If I enjoy what I am 
doing I will do more 
than simply taking 
an order…


I know my job is to highlight the items I want to sell, but on days when I cannot care less I just walk up to the table and ask “Are you ready to order?” If they nod, I take notes.


As a waiter I scribble my guests’ requests onto my notepad and bring them whatever they order. “Yes! Whatever they order!” Usually people in a restaurant read the menu and decide on whatever looks the best and sounds the most suitable for the pocketbook and the existing appetite. I know my job is to highlight the items I want to sell, but on days when I cannot care less I just walk up to the table and ask “Are you ready to order?” If they nod, I take notes. Maybe I say: “What may I bring you tonight?” and with a “Thank you very much that is a great choice!” I might leave the customers alone and march off to the kitchen.

The foregoing is a summary of my efforts taking an order, at a table, without any sales ambition. That is also true for many of my colleagues anywhere in this world. But if I enjoy what I do, if I am proud of the products form the kitchen and cellar, I will do more than simply taking an order.

Waiting on tables equals working the table. I like the a la carte business. I look forward to the challenge to sell what I think the customer should have. Gladly do I volunteer to work groups without any preset or fix-priced dinner. It is my experience, that a party of twenty is easier to handle than five four-tops.
It is my job to build up a check, to make it a worthwhile night for myself and the house. I know such and start selling as they (the group of guests) get seated. I take their drink order and do not give in on an “I don’t drink!” answer but push virgin cocktails, non alcoholic wines and alcohol- free beer or juices.
I feel the guests should have appetizers. So, I tell them that I can get them each an order of appetizer samplers especially made for them by our chef. (I make arrangements for this kind of appetizer, before the guests arrive, with the chef de cuisine.) If any one of the guests shows an interest in the sampler plates, I step close to the host of the party and describe the appetizer variety with my own words. “The chef told me, he would be happy to make for you individual platters of finger licking most sumptuous hors d’ oeuvres.”
If this gets the host’s attention and he asks “What kind of?” I explain the crab cake, a prawn sautéed in Pernod and a small piece of abalone. While some people like to think about it, I urge them to order it now. “It takes about fifteen minutes for the appetizers to be made.” I coach their thoughts explaining, if they order it now, these appetizers will arrive by the time they finish the cocktails. It will give everyone something to nibble on, while they wait for their dinner to be prepared and served. This approach seldom fails and this starts the guest-check off in a good way.
Still, before I serve the appetizers I try to get the salad and main course order too. The reason being: The-hungry-eyes-bigger-than-the-appetite-principle. A hungry customer tends to over-estimate his appetite and orders a lot more before he has eaten some food. During the order-taking of the salads and main courses, I explain items in detail.
I tell my customers what they find in a mixed green salad. I give a description of the crunchiness of the hearts of romaine with some French dressing. I disclose to them the ingredients of the Caesar salad. I explain how the Spinach salad is made. I let the guests know what the Enoki mushrooms are and where the goat cheese comes from. Not to leave any of the specialty salads out, I tell them about the Chinese style duck salad.
Noticing the interest in the escargot salad, at a party of ten, I describe the French escargots sautéed with fennel, sun dried and fresh tomatoes, mushrooms and artichoke hearts over a tossed baby lettuce, which leaves are gently coated with a smidgen of garlic vinaigrette.
“You said French snails?” A woman asks.
“They are really French?” Someone else asks.
“They are legally here. They came with a green-can!” I say, to amuse the guests.
“They are in a shell, aren’t they?” A man, tired of the thought having to hunt and drag the snails out of their houses, wants to know. My answer “No Sir! These are the homeless type!” takes care of his question. “You recommend the escargots?” He asks and I sell him on the escargot salad by saying “Yes Sir! Let me bring you one of these escargot salads. I even give you a money back guarantee. If you don’t like the snails in your salad I eat em!”
I get some laughter and a few more takers for the salad with the money-back guarantee. I deal with the entree orders the same way as the salads. I describe them in an appetizing way. I tell the customers without lying what is very good and carefully steer my guest into the direction of my own favorites on the menu.

As soon as I have the food orders, I let the kitchen know. I try do so usually before I start to work on getting the wine sales going too. Once I know their food, it is very easy to find matching wines. After this, all I have to do, is to serve what I just sold.
Until desserts it is carrying plates, to serve food and to clear tables, to pour wine and to keep my little group happy.
And I know that I know: Groups, of ten or more, who visit a fine dining establishment without a fixed-price-pre-set-dinner, are either very brave souls or big spenders.
I work for the house, while working in the house. Only whatever I do at the guests’ table guarantees my tip and never whatever I do not do!

by helmut schonwalder