Sunday, November 29, 2009

At least Let me Say Sorry

Every once in a while I will cover the night shift behind the bar. Usually it is a day that I am already working so I end up being there for a solid 15 hour shift. Working the night shift is much different from the afternoon shift. During the afternoon, people rarely do shots, usually eat food, and are not there to get wasted. At night it is a free for all of drunken patrons trying to get as drunk as possible before last call.

One of the nights I covered happened to be karaoke night at the bar which always brings in a large group of winners. Some of the tables weren't tipping the waitress so she gave up on them and let them come to the bar. This is fine with me as it means less for the bartender to take a hit on tips than the server. Most of these people go to the bar anyway, so they didn't take offense to her absence. I did notice, however, that the same people that never tipped me when I waitress were tipping me as the bartender. Pretty messed up.

One group in particular got to me and the waitress that night. There are small two-top tables right along the sides of the bar and many times people at the bar will confiscate these tables to accommodate a larger group. This group ends up ordering from the bar rather than the waitress out of convenience. I had a group of about 9 doing just this that night. 5 of them were at the bar and the other 4 were at two of these small tables. They were rotating where they were sitting throughout the night.

At one point I was so busy I felt like my head was spinning. People were at the bar two deep and the waitress couldn't get past them to serve the tables so it seemed like everyone was coming up to the bar. People were also ordering "chilled" shots like mad. "Chilled" shots take longer to make. Not by much, but they do. If I have someone waiting for a bottle of beer I am likely to get that before beginning the shots. Anyway, one guy from this table/bar group had moved to sit at the bar. I was making my rounds slowly enough so that if someone needed anything and I wasn't noticing they could call out or flag me down while I was refilling the obviously empty drinks. Soon I hear the waitress calling my name. She explains to me that this guy at the bar asked her for shots. She told him she couldn't serve him because he was sitting at the bar but she would tell me. He argued with her that he had been trying to get my attention for a long time and would go sit at a table. After saying this he got up and stood by the table. She still felt uncomfortable with this so she told him she would get me. He sat back down at the bar. As soon as she told me I went over to confirm his shot order. He denied needing anything several times before telling me that he had been trying to get my attention for a long time and I "missed it". I began to apologize, but he cut me off saying "you missed it." The person next to him needed a drink so while I was getting their order I tried apologizing again, but he cut me off with the same remark. This happened one more time before I walked away without another word. He then got up and went to a table and ordered the shots from the waitress. I am not ashamed to say that I chilled those shots good and they were probably quite watered down. You don't have to like that you couldn't get my attention, but what does being rude to the bartender accomplish really?

When she delivered the shots, the guy (she says) yelled at her about telling me he wanted shots. I really don't see the issue here. He wanted shots, couldn't get my attention, the waitress got my attention, and I tried to serve him immediately. I don't think he was trying very hard as I was on that side of the bar serving others and would have heard a "hey you", "excuse me", or seen someone waving at me. I had even served the person to his right and his friends to his left during the time he was sitting there. One of the orders was for chilled shots which means I was standing there for a good 30 seconds pouring them. In my experience, this would be when people who needed something would get my attention. I am not a mind reader and was too busy to stop and ask every person at the bar if I could get them anything.
After all this, the guy's girlfriend goes to our manager and complains about us. At first he was a bit upset about the customer complaint, but after we both told him the same story he made a joke about it being a full moon.

On a more annoying note, a regular came in with his wife. They sat at the bar and had a few beers. During this time, as is the custom at my bar, when they needed another beer they would put their empty bottle in the ditch at the edge of the bar and I would crack them open a new one. The wife's beer was in this position so I cracked her a new one and took the husband's money. Before I got to the register they started calling to me that she didn't want another beer. I made a joke about the empty being in the ditch and she said "I was just giving it to you." Again, I am not a mind reader. If you use this system to quickly get another beer, I will not know when you are ready to stop if you continue to perform the same action.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Product Names and Their New Meaning

When you have a customer come in and ask for a soda by a brand name, do you tell them the brand you actually have? In our society certain brand names have become synonymous with the product. For example, when you need a tissue, what do you typically ask for? When ordering a vodka mixed with an energy drink, do you say just that or ask for the brand name you know and is most common?

