When I first started out as a server, my coworkers would tell me to “pay attention to body language” and “manage your time well” — and that would pretty much be the extent of their advice. But what was I supposed to pay attention for? And how was I supposed to manage my time exactly? Here are five useful tips for new servers that I didn’t know until I experienced them:
1. When multiple tables come in, get your drink orders first and let your customers look over the menu while you get drink orders for other tables. As long as your tables have their drinks, they’re happy for the next few minutes. Then, once everyone has drinks, go back and ask the first table if they have any questions. They’ll then say “Yes, what’s…”, “No, we just need a few minutes”, or “No, we’re ready to order.” If they aren’t ready to order, check on the next table. If they are ready to order, take their order, enter it into the computer, and immediately bring out any soup or salad that comes with their order. They shouldn’t need you until their food is ready, so you’re free to focus on other tables.
2. When you’re first starting out, it’s easy to forget to bring out drinks when a table orders their food and drinks at the same time. I would write down the drink and food orders, enter them into the computer, then get distracted by another table. If you repeat “drinks, drinks, drinks, drinks,” in your head until you get them, you won’t forget — even if a table asks for a fork or another server asks you for a favor. This works for anything you need to remember.
3. My coworkers like to write out salad dressings and circle them to remember which to make. I don’t. When I first started out, I was overwhelmed and forgot to make salad and soup a lot, so I decided to dedicate the bottom few lines of my notebook to them. I write ‘___soup’ ‘___dressing #1’ and ‘___dressing #2’ then use tallies to mark how many soups/salads I need. Now I don’t forget because when I flip back through my notebook, the circled dressing doesn’t get lost in my handwriting because I have a specific section for it at the bottom. This would work for any similar thing your particular restaurant does. Setting my notebook up before I work helps me be prepared when it gets busy. Always take a moment to double check that you have already brought out all drinks, soups, and salads that you need to.
4. For the longest time, I would constantly be asking my tables if they needed anything, because I wasn’t sure what was too much checking in and what was not enough. Then my coworker told me to ask tables if they are ready to order only after they put their menus down, or if they take a long time with the menus to ask them if they had any questions. Since then I have learned what specific things to look for. Once they’ve ordered, the only reason for you to check on them is if they need a refill, otherwise they’re good until their food arrives. If a plate is empty and set to the side, take it. If a plate is empty but it’s in front of them, it’s better to ask “May I take this out of your way?” because some people won’t want you to. When a table is almost finished eating, ask them if they’d like to order anything else. This usually prompts someone to say “No, could we get the check though?” If they say “No, we’re fine,” wait until they are done with their food then come back and ask if they are ready for the check (and take their plates away).
5. Judge which tables are needier and use that to plan out your time. If you know that the couple at table five are more interested in each other than the restaurant, you can hold off on getting their order while you take care of a table with lots of questions. And if that couple have finished eating but are still talking, you’re probably safe taking care of other tables for a few minutes before you ask them if they’re ready for the check.