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Saturday Market Theory of Waiting Tables ©By Paul C. PazIt's my morning opening shift for the restaurant and I have a new server trainee following me. We are going through the scheduled routine of opening and cleaning (including waxing tabletops and picking gum off the bottoms). My trainee says, "For such a big company why don't they have a cleaning company do this? They're probably just trying to save a buck."I looked at him and said, "Have you ever been to Portland's Saturday Market?" (I should explain that the Saturday Market is familiar to many across the country. You know... the craft fairs and flea markets. Where entrepreneurs gather to sell their crafts and services.)"Yep", he answers in a quizzical tone.Well, here in my restaurant, I'm in the same boat at the entrepreneurs at the Saturday Market. You see my "booth" is my five-table section and my success is completely determined by what I am willing to do with it. Ok, yes I am an employee. But, when I encounter my customers they only see me... I am the owner. I am everything they expect to happen. In my customer's eyes, I am responsible for everything that happens to them during their visit... at my Saturday Market booth.Now on a practical basis that's a ridiculous concept. But, the reality of my being "in charge" of my opportunity to stage myself for professional and financial success is to understand and appreciate what an entrepreneurial opportunity I have handed to me as a professional waiter. I dream of having my own business, but on the immediate, I don't have the resources to make that happen. I worked another career for ten years that was based on the concept of using other people's money to get ahead... insurance. (A dignified profession I might add.)Well, I got hired as a waiter (not so dignified in some eyes) by a restaurateur who handed to me a facility (a clean facility with polished table tops and no sticky "gak" on the bottoms) that cost over $1,000,000. They also gave a food and beverage inventory exceeding $70,000 to offer my customers. They also provided an accounting department to calculate my business costs (to save a buck) such as taxes, health insurance, vacation pay, and even retirement. Plus, an executive division to plan my future profitable expansion (and managers to execute effective daily operations, staffing levels, guidance, and personal support to satisfy my customers). They even hired and trained a professional in-house support staff (other waitstaff, hosts, bartenders, cocktail servers, cooks, and dishwashers) so I could focus on my customers' needs and requests. Why, they even paid thousand of dollars for advertising to bring in customers for me. All of this for my own personal use!You know what's crazy? The first day I showed up they paid me an hourly wage... without ever selling a thing for them! But you know what is really, I mean REALLY NUTS? I get all this opportunity handed to me... for nothing. I didn't have to pay a dime for any of it. All I have to do is show up and invest creative professional effort using the resources given to me. I am responsible for my future. My challenge is how am I going to maximize all this opportunity given to me at no cost?Who says I'm not an entrepreneur? All I have to do is think like a businessperson. I have my own business as a waiter...A dignified profession, I must add!!(Paz wrote this in 1986 for Restaurants and Institutions Magazine’s “Year of the Waiter” contest. It was published October 1987 in Restaurants and Institutions)

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  • Outstanding post! Thank you!
  • I am going to share this with my staff. Thanks
  • Take a peek at our FOHBOH member Bernard Martinage's profile. He has developed quite the tiered service program and is classically trained from France.

    You may be correct about waiters not enrolling in dining room service skills training. Nevertheless, the training standards and processes are determined by the management and owners not the staff. If it was mandatory training, then it elevates the standards and expectations for all the players. Ultimately, that transfers tableside with increased service-sales results experienced by the staff,

    The approach in my workshops is to connect the staff with unique service-sales concepts, skills and techniques that makes their jobs more fun, easier, and more profitable… for all. The premise is that if the service-sales staff is making more money the house will ride their revenue wave.

    Regarding the attitudes of the incoming workforce: you are mistaken to stereotype this group. I have yet to meet one new employee who entered our hospitality industry with the intent of failing. Too many leave out of frustration because we did not give them the training and tools needed for fundamental tableside service-sales delivery.

    The concern about training staff only to have them leave your operation is flawed, as it is not conducive to cultivating a productive staff. That is part of the risk as an owner. The alternative: what are the results if you do not train them?

    Well-trained staffs are more confident, comfortable tableside, and build higher revenues. It also reduces turnover, which, as Michael L. Atkinson FOHBOH recent article on the same, details by the dollars.