At my bar, we typically don't tell customers that we have an off brand energy drink or the exact brand of soda we carry, unless they ask. Do you agree with this practice? What do you do at your restaurant?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Party Night

The night before Thanksgiving. One of the biggest bar nights of the year. I had the pleasure of waitressing on this night.
It was busy. It was so busy I could barely get to my tables on the other side of the bar. There were people standing everywhere. About 2/3 of the group were friends with the bartender so they chose to go straight to the bar for their drinks. I understand that and didn't mind; I had other tables. Unfortunately, the other tables were paying cash so they felt no obligation to wait for me. It turns out even the people who had tabs with me didn't feel any obligation to wait for me either, even though I had their credit cards. They began going to the bar. They told the bartenders that they had a tab, thinking that it made no difference if their tab was with me or the bar.

I wish I could give every table a few pointers to the bar experience. Opening a tab with the waitress is not the same as opening a tab with the bar. Who you open the tab with holds you card and has to claim the sale. It does matter. I am fortunate enough to work at a place where I can transfer tabs to other people (i.e. the bar), but not all places are like this. If you open a tab with the server, that's who you should be ordering from. If you move from your table and it's crowded, you should let the server know. We may not be able to use our superhuman powers to find you in a crowd.

If you tip the bartender per round, tip the waitress the same. Usually the waitress is navigating through crowds to get your order, then back to the POS computer, then to the bar, then back to your table with a tray of drinks/food. The bartender only needs to reach in a cooler to grab your beer and does not have to fight the crowds. Who do you think is working harder?

If you stop ordering from the waitress when she is busy and prefer to go to the bar on your own, and she checks on you for over an hour without you ordering one drink from her, do not expect her to continue to come back. She has other tables that are actually ordering and tipping her. Do not flag her over after 3 hours of going to the bar yourself to tell her you need something. Every time you go to the bar, she loses money to another employee who is already making more per sale than she is. Some waitresses will not, but many will ignore you. I personally might check on you if I am nearby, but I will not make a special trip through the crowd, getting stepped and spilled on, just to see if you need anything. You are a lost cause to me and taking up space in my section. Get your own drinks if I'm not around. It's what you've been doing all along anyway when I was around.

I realize this post sounds very cynical. I am not always so critical of customers and their actions. That being said, when the bar is backed up three deep and the waitress is standing around bored, there is a problem. This is a common problem at my bar; tables bypassing the waitress and going to the bar. Some bartenders tell people there is a waitress, most do not. I went in to work expecting to make money last night, needing to make money. Instead, I stood around watching others make money and having to fight through crowds to serve the few tables that were allowing me the pleasure of waiting on them. I went home smelling like brewery from being spilled on so much with 1/4 of the money the bartender made...and there were two of them so they split tips.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Charge for juice

I was bartending the other day and actually had a waitress. I never have a waitress. It was fun to have someone else to talk to, but I felt bad because she was having problem customers and I know how terrible that can make your night, especially when it happens in the beginning.
We had a certain alcohol on special that day. One customer at a table wanted it mixed with juice. We charge $.25 for mixing juice because we do not have juice on our bar gun, only in cans. At the end of the night the customer decided to leave a note on their tab telling the waitress that it was BS that they were charged $.25 for juice. Their drinks were only $3.25 because they were on special.
So often lately I have been receiving complaints on things that are on special. Our half price food doesn't have enough meat/potato/fries. "I can see why it's half price!" The drink specials don't have enough alcohol in them, even though we make them the same and are notorious for heavy pouring.
I know the economy is bad, That's why we are running the specials we are. I know this situation is making people unhappy, but it does me no good to short you on anything. I am counting on your tip to pay my bills. Besides, you're already getting a deal!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dine-in only specials

