Being a restaurant server is hard work. You have to be likable to excel at your job.
The best servers exhibit traits like multitasking, a cheerful spirit, and the ability to know what’s on the mind of the customer before they speak.
However, as an individual much of your personality has already been formed so you have to learn these acceptable traits/behaviors on the go and that’s difficult. But it shouldn’t be.
You can learn certain aspects of restaurant service quickly — how to properly interact with customers, understand the menu in and out, proactiveness– and these can cover up for any personality faults.
So we crafted this piece to help you know how to be a better server. We’ve listed 8 tips for new servers that will shift your service from normal to extraordinary. Let’s go through all you need to know about being a server.
All you Need to Know about Being a Restaurant Server
Restaurant waiter serving in an outdoor cafe
Understanding who a server is and what they do goes beyond knowing how to put on a smile and being able to multitask. Certain vital skills are required if you must excel as the server.
Restaurant Server Job Description: What Does a Server Do?
A server, also known as a waitress or waiter, is the first contact point with a restaurant’s customer. The server is responsible for making sure that guests have a pleasurable dining experience. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States, there are over 2.6 million servers employed.
Servers are needed and employed in all restaurant types from pop-lunch counters to the fanciest of dining establishments.
The responsibility of a restaurant server varies based on the kind of establishment they work at. However, regardless of the restaurant, their major duty is to get the customer’s orders and deliver what was ordered. Their number one priority is giving the customer a quality experience. And because of this, they must be on “A” game consistently and ready to build relationships with customers.
As a restaurant server, you may not need formal education, although most times on-the-job training is required. That said, here are 7 responsibilities a restaurant server is expected to take on daily:
- A restaurant server is expected to be well organized. As you are supposed to be well presented, remember orders, have proper focus and concentration, as well as keep track of tables.
- Servers must understand the menu of whatever dining establishment they work for well enough to help diners make an educated meal choice and even upsell if needed.
- Restaurant servers are expected to inform the bar or kitchen of the diner’s meal choices and any special dietary requirements or unique requests.
- As a server, you are expected to welcome customers and create a pleasurable customer experience from the moment the individual sits till they make the payment.
- Servers are required to reset tables for new diners like removing dinnerware, changing utensils, refilling glasses, and setting tables as well as clean up dining areas and spills.
What are Important Server Skills?
Olive Garden restaurant servers
With the right skills as a server, you can stand out from others and make the best out of your career choice.
While there are so many other server skills, here are the most important ones:
#1 Selling to the Customer’s Wants
The Golden rule of customer service that states “the customer is always right” must be at the back of your mind as a server. You need to be able to appeal to the customer’s wants by understanding what they need and ensuring they get it or find a way of graciously offering what the restaurant has to offer even if the customer’s want is not available.
#2 Conflict Resolution
The fact to face is that on your duty as a server you’re going to encounter people who are difficult to work with. So you need to be able to resolve conflict peacefully and offer a solution without leaving the customer disgruntled.
#3 Written and Verbal Communication
The number one duty of a server is a welcoming customer and communicating their needs to the kitchen. So as a server you need to be able to communicate immaculately whether in written or spoken form so you don’t give the kitchen or host a wrong order.
#4 Basic Math
As a server, you’ll have to be able to run basic math calculations in your head quickly, to give customers a quick sum of the cost of the meals before or after an order.
#5 Knowledge of Local Food Service Regulations
As a server, you need to be knowledgeable in the expected food service regulations of your locality because health inspections can happen unexpectedly, so a proactive action approach is required in adhering to service regulations.
Regardless of the dining establishment you work at, as a server, you’re going to be lifting food and drinks to customers. This means you need to know the proper way of lifting in that restaurant or locality.
Servers are expected to be professional at all times. Even though you are expected to build relationships with customers, the goal of such relationships is to ensure client loyalty and pull in more sales.
A server is expected to be a multitasker. As you’ll have to attend to more than one person or table at a time. And be able to coordinate or handle the requests from each table adequately without mixing things up in the kitchen or when delivering the order.
#9 Decision Making
You’ll have to be able to make impromptu decisions as a server and most of the time you will be put on the spot. For example, you may be asked what meal the restaurant recommends for people on a vegan diet and you need to be able to answer promptly and help the customer make the right decision.
What are the Food Service Skills you Need?
Being a server goes beyond just personality traits. You need to know how to serve meals appropriately. So here are a few food service skills you should have as a server if you intend to excel.
#1 Knowing how to Approach Guests
Most times the table is already arranged and good to go before you meet the customer. And they’ll already be seated and waiting to meet you. To approach your guest appropriately, you’re expected to greet them pleasantly at the table in a minute of them taking their seats.
In this situation, first impressions matter and you may never have a second chance of impressing the customer. So you should ensure that you welcome them pleasantly and helpfully.
You should make eye contact and tell them your name. At this time, water should be brought to the table either by you, the hostess, or the busser.