    I am reasonably confident that with over 100-years evolution (and continuing) of restaurant dining that we have come into our own American style of service. (All though be it bastardizing of all the cultures that America grew with.) Do we still need European-dining service styles and standards to dictate America's standards?

    And to condescend New York over California… tisk, tisk.

    I just conducted a workshop for 200 waiters in southern Oregon this past Monday. Wonderful people! Concerned and eager to add to their skill sets to create a more positive dining experience and elevate their professional repertoire. And the majority of them, my peers, wore their uniforms to the workshop: jeans and t-shirts emblazoned with their restaurant’s logo. Half their customers they know intimately for they live in towns not massive urban concrete jungles. And many also rely on pacific northwest visitors and out of area/country tourists to earn their livings. These restaurants may not stock elite French wines but they do have a number of fantastic Oregon and Washington wines good enough to be selected and served by US Presidents at White House dinners for international dignitaries.

    We must be careful not to exclude any region, group or community from the professional opportunities and joys our restaurant industry offers.

    Paul
    • "Nevertheless, the training standards and processes are determined by the management and owners not the staff. "
      We are pretty much in agreement on this, whether through an outside system like your own or through internal training.
      After training, however, supervision ensures that service carries the best interest of the business and the customer, which (back to my original point elsewhere) requires ongoing supervision by competent and focused managers rigorously supervised by competent superiors.
      Lots of this comes down to well developed and held standards and policies, but I believe more comes down to hiring the right mindset at all levels and promoting by competence (for instance rather than gross sales or personality.),
  • Seems to be a theme, doesn't it.
    Here something interesting and related
    "http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/world/lifestyle-russia-cafes.html?_r=1&oref=slogin"
    I doubt that you are going to get government administrations to sign on to requiring certification from servers, although it does sound like a great idea, and I don't see servers lining up to join an organization which would make demands and charge dues or fees, when they get it all without now. Some of the training sites now offer limited server training (CCA, FCI, some community colleges), but limited is the qualifier. I sure haven't seen a lot of good come from it.
    The only thing I can think of restaurants training their own, which occasionally means losing that value if they move on. Certainly the above anecdote suggest a great approach, but the attitudes of the incoming labor force are not very promising, and you will surely agree that the incoming attitude dictates the long term performance of a server.
    I am working with a top manager from New York now who agrees that one of the advantages the East Coast enjoys is the presence of formally trained European servers, whose presence raises the bar. This is hardly going to happen in California.
  • Top notch post!!! I am just having this dicsussion in my Wednesday post about taking ultimate responsibility for your business. No victims!!

    Good stuff Paul, I admire you and your attitude!

    So to combine multiple posts and discussions this week, how do you want to tackle changing the reputation of the food service industry to what you display in your attitude. I am ready to move forward with any steps.

    Maybe, begin a group to certify restaurant hourlies in major cities and convince the rest of the industry to only hire people who represent the profession appropriately and have been certified by a national organization. A huge task but someone has to start the "revolution!" We act as recruiters and placement counselers for hourly restaurant teams? Maybe these certified staff could capture a larger hourly wage with the teaching we provide....just beginning to brainstorm....what's next?
  • Top notch post!!! I am just having this dicsussion in my Wednesday post about taking ultimate responsibility for your business. No victims!!

    Good stuff Paul, I admire you and your attitude!

    So to combine multiple posts and discussions this week, how do you want to tackle changing the reputation of the food service industry to what you display in your attitude. I am ready to move forward with any steps.

    Maybe, begin a group to certify restaurant hourlies in major cities and convince the rest of the industry to only hire people who represent the profession appropriately and have been certified by a national organization. A huge task but someone has to start the "revolution!" We act as recruiters and placement counselers for hourly restaurant teams? Maybe these certified staff could capture a larger hourly wage with the teaching we provide....just beginning to brainstorm....what's next?
  • Paul, I love it!!! I am ashamed to admit that I did not start out with your attitude when I began my time in the front of the house, but I did eventually pick it up and it help me go the direction that I wanted to go. Thanks for all your tremendously thought provoking posts and your professional and "dignified" approach to an overlooked profession.
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