I have many regulars at the bar. This usually makes for a nice shift. Regulars are more understanding when you are busy, keep an eye out for you when you need to get through, and move quickly out of your way. Sometimes, though, regulars expect special treatment because of their frequent patronage. This causes problems for management and employees, as well as other customers.
Currently at the bar we have dine-in only food specials that are meant to bring in new customers. It is clearly stated in several places that these specials are dine-in only. I am annoyed and amazed at the people who order the specials to go and then complain to me when they are charged a higher price.
Yesterday I had a regular come in and order one of these specials to go. I accidentally entered it as the special price and my cook corrected me. See, the cook won't even give me the order if it is entered as a special to-go. When I presented the check to the customer, he complained about the price. I explained to him that it was a dine-in only special, but he proceeded to tell me that he comes in all the time and spends money so he should get it at the special price anyway. While I understand his logic, I can not comply. First, it is not my rule. I have the cook and owner to catch my mistakes and there is no way for me to get the order to you if it's not entered correctly. Second, offering special pricing for regulars is a slippery slope. What defines a regular? Someone who has come in for years? months? or every day for a few weeks? Since we can not advertise such exceptions we can not offer special pricing for "special" people.
This goes along with asking the bartender to buy you a drink because you have spent money. You came in to a business to purchase services and goods. We are open to make money, not friends. While I love my regulars, I can not and will not risk my job so you can save a few dollars (and not tip me on the free drink). If you want a free drink, make nice with the owner and let him tell me to buy you one.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Standards of Service

Since I have no stories of my own to tell, I figured I would post something different.
I recently read an article in the New York Times about what one person is having their wait staff do at a restaurant they are opening. While I think there are some very good ideas in the article, some does contradict what many places have us do. I also noticed a conflict between what customers want from their servers. Granted, some of this depends on the type of restaurant you work at, but for the most part I have found customers desires to be unique. Another thing is that some of these rules/suggestions are just plain impossible to adhere to every second of the shift. We are human, not perfect beings, and making mistakes, while they should be few and far between, are bound to happen.

Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness.
Many restaurants require their staff to do this. Many customers will ask for your name if it is not given. What is the harm in a customer being introduced to the person who will be serving them for the next hour or longer? I do agree that not flirting, jokes, or acting “cute” with your customers is a good idea. Since these are not people you know very well, it is safer to stay away from anything that may offend.

Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials. Wait for the right moment.
So now we have unlimited time? Not to sound overly harsh, but are they there to order something or just talk? Contrary to what I would prefer and customers would believe, I do not have unlimited time. I have other customers that need something from me and when I approach your table it’s your turn. If you stop talking two seconds after I leave the table, I may not be able to come back right away. I try to never interrupt a customer. Usually when the server approaches the table people are polite enough to stop talking and place their order.

Do not take an empty plate from one guest while others are still eating the same course. Wait, wait, wait.
Many of my customers would consider not removing an empty dish or glass bad service.

Know before approaching a table who has ordered what. Do not ask, “Who’s having the shrimp?”
While this is ideal and what we strive for, sometimes if a group is large enough, or the same dishes were ordered with slight changes, we forget. If customers play musical chairs we may not give you the correct plate and will have to ask. I don’t remember your face when you order sometimes. It’s what seat you are in that helps me get the right food to you.

If someone likes a wine, steam the label off the bottle and give it to the guest with the bill. It has the year, the vintner, the importer, etc.
Great idea, but is this really possible with every customer? If the bottle is not empty it would be irresponsible, and a violation of some codes, to remove the label.

Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them.
Can I place the same standard of behavior on my customers? Please?

Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad. Saying, “No problem” is a problem. It has a tone of insincerity or sarcasm. “My pleasure” or “You’re welcome” will do. Do not compliment a guest’s attire or hairdo or makeup. You are insulting someone else.
While I understand the point of this, I highly doubt that my customers are stupid enough to think that a compliment for something means an insult for all else. I think saying “no problem”, while very casual, is OK. It’s all about tone of voice.

Do not discuss your own eating habits, be you vegan or lactose intolerant or diabetic.
Trust me; I would love to not tell customers about my personal eating habits. My place of work is very casual and customers frequently ask me about menu items. How about not asking the server what they prefer?

I think many of these ideas are a great ideal and standard for employees, as long as the owner/manager realizes that they are dealing with the biggest variable there is; humans. Customers are all different, as is the staff. While you can set the rules for your employees, you cannot guarantee that the customers aren’t going to make it difficult for them to follow those rules, or that they will not desire a different experience than your rules would provide. I think the most important thing any restaurant can have is not rules, but trustworthy employees that are able to judge what type of experience the customer is looking for and to provide it.

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