#2 Knowing how to Properly take a Food Order
Every server is expected to know the acceptable etiquette in taking a food order. For instance, the server should begin with the woman at the table, and then proceed to the children (if any), and finally the men. But if the woman hasn’t made up her mind yet, it’s fine to proceed to the next guest to avoid making her feel uncomfortable.
Servers are expected to memorize the list of questions associated with every menu when taking an order. For example, if the customer is ordering a salad, what kind of dressing order? Or if they’re ordering a steak, how do they want it cooked? Or a baked potato, what’s the garnish?
With this approach, a server can have a list of questions for all items on the menu and will be adequately prepared when taking an order at the table. It can seem very unprofessional when the server has to go back to the table a second time to ask for information that the kitchen needs to prepare the meal.
It makes for more professional and efficient service if as a server you’re able to ask all questions while taking the initial order. Plus, if the guest is unsure, you can offer them suggestions and tell them why you gave those suggestions.
#3 Drink Order Skills
The first order to satisfy as a server is the drink order. And in today’s world that’s growing in awareness with regards to the economy, water may not be served in every restaurant. So ensure to ask customers if they want water as many of them do not know that serving water isn’t a norm anymore.
Once you’ve checked about the customer’s water needs, you can then share the drinks menu with them or any kind of drink varieties the restaurant offers.
The order can then be taken and service must be done quickly. After you have served the drinks you can then proceed to ask your guest if they are ready to make an order. The clue would be that all the customers at that table have closed their menus or have put them back on the table.
That said, when you are serving drinks you are expected to hold the glass at the bottom.
You should never place your hands or fingers at the top of the glass where the customer will be placing their mouths. And as often as possible you need to wash your hands, as you may still carry bacteria, which can be harmful to customers.
So ensure you always hold glassware by the handles, the bottom of the glass, or by its stem.
#4 Knowing to Check Back
If there is something wrong with the meal, the guest will discover it as soon as they begin eating. So check back on customers to make sure that they’re enjoying their meal.
If they don’t like the meal and your return to the table takes too long, the guest will quietly sit and fume, which can ultimately affect your tip and their view of the restaurant.
#5 Dessert Skills
Once the meal plates have been taken off the table, the server is expected to present customers with an opportunity to order coffee, desserts, or post-dinner drinks. At this time, you should present a dessert menu or bring a dessert tray to the table. The server is also expected to offer a split menu in case the customers are already filled.
8 Tips on How to Excel as a Restaurant Server
Chick-fil-A servers taking orders
We’ve seen what a server does, and the skills that a great server is expected to display but what do you do beyond just the skill set to excel as a server? Here are 8 server tips that’ll help you be a great one.
#1 Understand Covid-19 Restrictions and Stay Updated
As a server, you need to be aware of your local COVID regulations for restaurants. How are you expected to serve guests? What are the rules in your locality in terms of the number of people allowed at a table?
By staying updated on the regulations, you can ensure that the restaurant doesn’t lose customers who feel the environment is unsafe or that the restaurant doesn’t get closed for violating regulations.
#2 Know that You’re a Representative of the Restaurant
You may not cook the food or own the restaurant but for good or bad customers will always see you as the restaurant. This means that you are in a great position of getting the accolades when people are pleased but also at the receiving end of their displeasure even if it’s beyond your control.
Since you’re a representative of the restaurant when a customer is happy with the service and meal, tell them that you appreciate their presence and are expecting them back. If you notice they are unhappy about something find out what and do what it takes to make them feel better.
By playing the role of the representative of the restaurant you need to make the customer feel like you’re in charge. And this can easily be done by how you phrase your words. For instance, phrases that sound like you’re in charge start with:
- I can
- I will
Alternatively, your customers won’t be impressed with terms like the following:
- I don’t know
By using positive likable terms you can gain respect in the eyes of customers and this boosts your image with them. Why is this important? If the customer views you as just a busser/runner who’s taking the order and isn’t interested in their needs, it will be difficult for them to let you know their real thoughts or for them to go beyond the standard 15% tip range.
#3 Positive Attitude is Vital
Bonefish Grill server interacting with customers
The restaurants that stand out for service are not necessarily those with an array of servers that fold table napkins, or that have an army of bussers holding water jugs or many servers at one table. But those with bubbly and enthusiastic servers who display amazing personalities.
Most times, the way a server deals with a situation shows the experience of their service skills. For example, if a server forgets a drink order, mixes up an entree order, or runs out of cloth napkins, they are expected to admit their mistake immediately and apologize sincerely. This protects the view of the restaurant and provides an avenue for a good tip.
Being a server is stressful, especially on Friday nights. And putting on a smile while trying to juggle 5 to 9 tables of hungry customers is hard work. But keep in mind that your demeanor should be relaxed and you should be happy even when you’re not with the guest.
