After reading 35 Things Restaurant Servers Do Wrong on the Huffington Post, courtesy of the Thrillist, I thought it would be a much nicer gesture to point out some of the things that truly remarkable servers do.
Granted, I consulted no experts for this article. But, since I bussed, served, bartended, managed, and now dine out more than anyone I know, I’ll claim expert status for this article.
- Get to the table immediately, even if only to introduce. The best servers have a sense of calm, but are urgent. Sometimes it’s just not going to be possible for a server to get a drink order right away, but a quick acknowledgment that they’re aware you’ve been sat works wonders with impatient guests.
- Exude total confidence and control over the dining experience. Personally, I don’t care how crazy it is in the kitchen. In fact, telling me how crazy it is in the kitchen only makes it worse. But when a server tells me calmly that the kitchen is running just a little slower than usual and the food should be up in X minutes, they have the server thing down.
- Anticipate any needs. Truly great servers either ask about, or just bring, everything necessary. This includes extra plates, ketchup, hot sauce, steak knives, and the standard 2 bites or 2 minutes check back.
- Keep beverages full. The best servers I’ve seen keep the fluids flowing. The only exception I’ve seen to this rule is iced tea. People can be very particular about their ice to tea to sweetener ratio.
- Inject some humor. Great servers, for the most part, are transparent. But, even better servers have a little fun. There’s a fine line here between going too far and being inappropriate.
- Suggestively sell. No one likes to be sold to. But, when a server replaces the word ‘drinks’ with an actual drink from the menu (or appetizer), it’s that simple to increase the check average, which increases tips and sales. As is the case with injecting humor, there’s an art to doing this right.
- Know the menu well. Great servers know their menu. I’ve seen servers that not only know their menu, but know where items are sourced, how they taste, know the difference in cuts, and can recite chef knowledge about certain ingredients. Obviously, a lot of this comes down to the type of restaurant.
- Know how the menu items taste. Servers that have tasted a dish are much better at describing it and selling it. A lot of this falls on the restaurant owner to make sure their staff is able to taste everything. The worst is when you ask a server how the fish or pork belly is and they say they’ve never had it. Or that they’re a vegan. It’s cool if you’re a vegan – just have a better answer.
- Enjoy where they’re working. When you can feel good about where you work, it makes for a better experience for everyone.
- Make you feel welcome. I recently ate at the new Pizzeria Bianco in Tucson and I was blown away by how welcome I felt. The food could’ve been terrible – which it wasn’t – and I still would’ve raved about the service. Everyone from the hostess, to the server, to Chris Bianco were extremely warm and welcoming.
- Know what’s possible. When you’re a server and you know what ingredients are in the kitchen, as long as you have a remote amount of common sense, it’s not difficult to know what’s possible as far substitutions or modifications go. Arizona’s Fox Restaurant Concepts really gets this right. They will go out of their way to ensure that a guest gets what they’re looking for – even if it means running over to the store for something not on hand (within reason, of course.)
- Know when to bring in the manager. A good server will not hesitate to bring the manager over, even if a problem is only anticipated. This ties into anticipating need. But, when a server can sense something might not be right, and it’s out of their control, the best servers send the manager over for a check-in. Great restaurants typically have a manager on the floor, anyway.
- Help an indecisive guest make a decision. This is genius. Asking a server “What’s good?” can yield all sorts of results. But a truly remarkable server will help dial it in with the right series of questions or a strong opinion.
- Tell you what’s not good. Even in some of the better restaurants I’ve been to, occasionally I’ll order something to which the server responds, “that’s not looking so good tonight.” I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. Win.
- Write something on the check. This has been shown to increase tips and it’s nice. Just a simple “Thanks!” is better than nothing.