table 14, because they're going to take a long time (big tables always do) and you'll forget to fire table 10's dinner. Fire table 10, then go to table 14. Table 5 is sipping the last of their coffee? Ask them if they want another, but have the check ready in case they don't. Because those are the only two options left to the meal. They're not going to order another dinner. They either want more coffee or check. Don't make them wait for either because you weren't paying attention. You should be constantly updating the priority list in your head as you move through the dining room. You should know where each of your tables is in the meal, what's coming up next, and what they'll need.

I hope you've found this just a little informative. So when you find follower #8, you can tell him or her that they missed a scintillating, educational blog posting. Or just mock them. Now, it's off to the job search. 'Cause I needs me some Ring Dings. And fortified wine.

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