“…what kind of waiter is he anyhow? Can I trust the clown?”


You, the reader, might remember how we as children used to tease the below average kid. Do you remember how we as children looked down at the ones who always messed up?

I have heard colleagues say, “I look at them (the dinner guests) and I can tell you how much they will spend even before they have a look at the menu.” I agree. I do the same. I categorize my customers. The numbers 1-6 indicate the way I classify guests:
# 1 Big spenders, money is no object.
# 2 Have money but want their moneys worth.
# 3 People who have money but don’t like to spend it.
# 4 Ultra conservative and frugal customers.
# 5 Guest who don’t have much money but like to go to a fine
restaurant once in awhile.
# 6 People who are in the wrong place, and they know it too.

My experience is that I am right at nine out of ten tables. There is always one which I cannot guess. But as much as I know to evaluate my guests’ ability to afford a restaurant’s meal with wine and everything, I also know that the customer is forming an opinion about me the waiter when I approach his table.

I am aware of the fact that the customer too judges me, his waiter. The first impression I make will create trust or mistrust on the guest’s side. I know what he thinks which often includes thoughts, such as, “Can I trust this clown?” and “What kind of a waiter is he anyhow?” or “Where does he come from?”
Guests do notice how I walk, how I am dressed. They notice if I am interested in them. Customers can sense my being nervous, or if I am in a hurry. They always notice if I have a can-care-less-attitude. And if the customer gets a negative opinion toward me, his waiter, it takes hard work to convince this guest otherwise.

In the guest and waiter relationship it is I who is on stage approaching the table. It is I, who sets the tone and whose first impression creates the atmosphere for the diners. It is I, who has to gain control over the table from the beginning and keep the reins, at times loosely, firm in my hands. From my own experience customers acknowledge only two categories of waiters, above average and below average. Medium is like mediocre which counts as below average.
And I have heard wait staff greeting their guests in a loud and friendly manner but then making them uneasy with something like: “Hi I’m, Humberto, your waiter. Today’s specials are Seabass and Halibut.” So far so good but some waiters add to it their whole recent life-history, sounding like: “Let me tell you I’m a student at the local law college and do this part-time, therefore kindly bare with me I haven’t slept much last night!” And he leaves the table not without another “Sorry but it’s just not my day!” If it is the house policy to tell the guest one’s name, fine and dandy. But who wants to know a waiter’s private life and problems. Why would I want to be apologetic for my chosen profession? Why would I want to apologize? Imagine the pilot of an airline after take-off announcing: “This is your captain, bare with me, I had a rough night!” He might have had a rough night indeed, yet he would not tell the passengers.
How about if your hairdresser greets you with, “Sorry, my own hair is a mess. Never mind, I am not ready for you. Just take a seat and my magic scissors will do the rest!” What about seeing your dentist’s hand shaking, the hand, which holds the drill?

I have seen waiters telling their table, “I will be right with you!” and half an hour later the guests were still waiting. I have seen waiters having the shakes after a night without sleep and heavy partying. There is no way to hide trembling hands while serving drinks or opening wine bottles.

Am I too critical? Maybe? Are we talking about those who “are only waiters?”

But now let us look at the classic example of the waiter who starts out apologizing, and who cannot help it but is unable to gain control over his individual tables and therefore his whole station. We all know how kids sometimes make fun of the underprivileged children. You, the reader, might remember how we as children used to tease the below average kid. Do you remember how we as children looked down at the ones who always messed up?

It is usually the mediocre waiter who gets treated similar, chased around by his customers’ requests. Some guest might find enjoyment in watching their waiter run in circles. Others will try to add to the problem giving him orders they know he cannot handle at the time, they laugh as he gets confused. There comes the time when the fun stops. That is when they, his customers start to complain, rightfully so they say!
He, who does not know what is happening has no way to defend himself. He, the sorry-assed-want-to-be-waiter has just lost another round in the game of living and fitting in. It is just a game. Little people do it. Big people do it. People are human and humans like to have fun, many people don’t care at whose expense.

