Monday, February 18, 2013

Born to Serve

I never thought someone would invoke the name of God to justify being a cheapskate.

A few weeks ago the interwebs buzzed with the flap of a pastor who stiffed a server over an 18 percent tip, claiming she only gives God ten percent, reasoning the server didn't deserve the gratuity. A note here: the 18 percent gratuity was automatically added to the check because the party in question involved a table of six or more people.

I don't even know where to begin with commentary, but my past would have me side with the server. Because I used to schlep plates with the best of em'.

Long before I ever met with a client or held court in a control room, I used to wait tables. And I was damn good at it.

Each summer between 10th grade and my college graduation, I bussed plates, took cocktail orders and talked Kitchen Spanish with my colleagues from Puerto Rico. Now a tony, perfectly manicured resort along the Connecticut coast, the Wharf used to be a charming, dated inn with rickety wicker furniture and faded floral wall-to-wall.

The Wharf and its casual outpost upstairs (aptly named The Crow's Nest) served as the scene for my first forays into adulthood. It was the place where I called grown ups by their first name and discovered they regarded me as a peer, too.

The restaurant was where I learned about good food and also the ways of good business: Never eat a lobster in a month that has an 'R' in it. Always serve a plate from the left and clear from the right.

Time on the floor was a lesson in business practices I still use today.

  • Customer service: The customer is always right, even when they aren't. Treat all customers with courtesy, and if you have a cantankerous diner on your hands, kill 'em with kindness. It usually works.
  • Quick math: Thanks to many late nights of cocktail serving, I can process simple math pretty easily (and I can teach you an easy trick for figuring out 15 and 20 percent tips. The trick is in the decimal point).
  • Efficiency: Never enter or exit the kitchen without something in your hands. A dirty plate, a warm basket of bread, a fellow server's dinner order. Every task should be married with another. Bonus points if you can drop a check, greet a new table, clear some salad plates, and take a drink order during one circulation through the floor.
  • Always offer an alternative: If the kitchen 86es an item, offer your guest a comparable alternative. Strive to keep the customer happy, even if you don't have what they want.
  • Upsell: The customer likes a gin martini? What kind of gin is that? House swill, or perhaps Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray? Every interaction is a chance to sell.
  • Take care of your regulars: These folks are your bread and butter. Offer them a gratis drink or dessert from time to time, get to know them on a personal level, thank them for their repeated business. 
  • A smile and a thank you can do wonders. I learned this when I spilled some salsa on a biker dude's girlfriend. I was deeply apologetic and quickly gathered towels, club soda and asked a manager to comp some desserts. I smiled and thanked them for their patience and the biker dude (who was an attorney by day) joked the moment off and left a huge tip.
There's not a week that goes by when I don't think about my old serving days, though I haven't schlepped a plate in 13 years. Servers bust ass to bring us our every want, deserving well more than the 20 percent tip I leave for an average check.

But more important are the tips I gleaned from my managers and fellow servers. Those tips just may take this former waitress to the corner office someday.

As long as I can stay out of the weeds.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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