WELCOME BACK TO SOUPFLY!
How many times have you been out for dinner, the server takes your order and then, all of a sudden, he’s a magician, that is, he does a disappearing act . Nowhere to be found. And even his assistant has disappeared as well. Poof. Gone. And then, as if by magic, once your food is ready to be served -Voila! Or he only reappears after your food is served. He reappears.
Now, while he’s disappeared, you’re looking around trying to find him. No luck. He’s definitely gone. You want to ask a question, order another drink. But sorry, no luck. You have a Disappearing Server.
Or sometimes you have a server that didn’t disappear, he’s just faded out of sight. You’re looking, straining your eyes, tilting your head back, stretching your neck to catch a glimpse of this elusive creature. There! There he is -so far in the distance, he seems to be cavorting with one of his colleagues off in the corner. You try to make eye contact but he never looks your way for more than a fleeting glance.
Without shouting or raising your voice it’s next to impossible catch his attention.
It seems that some servers feel uncomfortable going back to their table while their guests are waiting for their next course. They often seem uneasy and that’s why they disappear. Maybe they don’t know what to say to their guests. Some of them don’t disappear, they just hide behind the service station peering around the corner to spy on their guests and see what they are doing while they’re waiting. Waiting is what they are doing. Waiting without knowing. Wondering. Wondering how long it will be before they see you again. Wondering why you won’t come back to the table unless you have their food in hand. Wondering with no communication is so disconcerting. It creates a feeling of helplessness. They have no information from you. They see other guests around them being served. They can’t go back into the kitchen themselves, so they wait. And their wine glass is empty. Shame.
Of course, you, the server, can’t control what goes on in the kitchen. Yes, that’s true. However, the situation is not entirely out of your hands. There are many things that you can do.
Here are some suggested action steps:
1. Go to the kitchen and find out what order in line your ticket is.
Every restaurant’s expediting system is different. You may be able to ask the expo person, although, oftentimes they do not want to be interrupted.
2. Look on the screen, if the kitchen has a computerized system, or where ever the order tickets are hung and observe what is going on behind the line. If you know that there are some larger parties in the restaurant that evening you should see if by perhaps, that table is being plated ahead of yours.
3. Ask. Ask the kitchen manager. Ask the expo person. Ask the chef. Find out. Don’t just assume.
4. Return to your waiting guests and COMMUNICATE. Tell them something. Give them an estimated time of arrival for their next course. Just please don’t let them wait and wonder with no information.
If a reasonable amount of time has not passed between courses- again, each restaurant is different- (a fine dining restaurant in New York City will have longer lag times between courses than a bistro in Topeka, Kansas) You should know your restaurant, though and what is a normal time between courses. It is imperative as the server, to be aware of what your guest’s are feeling. They may not realize that it’s only been a few minutes and here they are looking around the restaurant impatiently.
My friend Adam Gnau, of Acero Restaurant in Maplewood, Missouri aims for 15 minutes between courses. I asked him, “What about for a table of 12 or 15?” He said “Still the same. Fifteen minutes.” That means that he plans to have guests wait for no more than fifteen minutes from the time they are done with one course until the next one is served. Acero, is a smaller restaurant so this is doable for them.
If our focus is about creating an exceptional dining experience and really being hospitable and a gracious host to our guests then we need to be cognizant of something as simple as this. If you had guests over for dinner and they were, say, sitting on the patio by themselves while you and your spouse were in the kitchen cooking, would you leave them out there indefinitely without communicating anything about when dinner was going to be ready? Of course not! You would check on them, tell them it’s coming soon. Let them feel welcome and relaxed. Your restaurant guests are just like your home dinner guests.
You must know what is normal timing for your restaurant and at the point that it appears that your guests have been waiting too long you need to be proactive and take action. It is incumbent upon you to be informed and then to inform your guests.
Have you ever been in a restaurant or at a bar and the server or bartender pays no attention to you yet they seem to be completely focused on other guests? They finally come over because you flagged them down and when you mention that you’ve been feeling neglected-they respond with “Well, you can see that I’m busy.” You think to yourself, “Of course, they’re busy but who are they busy with? Other guests. So what am I-not a guest?”
We know that service can become very hectic at times. It’s the nature of the business. Even if you’re super busy, just passing by the guest and saying, “I will be right with you.” goes a long way to alleviate guests’ impatience. And an added “Thank you so much for your patience,” when you return to them is always a great way to avoid negative energy from your guests.
Of course, often there are unusual circumstances. A couple who are sitting at their table waiting for their main course and have not ordered even an appetizer or a salad or any sort of first course will feel like 10 minutes is 30 minutes. The situation will be even more compounded if they have no drinks in front of them. So, imagine, they have no drinks, no first course and they’ve already devoured all of the bread that you’ve put in front of them. Waiting fifteen or twenty minutes for their entrée will seem like forever. And of course, they will observe others who were seated after them being served ahead of them but most likely it’s a first course or appetizer which typically takes less time.
Regardless of the situation, it is your job as the server to find out what the status is, communicate it to your guest and set their minds at ease.
If it’s going to be a while, don’t just disappear. Strike up a conversation with them. Sell them another glass of wine. Talk about your chef, the restaurant or ask them about themselves. Tell a funny story. Humor usually can lighten any situation.
Many people who haven’t done it think that being a server really takes no special skill or talent. That, however is very far from what reality is. This is not a job for everybody because not everybody can do it. And certainly not everybody who does it, does it well.
Being a server takes a variety of aptitudes; one has to be part diplomat, part entertainer, part host. You must have an ample supply of patience and great communication skills. You must be able to anticipate your guests’ needs. Yes I guess that means that you’re sort of a mind reader as well. The importance of great communication skills cannot be overemphasized. You may know exactly what is going on in the kitchen. Just please don’t keep it a secret from your guests. Communication is the Key and you hold this powerful tool in your hands. Use it wisely and use it well.
Thank you for reading this new serving of Soupfly! I appreciate your support. Please feel free to Comment. Also, please continue to Like and Share with others. I now have readers from the following countries; United States, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Serbia, Australia, Philippines, Netherlands, Switzerland, India, South Africa!
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Cheers and God Bless you all!!
Christoff J. Weihman
Las Vegas, NV