How To Be A Good Server How To Be A Good Server

A caution with compliments

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Free compliments“I love your shirt”

“I dig those shoes”

“You have amazing eyes”

Who doesn’t like receiving a compliment?

As I sit here in my local cafe enjoying a coffee and croissant while writing a different article on my laptop, two ladies walk in and go to order up at the counter. The girl behind the pastry display greets them, she looks at one of the ladies and says “Wow, I really love your hair”, the lady replies with “Thank you, we both just had our hair done”.

The server then proceeds to take the order for their teas and muffins (yes, I was nosy and listened to what they ordered) and a look came over the other woman’s face, as if to say “Why doesn’t she love my hair?”

This got me thinking about how complimenting guests, although in most circumstances may seem to be a positive thing can also have a negative impact.

I thought back to shifts I’ve worked where I have thrown out compliments to my guests and whether when doing so if anyone else had felt “left out”. I can guarantee that I have, probably many times over.

So while sipping my coffee and crunching on my croissant I was trying to figure out some points when it came to complimenting guests, or anyone in that matter. Here’s my opinion about complimenting guests:

  • If serving a couple I believe it’s fine for girls to compliment girls and guys to compliment guys. Vice-versa is probably something to stay away from. There may be some chill couples out there that would see it as a nice gesture, but then there’s those who will think you’re hitting on their date (even if it isn’t implied, and if it is…. Naughty, naughty).
  • Group compliments are fine. Say a table of die-hard sports fans are all wearing Oakland Raiders jerseys (But only if you do love them, don’t get caught out in a lie if they ask follow up questions).
  • Complimenting elderly guests at a table where the other guests are a younger age is fine.
  • If it’s the guest of honor (birthday, anniversary, graduation etc) then congratulate away.
  • When you’re one on one with a guest (say the table is leaving) then I think it’s fine to drop a compliment to that person as long as it’s out of ear shot of the others.
  • Never compliment for the sake of trying to get a better tip.

Some things may work differently for you, but I think these points are a simple guideline you can go by.

One last note on this post is that the same goes for when your guests order food or drinks. A quick example is if a table of 4 order their meals and you say to 1, 2 or 3 of them “great choice” (or something like that) but leave someone out, then they’re going to be thinking whether their selection wasn’t as good as the other people at the table.

When I genuinely complimented someone I thought it was a win-win situation, except now I realize if there are others around who don’t receive a better or equal compliment that it can backfire on me.


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Attention to detail

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Attention to detailFor anyone who has worked in fine dining before you’ll know that apart from the high quality service and food ,another important aspect is the presentation, cleanliness and the attention to the smallest of details is what separates it from casual dining. I recently returned to fine dining because I missed it and wanted to get back into that demanding, attention to detail kind of workplace. Although presentation and cleanliness are things that every restaurant should pay attention to, fine dining normally has a higher standard when it comes to it.

So I want to go over what you should look for when it comes to attention to detail working as a server. First up I always say that your section should be a representation of yourself. Keep it clean and looking good for your guests, and hey, do it for yourself too (it’s nice to work in a clean environment).

Below you might not find some of the points in every restaurant but I wanted to give broad examples.

For me, I always check my section first:

  • Cutlery/Roll-ups – Are the napkins the roll-ups are in stained/look terrible? If the cutlery is laid out on the table are there water spots on them, dried cheese (ugh) or rust marks?
  • Tables – Are salt and pepper shakers dirty? dried ketchup/mustard on the tabletop, gum under the tables? (yes this still happens), table legs clean? Does the table have everything it should have on it?
  • Glassware and plates – Fingerprints on the glasses? stains/dust on the plates etc?
  • Chairs and booths – Any crumbs or food taking a seat here? dirty chair legs? anything in the booth cracks?
  • Floor – Lettuce leaves, sticky drink spills, condiment stains or whatever the previous guests decided to throw on the ground.

