Working as a restaurant server can be a challenging, but rewarding, career choice. Most of the skills you’ll need to succeed will be learned on the job, but if you’re new to the industry, here’s an job overview–plus a few essential do’s and don’ts–that will help get you started.
The primary job of a server is to make sure customers have a pleasant experience in the restaurant. Make guests feel comfortable and welcome, and think of yourself as a liaison between the table and kitchen.
Getting Ready for Your First Day
Companies usually offer structured training for new employees that may include shadowing another waiter until you feel comfortable enough to work on your own.
Here’s how to make sure you get off to a great start:
- Wear comfortable shoes. Follow your restaurant’s specific footwear guidelines, but generally, you’re going to want something with a non-slip sole that you comfortably walk in for several hours.
- Wear deodorant. This may go without saying, but you are likely to work up a sweat, so avoid awkward moments with a little bit of preparation.
- Pack breath mints. Your customers will appreciate this, especially if you eat lunch or take a smoke break while at work.
- Display a great attitude. When you walk through the door on your first day, take a positive attitude with you. A good attitude has a lot to do with how you are perceived by everyone around you: customers, coworkers and supervisors.
- Wear a smile. Smiling is contagious, and happy customers usually leave better tips.
With your first day down, be sure to focus on the following areas as you spend more time navigating the front of the house:
- Menu: Become familiar with every menu item so you can field inevitable customer questions about ingredients, meal combinations, add-ons, and drinks. Memorization isn’t necessary, but you should know enough to have an informed conversation and relay special notes to both guest and chef.
- Restaurant Technology: The restaurant point of sale system is the computer or tablet on which waiters enter food and drink orders, submit payments, and print receipts. Modern cloud-based systems even allow for on-screen signatures, online ordering systems, training modes, and more.
- Restaurant Layout: Improve efficiency by learning the fastest routes to the kitchen and back. Be aware of your surroundings and watch out for blind spots that could spell disaster for waiters carrying trays of food and dishes.
- The Restaurant’s Vision: Learn about the history of the restaurant, as well as its mission statement. There may be a unique backstory or notable concept or characteristic that shapes its personality and reputation within the community. Once you know what makes your restaurant special, you can emphasize it in your interactions with customers.
- Dress Code: A sloppy uniform communicates carelessness. Whether you have a uniform or not, be sure your appearance is professional and clean. Ask about policies on accessories, jewelry, and shoes.
- Serving Etiquette: There is more to proper etiquette than just providing service with a smile. Some fine dining establishment still serve female guests first, refrain from eating or drinking while in the presence of customers, and exhibiting proper posture at all times. But even if your restaurant is more casual, servers should still take care to be polite and approachable. Your positive attitude should make guests feel welcome, and their experience pleasant. Exceptional servers learn how to read their customers’ personalities and anticipate their needs.
The Basic Do’s and Don’ts of Serving
Commit these guidelines to memory to make the customer’s dining experience as enjoyable as possible.
- Do remember to smile.
- Do try to remember names.
- Do write a “thank you” on guests’ checks.
- Do pay attention to customers’ wishes.
- Do handle wine glasses by the stem.
- Do place the check in a neutral spot on the table.
- Do deliver a dish as if it were a precious gift.
- Do check with the kitchen when asked, even if you think you know the answer.
- Do tell the guest what you are handing them.
- Do bring your personality to work. Be warm, helpful, knowledgeable and professional.
- Do show respect to guests, fellow workers and staff.
- Do enjoy yourself.
- Don’t interrupt guests’ conversations.
- Don’t ignore a table just because it’s not yours.
- Don’t take offense or act negatively if a guest asks to speak to a manager.
- Don’t curse in front of guests.
- Don’t be condescending.
- Don’t use a phone or text where guests can see you.
- Don’t chat with coworkers about personal matters where you can be seen.
- Don’t touch customers.
- Don’t fuss over your clothing or hair, rub your eyes, or pick at your nails.
Dealing with Difficult Customers
Even if you’re on your A-game, you will still encounter upset customers. Knowing how to handle guest complaints in a way that diffuses the situation can make all the difference.
First, be aware of your restaurant’s policy regarding refunds, replacements, and complimentary dishes, so you don’t offer something you can’t produce.
Then, follow these four steps:
1. Acknowledge the complaint. Pay attention and listen to their concerns, whether you feel they are legitimate or not. Allowing them to vent their frustrations often helps move toward a workable resolution.
2. Apologize for the inconvenience. Repeat their complaint back to them to demonstrate that you understand why they are upset. Let them know you and/or your supervisors are aware of the problem and are working toward a solution.
3. Offer solutions or remedies. Offer a solution you think is best, as well as a couple other management-approved ideas, so the customer feels they have a say in the resolution.
4. Follow up. After you have provided a remedy or solution, check back with the customer to see if they need anything else.
The Last Word
Trust yourself; you’re going to do great. Absorb as much information as you can during training and as you work the first few shifts.
Take notes if you need help remembering. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And finally, relax. Breathe. Enjoy your new career.