So You Want to Be a Waitress

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Well, if you're determined to pursue a waitress career, I'm certainly not going to stop you. So, just to make things easier, here's a combined assortment of tips for coming through the experience in one piece.

Some skills

To survive in the waitressing game you need many skills that will help you during your time working on the food chain. These include, but are not limited to:

Lying: You take an order from customers and spend the next half hour serving other people in your section. Then you realize - whoops, you forgot to give the order to the kitchen! What do you do? First, tell the customers there was a slip-up in the kitchen. Make vague references to the hassled chef - they're always so busy, you know! Promise it will be out soon. Give the order to the kitchen with the express direction to make the meal ASAP because it's for two heart surgeons on their lunch break. Situation averted, and you're cool.

Look busy at all times: Follow the George Costanza school of business and always look kind of annoyed and walk with a purpose. This works to put customers off-balance as you can get away with a lot more when a customer can clearly see you've run your feet off. And if you spend your free time doing menial tasks such as folding napkins and restocking the toothpick dispenser you won't get asked to carry the plates to the kitchen or do the washing up. The boss sees that you're using your initiative.

Suggest Sir or Madam tries the bread or a salad with their meal: If practiced often in a clear and ringing tone, your boss will notice that you're up-selling the product. Good for you, you might get a raise or promotion. Plus the customers will be impressed by your superior menu knowledge and great ideas and you may get a tip as a result. Nothing wrong with tips, are there?

Get the bill to the table as soon as possible: The reason being that you want a tip included. Instead of letting the customer make their way to the register before getting the bill, take it to them. There are three things which may occur: Either they will leave an amount of money with the bill which is a little over the requested price, but they don't bother waiting for the change so you can pocket it. Or they put some money with the bill then wait for their change at the table, giving them ample time to think about telling you how much of the change is yours to keep. And some will take the bill to the counter anyway. This is the worst choice as people will often forget they're in a restaurant and think they're just in a normal shop. Oh, well, you can't win them all, and some people wouldn't tip if their life depended on it.

No matter what, be polite: This will make you look like a saint and everyone who barks at you will appear mean-hearted and crazy.

General advice

In the United States, count on a minimum wage everywhere where there isn't an exception to that law - such as so-called 'right-to-work' states where your wage will be well under minimum. This is true precisely because of tips - in other countries tips are considered a gratuity on top of your salary, something extra. In the United States, tips are used as an excuse to not pay you a living salary. Sadly, many customers don't realize the fact that when they don't tip you, you're working virtually for free.

Weekends and evenings are the best times. Always try to find someplace which gets a lot of business at least at certain times - collage areas, conventions and travel destinations, in a hotel or casino, near a sports stadium, and so on. Never skip working on a Holiday if your restaurant's open that day - Holidays are your most profitable time. Your shift is likely to consist of lingering periods of inactivity punctuated by rushed times when you can barely keep up.

The ideal schedule for a table is five visits at minimum. First you greet and perhaps seat them if there isn't a hostess. Next, immediately bring menus, and ask initially if they'd like a beverage or would perhaps order right now. If they're regular customers they may already have an idea what they want. Next return to take their order. Then of course bring their food. Check once about five to ten minutes into the meal to see if they need anything else. Then at last bring them their bill and close your interaction. Add more visits depending on whether you have to refill a beverage or check every ten minutes to see if they're ready to order.

Tailor your service to the customer. The only way you'll get good at this is by learning body language. When you recognize a business person rushing in at lunchtime who is obviously in a hurry, cut out as many steps and be as efficient as possible. When you recognize a couple on a date, give them some time alone and intrude at the minimum; possibly suggest a single dessert to share. Stay and chat an extra minute with a lone diner who's not in a hurry if you have the time. When a lone diner arrives with a book, however, give them time to themselves; nobody who brings a book to dinner is ever in a hurry. Jump to serve a large party or family, and be extra warm and personal; large parties tip the best since they're likely to be having a festive time with all the company.

Good luck with your job. Whether you're waitressing to support yourself through school, just trying to work off your credit bills or you've got nowhere else to go, it's a career move which is interesting. Like cab driving, it will teach you about people, and you'll meet the most interesting varieties of them.