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Table for one

Table for oneI remember in 2006 I was working at a restaurant in downtown Toronto, I had a regular who came in about 3-5 times a week during lunch, sit in the same spot, and order the same thing everyday (appetizer size caesar salad, margarita pizza, diet coke and after the meal a coffee, black with 1 sweetener). He would always be alone, just him and his newspaper which he enjoyed reading quietly. Although we would exchange pleasantries and brief small talk, he was never one to want to have long drawn out conversations.

Why?

Because that’s the way he wanted it, it wasn’t as if he was antisocial (quite the opposite, he worked in Public Relations for a TV network). Firstly if you have a single person sit in your section you should never ask if they are waiting for someone, or how many other people are coming. The reality is that sometimes they just don’t have anyone to dine with, others choose to do so because they enjoy eating by themselves, they are on break from work, and others get stood-up etc (plus if they are waiting for someone they will let you know before wanting to place an order), so it’s best to not ask this question.

Like any other table you serve you have to remember to try to read your guests (or in this case singular guest). You will have the individual diners who will want to talk your ear off because they are lonely, and you will have the individual diners who just want to keep to themselves. Regardless of how many people are sitting at one of your tables you have to gauge how you will serve each one.

When you have a table for one sit down, look for things like:

  • Books, newspaper, magazine or any reading material. More than likely they will be buried in their literature (If you can call “Star Magazine” literature :)) but on occasion they will put it down and look for a chat, don’t just assume that they will always want to read.
  • Maps, attraction/landmark flyers and brochures, Lonely Planet guide-book, you know…. travel stuff. This is a great chance to start-up a conversation and ask them questions about their travels/where they’re from. You could even offer your own opinion or advice on what to check out while they are here. Don’t disregard these people because you think that you will never see them again, you can create an awesome impression that they will then go and tell their friends and family about.
  • Laptop. Some people need to get business done, or have studying to do and will do so during their breakfast/lunch/dinner break. Sometimes these people won’t even look away from their screen when ordering, although to me it’s a little rude I understand that sometimes people are just ridiculously busy.

Just because you have a single guest sitting at a table doesn’t mean that you give them any less attention than another table with more guests. Their average bill total may not necessarily be as large as a table with several guests, but sometimes you can make more money from solo diners with smaller checks if you amaze them with your service, than with groups of people with a higher check average.

What do you think you can do next time to make a solo diner’s experience memorable?

Thanks, and have a great day.

Nathan

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Featured image by Alan Light

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4 Comments to “Table for one”

  1. Donna says:

    I enjoy your site.
    Can you comment on servers gratuitys? Our restaurant is a small independant operationthat is casual fine dining linked to a franchised hotel property. What are your thoughts on gratuity’s – should they be pooled, shared with the kitchen, or have each server work alone. The service staff always seem to have issues about this and with each new hire policys seem to be constantly altered. We also have events that have gratuity’s that are distributed to the servers. How do you feel about managers that take a portion of these banquet and events tips?

    • Nathan says:

      Hey Donna,
      I cover a few of the things you asked about in a post I wrote a while ago http://howtobeagoodserver.com/tipping-out-the-debate/ but let me answer some things for you here.

      I only agree with pooled tips if the restaurant has a small service team and let’s say less than 20 tables and the maximum number of servers in the dining room is 4-5. I’m not saying that individual tipping doesn’t work in these places, but I believe that these are the kinds of restaurants where pooled tipping works with minimal drama.

      For me, I’m happy with giving a tip-out percentage to the kitchen, despite the fact that they receive a better wage, I feel that it gives them incentive to want to work harder and better so they can make that little bit of extra cash. In return for us servers we have better meal quality, in a timely manner and when dealing with issues they are dealt with promptly (because it’s their money too). Because of this it helps us as servers make our tips by having a enthusiastic, functioning kitchen that won’t yell at you if you need something fixed for a guest (Okay sometimes they will still yell) :).

      As for managers taking a portion of event tips, if they get in and do a bunch of work that everyone else is doing (bussing, bringing out food/drinks etc), on top of overseeing the event then I think it’s okay for them to take a cut. If they just stand around and delegate tasks and give orders then I don’t think they should. Every manager should be a hands-on manager regardless of salary/tip-out option.

      Thanks for the comment Donna, I hope my thoughts on gratuity here have answered some questions for you.

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