Now that I’m all done with my section, If I have time I will move onto:

  • Entrance to the restaurant – Are there cigarette butts, coffee cups, gum wrappers or anything else making the front look messy?
  • Menu’s – Are they wiped down and stain free? Do they have everything page they need inside?
  • Bill folds/cash trays – No one likes getting their bill on a sticky or dirty bill fold/cash tray. I know I don’t!
  • Bathrooms – In most places this is taken care of by someone other than the server (who wants to see their server coming out of the bathroom after cleaning it?) but just before my shift I’ll pop my head in and make sure things are tidy and stocked, then will do a thorough hand wash (a very important part which I wrote about in this post “Wash your hands“).
  • Light fixtures/ceiling corners – Cobwebs love these areas.
  • Server stations – Are there dirty napkins, plates or glassware here from a recently bussed table? Is the area organized and clean?
  • Windows – Kids love to leave their fingerprint signatures on windows.
  • The pass – Restock and clean all areas, wipe down tabletops and the pass itself, throw out stacks of tickets on the spike.
  • Bar area – Although the bartenders are generally on top of this it never hurts to lend a hand and clean up the service bar area.
  • Host stand – Like the bar this should be taken care of by the hosts/hostesses but take a moment to check it out.

There are countless things to clean in a restaurant and although it can be frustrating getting paid minimum wage to be a cleaner/organizer, it’s part of the job and it does help to pass the time until you are sat or needed by your tables. Like at home, if everyone puts in 10 minutes or so of cleaning each day it makes the overall cleaning a lot easier, and your restaurant will look in top condition (many hands make light work).

You only get one chance at a first impression so be sure that from the moment your guests walk up to the restaurant to the time they leave everything is looking immaculate.

Would you return to a dirty restaurant?


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Serving with a negative mindset

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Serving with a negative mindsetWe, as servers should be welcoming, enthusiastic, presentable, knowledgeable, and always appear happy with a smile on our face, which can be a hard set of skills to consistently tackle every day. Another skill that isn’t always easy is to leave everything negative at the door when you walk into the restaurant.

Perhaps you’ve had issues with family or friends, you’re stressed about a numerous number of things life throws at you, or you just aren’t feeling up to working that day. The thing is, we need to be able to train our minds to leave these problems outside of the work place, easier said than done, but it’s something that has a big impact on how your shift goes.

Have you ever been at work when someone has walked in the door for their shift and before they say anything to you, you can already sense they are in a bad/negative mood? If you can see that before they even speak, how do you think their tables will see this server while being served by them? (providing they continue their attitude from when they walked in)

Although negativity in any workplace has an impact, in our industry of dealing with people face to face on a daily our demeanor and mood directly affects everyone around us. If you start your shift off saying things like “I’m not going to make any money today” or “my section sucks” then most of the time (not always) that’s probably how it’s going to go down.

Some things I do to break away from a negative mindset are:

  • Keep myself busy while working, this helps to keep my mind of whatever it is that’s bringing me down. If it’s quiet I’ll deep clean things, restock, organize shelves and just focus on the tasks at hand.
  • I don’t talk about my problems while at work. Bringing up issues with fellow workers is just going to remind you of it, and it can also change the mood of the people you share your drama with. Without a doubt, it’s not something you talk about with your guests either.
  • I look at the positive outcomes of changing my attitude (I’ll make more money, easier to deal with guests and co-workers, feel a whole lot better and happier, time will feel like it’s flying by etc)
  • To boost my mood I’ll have a laugh with my work mates. I’ll bring up a story of one of the many shenanigans we’ve had together, and let the story unfold :).
  • I don’t stop until my mindset turns positive.

As I said, it’s not always the easiest thing to stay positive every single day, but why not make the most out of your shift and change your mindset to benefit you? At least then you give yourself the best chances of making good money and ending your shift on a happier note than when you came in.

We all have our bad days, but it’s nice to know that we have the ability to change it around by being optimistic and not letting negativity control the outcome our day.

“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”

– Gandhi

Have an awesome day.


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