Tips and tricks to being a waiter?

After weeks of searching I finally got a job as a server at a local Denny’s. Yay me. Not the most glamorous position, but hey, a jobs a job. Now the problem is that I don’t really have as much experience in the field as I let on in the interview. I don’t expect the job to be rocket science, but I am sure that it does take more than a little skill to be an excellent waiter. So I was hoping that you goons might know some helpful tricks of the trade. Just some do’s and don’ts of waiting on people. Or, if not that, some cool stories of your experiences would be great.

As a rule of thumb, never have empty hands. And learn to smile while you seethe. Good luck!

Never look harried. You can be harried, but never look it.

Do things without being asked, and as unobtrusively as possible (e.g. refilling water). The best waiter (in my mind) is one where I notice that I suddenly have a full glass of water that I didn’t ask for, and I don’t recall the waiter pouring it.

At the same time, don’t go overboard with water pouring, etc. That’s the “unobtrusive” part. People come to the restaurant for food and their own purposes, not to feel bugged by someone flitting around them.

Be professional and do not talk or socialize with fellow staff in public sight.

Work well with the kitchen staff - while it might not be as big a deal at a “one course” shop like Denny’s (no offense, just the facts), the kitchen staff in a bigger/better restaurant will be your savior when it comes to pacing salad/appetizer/main course/dessert/etc.

Try to be as genuinely jovial as possible. This does not mean being a chatterbox, but merely that people can tend to reflect your mood, so if you are fairly happy and enjoying your work, people will enjoy their meal more (and tip more).

Oh! I’ve got some!

When someone says thank you… please say, “You’re welcome.”

If the customer leaves money sitting on top of their bill, it’s better to say, “I’ll be right back with your change.” Rather than…“Can I get you some change?” Because every time I hear the latter one…I’m sorely tempted to say, “Yes you can!” The first option leaves open the opportunity for the customer to say, “No, that’s fine.”

Speaking of change…
If the change from a bill is 5 dollars and some cents…or 10 dollars and some cents… please don’t give them a 5 or 10 for change. Break it down. You’ll have a better chance of a tip, if they have something to tip you with.

ALWAYS do a table check. Shortly after the meals are brought out… go back and ask how everything is. If my mouth is full (And it ALWAYS IS), pause, with a smile, and wait for me to finish swallowing so I can answer.

Can you tell I eat out a lot?

To expand on Dante’s tip, when you come out to check on your tables, always bring something with you that you can drop off at another table, or, more importantly, always bring something back with you to the kitchen from your tables (clear plates, condiments no longer needed, etc.) The idea is to make all your trips be multi-purpose ones so as to save you time/steps and make you more efficient.

If you are going to clear plates, though, do that AFTER you talk to your tables, so they don’t have to look at somebody else’s nasty old plate. Try to anticipate their needs rather than having them have to ask you for everything (extra napkins for a messy meal; more hot water for someone having tea - for whatever reason, more hot water gets overlooked more often than coffee refills). Don’t be annoyingly extra-cheery or use a fake voice with tables that you never use with anyone else.

The cooks and the busboys/girls are your friends. Be nice to them, be respectful of them, and you will be rewarded. Not to mention that that’s the right thing to do anyway. If it is the practice to tip out the bus staff (I assume it is – in some restaurants it’s a percentage of your tips – in others, whatever you want to give them), then the first time you tip a bus person, overtip. They will remember you as a good tipper. Thereafter, tip adequately and they will help you out, by busing your tables in a rush, getting you silverware, cleaning up a mess for you when you’re too busy, etc.

The cooks have everything to do with your success as a server. Be nice and respectful, and if you tip the cooks, follow the same rule as above. Even if you don’t normally tip out the cooks in your restaurant, a tip every once in awhile will not be unappreciated.

Remember that if customers are rude to you, customers are the reason you have a job. They are paying you, and it is still your job to be nice to them. Also, maybe their mom died the day before or whatever.

I put myself through college serving at Lyon’s (like Denny’s), and it was a great experience. Good luck!

