I waited tables for 18 months. Some days would be okay, some days would be pretty awful, most days I would go into the toilets and hopelessly stare at a Kimberley Clark dispenser and wonder how I could get through the next eight hours. If only I’d read this ultimate how-to guide on my first day serving roasts to screaming children, goddammit.
Learn how to do a bloody good job, inject some amusement and make yourself more employable (yep, there are transferable skills in waitressing aside from “can balance two plates on one arm, precariously”)
HOW TO DO A BLOODY GOOD JOB
You live, you learn, you pass on the wisdom and advice. The most important bit of advice I learnt came from a Brazilian who was studying to be a mime artist and working in a restaurant to fund her course:
“If you don’t enjoy a bad job, you’re going to enjoy it even less if you do it badly.”
1. Be straight-talking
Forget the small-talk and the pleasantries: when you’re on the floor, learn to speak in short sentences that would otherwise appear incredibly rude. Worrying about saying sorry for needing a fork, or asking a colleague “if you have time, could you possibly pass me the vinegar when you’re done with that table?” takes time and time is one thing you genuinely do not have.
Yes, I’m going all blockbuster action movie starring Bruce Willis on your ass. One thing I learned the hard way (“COULD YOU STOP APOLOGISING AND JUST SAY WHAT YOU MEAN FFS”- my manager) is that you need to be straightforward. If another waitress asks if you’ve given a table the bill, answer yes or no as opposed to giving a large, emotional backstory.
2. Be prepared like your nan always told you
You need a pen. You need a notepad. You need your till key. You need a bottle opener. If you’re working in an eaterie de la lurrve, you need a lighter (for lighting lurrve candles). The moment you leave any of the above on the side/in the kitchen, someone will yell at you to light some candles while a customer starts crying because you haven’t opened their wine. For girls, stick your pen in a bun/kooky up do. For guys, stick your pen behind your ear.
3. Pockets are Well Important
See point 3 (you can’t fit a notepad behind your ear and, if you can, you’re wasted in the catering industry. Be an ear model.)
4. Maximise your notepad (no, really)
Draw the table plan on the back of your pad. Then the ale list/wine list/lager list if you’ve got a bad memory (like me). Now, come up with a system for note-taking. If it’s a table of two, you can get away with just scrawling a list, but it’s good to maintain strict habits because suddenly you’ll get a party of twenty and having your brain working on automatic is easier than trying to remember orders as well as the correct way to write them down.
Everyone has their own process, but this was mine:
It’s not perfect and appears much more complicated than at first glance, honestly. Look. See? Oh.
5. Everyone will love you if you give them tap water without them asking
It’s just a nice thing to do, yeah?
6. Be nice to the kitchen staff
Chefs can be bastards and it’s not their fault – they’re hot, cooking and can’t be arsed with a table wanting spinach on the side/extra chilli/no chilli. Realise that it’s the ultimate Shoot The Messenger In The Face scenario and that they will at one point go crazy at you for no reason. Also realise that you will at one point either fly into a rage or hysterically tell them it’s not your fault table 9 is gluten free.
Counter this by constantly offering them jugs of juice/cola from the bar and complimenting them on the food. Say thank you and please and “wow I think I am physically attracted to that ravioli” and basically bribe the crap out of them.
HOW TO HAVE A BIT OF FUN
No, the following aren’t particularly uproarious thigh-slappers, but it’s bizarre how hysterically fun things become when you’re really tired and wearing a pinafore.
1. Invent code names for customers.
Sometimes you need to warn people that there’s a group of fit men/hot women on table 14. Sometimes you genuinely need to warn people of the arsehole bankers on table 10. Make sure you have the following covered: pervy men, irritating women, drunk people, gross people, nuns, potentially underage teenagers, famous people, attractive people, probable serial killers.
Once you’ve covered the basics, you can start getting creative. For example, “bagel” could mean “someone who looks a bit like Jesus” and, at my last place we used various cereals and pastries as our code names (“cheerios” was an attractive person and “donut” was the opposite). Sometimes fruit and veg works well. Or numbers. But that’s boring.
2. Speak in a variety of accents (HAHAHAHAlol etc)
Bored? Be American for a bit. Obviously use discretion and don’t switch while you’re serving a table.
3. Fake it until you feel it in your soul
If you feel ready to stick forks in peoples’ eyes, act like you’re the happiest waiter in the land. Remember that restaurant you went to with the great waiter who made you feel like the most important person in the room? Fake sincerely caring about your tables, really WANT them to have the best experience ever, and you’ll be surprised at how much nicer your customers suddenly become. A surly waiter is treated as such, and so remains surly. A happy, fun, helpful and thoughtful waiter gets tips and consequently is happier. It’s known as waitermaths.
4. Have a vent/kick an oven
There’s usually one place in the restaurant where you can go and call your sarcastic customer/crap boss every name under the sun and a few you’ve invented. Usually it’s the bar store or the cellar. Sometimes it’s the kitchen – I’ve been known to burst into tears in front of quite a few Polish potwashers. One of them felt so sorry for me he gave me a book. One of them patted me on the back and kindly suggested I stop kicking the oven, because my foot might break. It’s important to vent.
5. Read/follow these blogs/twitter accounts:
@meanwaiter is brilliantly enraged and, frankly, just quite brilliant.
TRANSFERABLE SKILLS WAITRESSING GIVES YOU
Don’t worry, all this is going to help you in the real world. Even if it doesn’t feel like it now – here are the top three skills you will learn as a waitress:
If you’ve ever been the middle man between a chef and a table demanding sausage and mash without the mash or the sausage then you can pretty much deal with anything. See every argument or disagreement as a chance to hone your mediating talents and improve your people skills.
The calmer you are, the better the outcome – and what job is immune to a difficult colleague/boss? You could probably run for Prime Minister and do pretty well (provided you know about politics).
Ten tables, all arrived at various times, at different stages of their meals, keep asking for various sauces, drinks and side dishes. You can’t jot down everything (carefully writing “ketchup” in your notebook makes you look insane) so inevitably will need to retain quite a lot of things at the same time. The ability to totally focus on a million tasks at once stretches you intellectually and ensures you’re kept in peak mental condition… which can’t be a bad thing.
Being waved away like a mosquito by a table of posh people teaches you the biggest and most important lesson of all – it ensures you will remain empathetic towards all other human beings also earning a living. If you become the CEO of a major corporation, or even just fairly high up in your chosen career, the memory of being clicked at means you’ll treat your interns, the cleaners, the PA, and your mate who’s a bartender with the respect they deserve. This is something sorely lacking in the business world, and something that will mark you out as a good leader and an all-round great guy.
Any more tips, stories or experiences from waiters/waitresses out there? Tweet us @gothinkbig or leave a comment below – we’d love to hear from you!
Have you made the most of a dull job? Let us know!