Friday, December 12, 2008

Serving the Boys in Blue

Several Fridays ago I experienced the worst of all holiday parties. It was a Christmas party but they refused to call it such (I feel your pain Banquet Manager).
A week before the event I was enjoying an after shift drink and overheard one of the party planners telling my boss about the party. Some people attending thought the cover was too steep, that they should receive more drink tickets, and wondered if the cover included tip for the waitress. A red flag and a loud alarm went off in my head. This was an 80 person party on a Friday night that would close my entire dining room and they were concerned about having to tip the waitress on top of paying the cover?
Finally the fateful night arrived. It was snowing and the bar was almost empty at 5. "At least we know it will be busy later," my bartender says.
At 7:30 the first couple for the party arrives. They want to wait for others before they pay their cover and receive their drink tickets so they paid cash for a drink. No tip. At 8:00 on the dot they asked me if they could start ordering and give the tickets later.
"I'm afraid I need to exchange the tickets with the bar to get the drink. You can get them from my manager. He's at the front register." I replied.
"Can you go get them for me?" The guy asked with a roll of his eyes.
"I'm sorry but no. I'll see if he can come over though." I said and turned to find the man in charge of tickets.
Eventually the couple got their tickets and their drinks,still no tip.
Shortly after 8 the rest of the party started trickling in. The dining room filled up within an hour and left very little room for walking and serving, but I did my best. There were several people who gave me a dollar for every round I brought, whether it was one drink or five, but most gave nothing. After two hours of this, majority of them were nicely buzzed and decided they needed to rearrange the tables.
While taking a drink order from a nontipping group at an unmovable booth, I was bumped by a table being dragged across the floor. When I turned, there was a long table set up behind me. As I weaved through the new floorplan of the room I realized continuing to serve this group was going to be extremely difficult.
Cause and effect. I was quick at retrieving drinks from the bar because I pour them myself. The bar and I have an agreement; I keep my tip out to her and get my own drinks, she only has to worry about her own customers. It's a good system, especially when we're busy. Unfortunately, delivering the drinks was not as quick and easy. Weaving through the dining room meant orders being called out to me at random by people I wasn't looking at. If I wasn't looking at them, I didn't know who to bring the drink to. I did my best, but it all got a bit confusing.
Eventually, some of the group decided to go to the bar for their drinks. The best spot at the bar to stand,they decided, was the server station and the opening to the bar. We had a crowd five deep standing in the very path I needed to walk to get to the bar. There was even people standing slightly behind the bar blocking the entrance. Every time I went in I had to say "Excuse me" to have them mover a quarter of an inch. When I had my drinks and was exiting, again I had to say "Excuse me".
This continued for another three hours. Because of this large crowd, the manager had to come behind the bar and serve only this group. Several of them made comments about how I would not help them, to which I sweetly replied that I was only allowed to get drinks for my tables. In the time it took for one guy to get his drink from my manager, I had taken four rounds out to the tables.
At the end of the night I had made less than $2 per person for six hours of running-my-ass-off service. My coat, hung in the server area (the walkway for employees between the dining room and bar), had been spilled on. Our regular bar customers had left hours before we closed because the party group was "taking over" the place.
Next year, if this group returns, I'm going to suggest setting up a bar on the dining room side, 86 the server, and add a $3 charge per person to the cover as tip. Wishful thinking, I know.


Anonymous said...

To make it all easy and if everyone had to buy a ticket anyway why wouldn't the service be added into the price of the ticket and then the amount split up amongst the servers. Whatever $$ tickets sold , 15% of that is the tips to be split up. All these parties things like gratuities should be cleared beforehand as to how they will be collected anyway.

Otherwise you never get what you deserve.

banquet manager said...

This reminds me of when one of my banquet events starts off as an open bar with tickets then changes to a cash bar after the first hour. People get pissed off and want to buy more tickets or borrow them from a friend.

Also, when I managed a restaurant years ago, I came across a time when my guests started to move the dining room tables around to suit their groups. I would NEVER try something like this in any restaurant. Dogs they are.

Merry Christmas to you and all the best.
So You Want To Be a Banquet Manager