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6 tips for time management

6 tips for time managementHey there! I thought I would make today’s topic a topic which I was chatting about with a friend of mine I used to work with. While having lunch we got talking about how we could do a little better with our time management when working, so today’s post is going to be about your time management in the restaurant.

Firstly restaurant work isn’t your every day office job, where your stationary at your desk for 80% of your day and everything is within arms reach or some clicks away, you are working in an industry where you get a work out and are always on the move (This is my excuse for not going to the gym).

Why is time management important?

I worked in a place in Australia where the sections were 10 to 14 tables per server (EPIC!) and it was this place where I learned how time management was my friend.

(unfortunately with these ridiculous number of tables it was hard to give quality service to each table which I wasn’t comfortable with when it got busy)

Here are 6 tips for time management in the restaurant:

  1. Writing orders the smart way
  2. Full hands
  3. Sense of urgency
  4. Think before you move
  5. Prioritize
  6. Carry the bill

So let me give you the breakdown for each of these time management tips.

Writing orders the smart way

In an earlier post titled Steps of service – The basics I mention that I would cover how to write orders and here it is.  I used to try to impress my tables and not write things down and I would try to remember everything. That stopped the day I forgot someones order and went back to ask what they asked for and straight up I felt like an idiot. Write orders in shorthand to make things move quicker. For example:

Guest 1

Vodka & soda – Caesar salad – Steak, medium rare with fries and vegetables.

Guest 2

Orange juice – House salad (dressing on the side) – Chicken parmigiana

Guest 3

Glass house white wine – no appetizer – Spaghetti carbonara (chili flakes on the side)

Rather than writing it out like it is above try something like this:


Vod/Soda – Caesar – Steak M/R fries+veg


OJ – Hse sal (DOS) – Parm


Gls white – X – Carb, chili O/S

Now if you serve an average of 10+ tables per shift then the time saved adds up big time. The time you save allows you to focus on more important things than writing your orders out in full. Over time you will develop your own method of writing your orders in shorthand.

Full hands

This is another topic that I mentioned in a post titled Restaurant terminology. This is great for time management, it simply means when you’re entering or leaving the dining area, kitchen or service bar you should always have your hands full. A comment from a reader on the Restaurant terminology post made a good point about prioritizing which is covered below.

Sense of urgency

There will be times where you’re busy and you will need to pick up the pace. Get those legs moving but without looking rushed or running frantically, because it’s not a good image to the guests. I’m lucky enough to have long legs (my girlfriend calls them my dancer legs:)) which gives me a good stride.

Just be sure you know the difference between rushing around like a maniac and moving with speed and efficiency to get the job done.

Think before you move

If you have a plan about what your next few moves will be then you won’t waste any of your time just moving without any direction. Make a mental map of where you need to go and what you need to do which will allow you to do those tasks in the least amount of time.


The guest needs/wants come first. Your job as a server is to accommodate and make your guests feel as if they are in your home. So in that case they are your priority no matter what. Forget the cutlery that needs to be polished, forget the roll-ups that need to be done, forget resetting your tables, because if you have a guest request then that is your priority.

I have seen servers who have had a guest ask them for something from the kitchen and they have gone to another table of theirs and start to clean and clear it before tending to their request. Just remember that your guests come first before any of your side duties or other tasks you may have (unless you’re putting a fire out at another table).

Carry the bill

You have to judge this one on your own. When it comes towards the end of your tables dining experience they will eventually ask you for their check so they can settle up, get out, and allow you so reset and serve more tables. Now if I can sense that a table may not be interested in having dessert (they look like they couldn’t fit another thing in and you may need to take them out of the restaurant in a wheelbarrow) then I like to print their check and carry it on me, just in case they ask me for it when I’m at their table next.

If that table ends up ordering dessert or coffee and tea then after I have rung them into the computer I will immediately print out their bill and once again carry it on me.

This will save me time if I’m at the table and they ask for the check, I won’t need to go back to the computer, print out their bill, and return back to the table. This way when they ask for it I can drop it, clear some things from their table while they review the bill and when I return more than likely payment is ready to be processed.

Incorporate these tips into your daily routine while working and you will find that you will work more efficiently and will increase your money because your working smarter and not harder.

Let me know if any of these tips have worked for you.



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8 Comments to “6 tips for time management”

  1. Jacquelyn says:

    I absolutely love your blog. I think it is a great reference for newbies to the scene. The only thing I would challenge would be your “prioritize” section. I think it is very important to prioritize, however I believe in treating your section as one table. You mention that if a table asks for something from the kitchen to go immediately there. What if you have multiple tables? What if the kitchen is far and if you stop at another table and they need something too? Maybe adding the idea of “consolidating your steps” into this section? One of my pet peaves as a diner is needing something…seeing my server get asked for something from one table…and then not even acknowledging us and walking away.

    • Nathan says:

      Thanks Jacquelyn, that’s nice of you to say so.

      In no way did I mean to give off the impression that I would ignore my other tables while getting this guest what they asked for, I meant to point out that other tasks that fall under a lower level of priority (clearing tables/glassware, side duties etc) can wait and you should attend to your guests first.

      Thanks for bringing this up Jacquelyn, it’s a great point.

  2. Sjp says:

    Thanks for this post. I’ve just started my first serving job and my section is about 12 tables. My first shift went okay but some things definitely went wrong. Onward and upward!

    • Nathan says:

      Thank you Sjp,

      The first day will always have it’s ups and downs, but that’s where you learn the most about where you are working. Hope you have a great second shift, and even better ones after that.

  3. Daphne says:

    I work at a restaurant that has 50 tables and 2 servers. I also have to spend LOTS of time at tables because it is a vegan restaurant and people don’t know what many things are. Any tips for EXTREME time management?

    • Nathan says:

      Wow, 50 tables between two servers is quite intense Daphne, do you ever fill all the seats with just two servers?

      With that volume of tables it would require a very focused and well prioritized server. There are only so many things we can do to save time, but when it comes to your guests asking questions about the menu there is nothing simpler than answering their questions (without giving extra, unnecessary information that would consume time).

      A good sense of urgency is needed as well as being able to keep a fast pace without looking like you are running in a race.

      Can you give me some more information about what type of restaurant you work in? and if you have any support staff (bussers, hosts, runenrs etc) working with you?.

      Thanks for the question Daphne, stay away from them weeds :).

      • Daphne says:

        We have one runner and one amazing busser and our manager acts a host. It’s very under staffed due to the “frugality” (to put it nicely) of the owner. I can usually handle things and it is a pooled house if I need to ask the other server for help, BUT I can’t do humane things like hydrate myself or use the restroom. So basically, does anyone need an amazing server to come and work for them? 😉

        • Nathan says:

          It’s a shame when an owner won’t spend the money to make money. Keeping the staff happy by not stressing them out with a massive workload (and by the sounds of it, you do have a massive workload) is key for business.

          At the very least I hope you make good money for your hard work, and if you venture off elsewhere I hope you find greener pastures Daphne :).

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