Banish the phrase “you guys” from your vocabulary while working. This grates on my nerves, especially when the other “guy” with me is my mother. :dubious:

Stand up when taking the order, don’t crouch down or sit down next to me, unless corporate policy requires it.

Don’t ignore single diners, nor chat them up like you’re trying to get a bigger tip, just be nice and friendly like you would to the rest of your customers.

Daizy noted it first, but I think it bears repeating, never, ever, ever, ask “you need any change” when you’re taking the money, this is an automatic no tip for me.

Never question the reason for a customers’ special request, if you allow special requests, then do it, if not, inform the customer that you do not allow them.
Why, you may ask?
I actually had this conversation with a waitress at IHOP one time:
*M: I’d like the br-549 breakfast platter, but can I substitute something for the eggs? (in a nice normal tone of voice)
W: Why? You don’t like eggs? *

And finally,
Learn to ask people how their food is when their mouth is full, I think this is a requirement for all waitstaff anywhere in the US. :smiley:

When someone comes in with 30 minutes left before the restaurant closes, the proper thing to do 30 seconds after bringing them their food is to say “How was everything?”

Not kidding. You’ll struggle to carry the big tip home.

Anticipate, ketchup for fries, extra napkins for messy foods, straws and lids for kiddie drinks, the more stuff you bring with you the first time the less needless time you’ll spend running back and forth.

If you’re working days or midnights, you’ll serve a lot of breakfasts and coffee. Walk with a coffeepot everytime you go to check tables and remember extra cream if it’s not on the tables. I love answering “Yes, I use cream” when placing my drink order, then being offered multiple refills of coffee but never getting any more cream.

If you’re working evenings, learn the turnaround time of different cooks. For the slow cook, input your order and then gather salads and soups, for the fast cook, get your salads and stuff ready for the table before giving the entree order.

When rushed, feed the non-smokers first, the smokers have something to do while waiting.

Smile, every place I waitressed at the male waitrons snagged better tips than the females.

Good advice so far (mostly) - I’ll add a few:

Regard your entire station as one table - don’t take a drink order from table 1 and go get it, then take a drink order from table 2 and go get it. You’re working at Denny’s, so you won’t have complicated drink orders, and it’ll save you time and energy to make fewer trips. I used to stop and mentally review my station (“drinks for tables 2 and 3, soup for table 1, salads for table 4, clear table 5”) before I’d leave the station.

Don’t be empty-handed coming in or out of your station. Bring the coffee pot with you, or take plates out.

If management allows - some places have rules against this - take out other servers’ food if you see it ready in the window. People would usually rather have hot food than wait for “their” server. If you do this, communicate it to the other server so he or she isn’t wondering where it went. At the very least, if you notice food in the window, let the server know it’s up.

When someone stops you and says, “Can I get another Coke?” don’t say “Sure” and run off to get it. Stop a second and look at the table. Anyone else’s drink getting low? ASK if anyone else needs anything. Nothing is more aggravating or more preventable than a customer that asks you for another drink just as you set someone else’s on the table.

Stay on top of the bussing - clear tables, empty ashtrays, remove empty glassware. Your buspersons will appreciate it, and your busser is your best ally. If you make their job easier, they will make yours easier.

Some common restaurant terms you’ll likely be expected to know - “86” means you’re out of something; “in the weeds” means you’re falling behind and need help; “cut” means you’re not getting any more tables, but it doesn’t mean you’re off the clock - it just means you can start your sidework now.

Remember that when you drop off the check, the customer will begin actively thinking about your tip. Assuming you’ve done everything fine so far, now is NOT the time to vanish from their consciousness. If they pay at the register, make sure their last impression of you is a good one, and clear off anything they’re not using, wish them a nice day or a good evening or whatever. If they pay you, say you will be right back with their change (as said before, NEVER say “do you need change?”) and then BE RIGHT BACK WITH THEIR CHANGE.

I work in a more upscale place so my advice to a coworker would be different than my advice to you. Some things that are similar and haven’t been mentioned already:

Each table is different. Don’t try to please everyone, you never will. No matter if 9 out of 10 customers say you are the best waiter ever, there will always be the ones who say you were just okay or even bad. Some people will want you to talk, some will want you to remain silent. Some you have to ask if they need anything, others don’t want you to speak at all and will make their needs known when they feel like it.

