Disclaimer: The opinions of this post don't necessarily reflect mine, those of The Wooden Spoon Chefs, or its affiliates. The experiences and information forward are from my experiences and observations and do not necessarily represent every restaurant or service industry professional.
The restaurant industry is one of the most challenging, stressful jobs one could undertake. From dealing with demanding customers who shout in your face, slightly over-intoxicated customers, or a restaurant that turns from empty to full in a matter of seconds, it's not for the faint of heart.
There are two distinctions in the restaurant industry—the front of the house (FOH) and the back of the house (BOH). The front of the house consists of the bar, servers, bussers, and food runners, while the back of the house consists of the various chefs and dishwashers.
In this post, we will focus on the FOH; while I won't go into depth about every angry customer story I've seen and dealt with myself, I'll give you a glimpse into some of the secrets of the FOH.
Servers can often be an interesting bunch when it comes to tips. It seems Every server has a tactic to increase its percentage. While 15% is often used if the server does a poor to medium job, 18% if a few mistakes are made, or 20% if service is excellent, I will almost always tip 20% or more simply because I can relate to what servers so often deal with, but more on that later.
Personally, a waiter's attire and mannerisms are the best way to increase tips. Some servers believe that simply having the cap on a pen will increase the tips; the fancier the pen, the larger the tip, and one server that I knew even went so far as to keep a small book with notes of all her customers so when they were to return, she could make conversation with them. Act like you're a waiter in the finest three-star Michelin restaurant, and your customers will begin to think they're in a nicer restaurant than they are.
Now, this is one I could go on and on about… each restaurant I have worked in has had its fair share of angry customers. There have been shouting ones, ones that storm into the kitchen, accuse managers of being on drugs, throw wine upon servers, and people who have been kicked out of restaurants across town due to indecent acts. Servers, hosts, bussers, and managers often break down in tears from dealing with these customers. Let me clarify: we love our jobs, but when it's time to deal with angry customers, we dread the rest of the night.
How You're Seated
In my time as a restaurant host, I've not only been on the front line of angry customers, but I've also seen the whole front-of-house system often crumble due to seating requests. When a host or hostess seats you at a table, it's likely for a good reason. Many restaurants nowadays use a precise algorithm to ensure that servers are not over-sat and the kitchen is not flooded with orders. When you ask to move tables, you could be seated with a different server who just got three other tables shortly before you. So, if your server takes a few more minutes to get to you, it could be due to your seating change.
Personal Display of Affection
I think every server has witnessed it, from customers getting very touchy to full-on making out. I've seen it numerous times, and honestly… please don't do this in a restaurant. It makes us very uncomfortable when we have to come up to your table. Besides, other customers often ask us servers to talk with you guys.
What does your server genuinely think of you?
This is an interesting one… and it all depends on the server. Referencing the tips, servers live on tips; they must supplement the low minimum wage we receive otherwise. Because servers live on tips, we will do anything to receive a higher tip value, even I that means acting like the customer's best buddy even though we aren't a fan of the customer. I can't begin to tell you how many customers come into restaurants asking for a waiter, and that waiter is visibly annoyed. With that being said… servers do genuinely enjoy many of their regulars.
With that all being said, restaurants use the same apps that find where to seat people to make notes about difficult or low-tipping customers. If you've ever been angry at a waiter or have been difficult to someone in a restaurant, chances are your name has been flagged and has a nicely written note on your profile.
Ice Ice Ice
When you go to a restaurant and order a pop or water, chances are they will put ice in it. That's all fine and wonderful until you find out how little that ice machine is cleaned. Newer ice machines are very fancy and easy to clean; older ones, however… could take an entire day to thoroughly clean out mold or hard water deposits. Many restaurants can't have their machine down for that long, so as a result… the ice in your drink may not be as clean as you think.
Upselling and Specials
When you walk into a restaurant, your waiter will often list a special or two that may already be on the menu. This is a widespread tactic for one or both two reasons. Either the kitchen is trying to get rid of that item because it's about to go bad, or they're trying to upsell you. The specials are rarely the cheapest item on the menu if they are upselling you. They tend to be at the higher end of the pricing range but not the top, so you don't feel too bad about buying something too expensive. The same thing goes for when you ask our suggestion about a dinner option; your server will likely provide you with an upper-priced option and an upper-priced drink—again, trying to bring up that tip amount in the end.
What Can frustrate your host or server most
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, only six people could sit at a table. A group came in with seven people and tried to bend the rules so their whole party could be seated. Having said why they couldn't all sit together, they ran over to the manager and asked them if they could get a reservation for seven. I've seen it countless times; when a customer asks you a question and doesn't get the answer, they want to walk straight to a manager and expect a different response. Chances are if your server or host gives you one answer, the manager will provide you with the same answer. It can be very frustrating to see this occur.
How can you get the best service every time?
Restaurants can fill up in seconds, so your server can be under tremendous stress. Patience will always be the best way to gain the best service. If you become angry with your server, it doesn't necessarily increase the service level but may hinder it. Be patient with your server, be empathetic and understand that your server may have just dealt with being over-sat or just dealt with an angry customer.
However, if you are trying to get a reservation at a restaurant that's fully booked or nearly so, give this small trick a try: Give us a call and ask who answered the phone, then say, "hey (person's name), it's (your name) how are you doing buddy… I'm looking for a reservation tonight." Act like you're the hostess's best friend; you may get that coveted reservation since they can't see you in person and won't necessarily make a connection between a face and name.
Yet another way to get excellent service is to interact with us. Talk with us, ask us questions, and joke around with us. Most customer groups want to be left alone, so it is often nice to interact with a fun group of customers. Your table may become your server's priority if you genuinely talk with us.
With everything said, the FOH may be the same as a battleground between the customer, server, and host. The truth is, these secrets may highlight the worst of FOH restaurant secrets, but the FOH is a unique and exciting place to work. Your server genuinely, I hope, loves their job and their customers. Their regulars and favorite customers are why they show up to work every day and aren't just motivated by tip money. And although some restaurants may not be as clean as possible, a vast majority are very clean. So, in the end, sit in comfort at your favorite local restaurants with a fresh perspective on what it's like behind the scenes in the FOH!
“The Flying Chef”