Customers are dining to have a great time and if they notice that you are having a bad day, it may put them off, which will eventually lead to a spiral of bad days and horrible tips.
With a smile and a thankful heart to your guest, you’ll discover that you will get the rewards of having a pleasant demeanor in the long run.
It’s important to state that a proper smile isn’t just with your mouth but your entire face. So try practicing your smile and using it as often as possible.
#4 When At Tables, Be Proactive
Every server knows that the people at various tables are different. Some may be extremely difficult while others are very easy to handle. While you don’t choose the kind of people you meet as a server, there are ways you can go about things smoothly when you meet high maintenance individuals.
Once the entrees have been served to such difficult tables rather than asking if they want anything generally, ask them for specific needs like utensils condiments, or refills.
When you call out each item specifically, you’ll avoid getting called over some seconds later for an extra spoon, or bottle of ketchup, because the guest forgot to ask initially. They’ll also view you as someone who genuinely cares for their comfort and is detail-oriented.
#5 Your Opinion Matters
There is one thing customers dislike about a server and that’s when they ask for recommendations and get ‘everything is great“.
Though you may think to yourself that people should be able to know what they want from a menu, many diners require some prodding or just want an expert opinion on what they should choose.
So when they ask and you reply with an “everything is good” it is unfortunately heard as “I can’t be bothered“, “I don’t know“, or “I don’t want to recommend a meal you won’t like“. Keep in mind that you’re representing the restaurant so it doesn’t look good on you if you don’t know your products.
Your opinion does matter and most times your enthusiasm and passion rubs off on the customer. You don’t want to build unrealistic expectations though, with statements like “this is the best pasta you will ever taste“, but it will be appreciated that you know the dishes well.
If you want to play safe you can always list out the dishes there that are popular with most guests. And you stand a good chance about selling desserts or appetizers if they think that you know what you’re saying.
You shouldn’t take it personally if your recommendations are not enjoyed by a particular customer. Most times the number of people that like your recommendation will exceed those that don’t. Plus after all, they requested your opinion.
Customers also love to hear that they made the right choice after placing an order. For instance, a statement like “awesome choice, the roasted duck is wonderful! ” shows them you know your stuff. Also, if the customer likes the meal after eating, you can reaffirm to them that their choice was a great one.
#6 Learn to Handle Negative Situations
Most frontline customer service jobs face a lot of negative situations and even just one bad apple can badly affect an otherwise awesome day. So the solution is to create ways of handling such individuals, so you can continue with your job and make other customers happy.
First things first, if a customer is disgruntled find out if the complaint is legitimate (lengthy delays, untidy tables, bad food etc) and if that’s the case, solve the problem adequately.
At times, a quick resolution will fix things but the guest may still be unhappy regardless. Anger most times is due to the individual feeling helpless and this means that when the customer is angry they simply want to say something about the situation. This can be wanting to speak to the manager, giving a bad tip, or making threats.
To calm the customer down try asking something like “how can I make you feel better?” It’s an amazing customer service phrase that allows the customer to have a say and forces them to speak out their needs. Most times it will get them out of the bad mood as soon as they realize there is no reason to remain unhappy anymore.
That said, in some events, you will meet a customer who is just naturally negative. So you need to tell yourself that some individuals are simply unhappy regardless of what you do. Try not to see it as a personal assault.
#7 Understand the Various Customer Segments
Some customers prefer their server to be in the background while others prefer conversation and interaction. This makes it important to know the kind of customer you are dealing with and to transform your personality to build rapport.
As a great server, for instance, you’ll have to match your energy level and speech rate to that of the customer to make them feel more comfortable. Understanding each customer segment and how to interact with each group will enhance both your experience and theirs.
A study in the midwest diner in the United States revealed that servers who acted purposely enthusiastic got a lower than average tip in comparison to servers who just focused on their jobs. That shows that some customers just want you to be an invisible experience of their meal while others are interested in conversing and interacting with you.
#8 Be Knowledgeable About Your Wines
Depending on what kind of restaurant you’re working in, you may not have a staff that is dedicated to guiding customers through a huge 20-page list of wine options.
Most times, the wine list is a lot smaller and you won’t have a sommelier ready to go. But don’t panic because being knowledgeable about your wines and the right combinations is a great opportunity to impress customers and look smart as well as increase your tips.
A trick you could use if you want to avoid having to recommend specific ones, is to show people the most popular ones.
You don’t need to educate customers on the merits of various types of ancient wines but it’ll be great if you knew enough about the restaurant’s wine collection to make a recommendation. It will help you tremendously in the long run.
A great part about knowing your wines is that the knowledge goes with you wherever you go and you always have a broad understanding of the varieties available.
That’s a wrap! By following these 8 tips for waitressing and waiters you can excel as a server effortlessly. However, in everything you do ensure that you keep a smile on your face! Never forget that people come to restaurants to have a pleasurable meal and a frown can ruin their experience.