It is not that these customers are mean or had plans to test their prankishness when arriving at the restaurant. No! Not at all, they cannot help it. They like most of us, at times, like to get a good laugh at the expense of the underdog. It is often the mediocre waiter one makes fun off. If he is fast enough to attend to his customers requests, they might reward him. But then he is usually the one who gets a handshake and a smile instead of the well-deserved tip. He, the yes always apologetic waiter, usually puts up with it for some time. One day he has enough. May it be that he chases his customer down the street to get tipped? May it be that he quits in the middle of his shift? Whatever he does, none of it will make him happy.

It is a lot easier to wait on any table if the guest respects me as above average waiter. So what is an above average waiter? Where I received my training, I was taught: A good waiter is knowledgeable. He is not to be heard or seen. One expects him to be there whenever any guest needs help, not only with food or drinks. He is in control of his tables and his guests know it, without a word said.

Therefore, I ask any waiter whom I train to refrain from dumping his private life onto our customers. I tell ’em too, never to promise what they know they cannot keep. And I ask them not to work when they are sick. In my vocabulary a serious hangover after a sleepless night falls under sick leave.

I want waiters to be in an up-mood and friendly and to market skillfully whatever the house has to offer. A waiter’s job is to sell the best the kitchen and cellar can provide. I emphasize the walking like a waiter, not to stroll, stride or waddle but to glide over the floor like on skates. A waiter has to be sure-footed and fast. He should never run but move about and take care of each table much like a busy bee does in a garden with flowers.

I often remind trainees to talk like a waiter. This includes knowledge of the menu and wine selections and to be able to explain the very same to any guest. A waiter should spend time refining his abilities to sell, by practicing sales gestures and phrases. To start a table with the question: “Would you care for a cocktail or a glass of champagne?” is a good start. Once the food order is taken, a good waiter should be able to recommend matching wines. To change the guest’s mind after dinner, the one who has just declined to order dessert with “May I still tell you what you are going to miss out on … by not having dessert tonight?” is a good move. So is to remind an undecided guest by saying: “Our homemade desserts are so delicate, that major frozen dessert companies have been trying unsuccessfully to get our recipes. You simply have to try at least one!” Or “I know it is a tough choice but check again there is surely still a niche open where we could place a chocolate dessert! Am I right?”

There is nothing wrong with specific details. Mouth-watering phrases, to describe whatever there is to sell, are good tools: “…silky smooth custard! Topped with Hawaiian sugar…, … seared with a hot iron! Cracking like an eggshell as your spoon brakes through the crust. Can anyone of you still remember when you had the last time one of these sinful … ? Remember the vanilla scent, how creamy it was …, full and rich in flavor but so light that it seemed to evaporate into thin air from your plate! Do you remember how your spoon was still searching for more … the dish already empty? That’s what we have to offer you!”
It is critical not to hustle the guest like a used car salesman. It is equally important to show your enthusiasm and sincere belief in the chefs ability as it is to share your knowledge with the customer. There is nothing wrong with the right words to paint a positive picture in the guests’ minds. It is good practice to make a diner’s mouth water with descriptions. It is an excellent sales tactic to create an irresistible craving for what you try to sell the guest. Successful sales tactics result in the wanted mind change of the undecided customer. Once the consumer wants whatever you have to sell, you know you did your job. Now you also have to know when to stop talking, so you don’t want to kill your sale.

Make it the customer’s idea, create the wants in his mind and build up the guest check by bringing him what he orders.

Customers do respect good sales people and they appreciate an above average waiter. Sell em, keep them busy, show your guest that you are the professional waiter-sales-person. And if you are good than you’ll get more and more of those guests who trust you. Just think about the meaning of trust belief, confidence, reliance, dependence, assurance, certainty, security, credence, entrust, depend upon, credulity, warranty, pledge, guarantee, and earnestness. Trust is the highest rating anybody can ever get in a sales-relationship.

Don’t forget, most customers, contrary to many waiters’ and waitresses belief are not stupid and their feeling properly cared for, usually reflects in the tip.

by helmut schonwalder