If you mess up, apologize. Don’t assume that they won’t tip you and ignore that table from then on. In fact, pay as much attention to that table as you can. You can save tables even if they start out horribly wrong. Some people are mean and bitchy before they get their coffee so have a fresh smile on your face each time you approach, even if they were extremely rude the previous time.

Get your manager when things go wrong immediately. They can help you turn a bad table into a good one.

When you get sat two or three tables at once, treat them all as one table. Put in the drink orders at the same time, bring out the food at about the same time, etc.

Being a waiter can be a very good job and even a career. At Denny’s you probably won’t make much but if you work hard and learn your stuff, then you can move up the scale and work at a place where the average check is $20-30 per person. It’s a great part time job to have while you are in college.

Don’t skimp on your sidework or you’ll have all the other waitstaff pissed off at you.

When you approach the table to ask how everything is LOOK AT THE DINER’S MOUTH. Do not ask the question "How is everything? 3.2 seconds after I took a large bite of whatever it was you served me, I can’t chew that fast.
If you see me chewing, hold off your approach (walk slower) until you see me loading up a fork again, then approach and ask.
Do this and you will be the God / Goddess of Denny’s.

I actually do start out TRYING to please everyone. I think of it as just part of my job… OTOH, I don’t waste too much time on tables that are obviously jerks. I don’t necessarily ignore them, but I don’t try my damndest, either. There’s a difference in someone who is upset (and rightfully so) because something went wrong with their meal and people who are just jerks in general. You’ll learn the difference pretty quickly, I think.

Something I do every day while I’m driving to work is kinda tell myself that it’s going to be a good day. It really improves my attitude and helps when I do encounter a real jerk - which for me is kinda rare. It helps in that case to remember that you can’t please everyone and don’t let that table get you down and ruin you for the rest of your shift for other tables.

My gosh! Another reason I’m glad there is no tipping culture in Australia. You tip your coworkers? Woah.

Sorry for the highjack…

Looking at it from a customer’s perspective, I’d say be friendly. It’s always a pleasant change to have a friendly waiter.

Hell, I’m pretty sure I barely ever will see a cent of my tips. It all goes to my co-workers.

then you can move up the scale and work at a place where the average check is $20-30 per person.[/QUOTE?
That’s moving up the scale? :eek: Hell, that’s where I started. I guess it’s good though, the customers are great and apparently the chef is excellent, and they always seem really pleased with their meal.
Tip #1) Comfortable shoes.
Tip #2) Be friendly.
Tip #3) Communicate with the chef and other staff.
Tip #4) Help other people whenever you can.
Tip #5) Be presentable.

This makes you A Bad Customer[sup]TM[/sup]

Sure, you mind find it a bit annoying, but to refuse to tip at all in such cases is plain asshattery, IMO.

That’s your opionion, fine, but it’s my money and I decide how to spend it. Maybe I was going to leave the fiver in my wallet as a tip, maybe I was going to leave the $2 I get in change as a tip, the waiter/waitress doesn’t know what I’m going to do and has no say in this decision.

The waiter/waitress should never (IMHO) ask if a customer needs their change back, this is asking for a tip, no bones about it. As Daizy mentioned, the proper response when taking the money is “I’ll be right back with your change”.

To me, this is no different than buying $18 worth of gas, handing the cashier a $20, and them asking “You want your change back?”

D. Pirahna

George Orwell worked as a kitchen slave, but nonetheless, he had some interesting things to say about waiters in his book “Down and Out in Paris and London.”

Why? Because you give it to them? Why do you give your tips to your coworkers? Sorry, but it sounds kinda silly to me. They are getting paid, you know! :wink:

The fundamental difference, of course, being that tipping is culturally accepted—nay, mandated—in restaurants, but not at gas stations. I guess you missed that fine distinction.

Anyone who uses the reason you give for not leaving a tip is, in my opinion, simply looking for an excuse not to fork over the gratuity.