Chronicles of trading in Corporate America for a waitress's apron during my very own quarter-life crisis.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The ABCs of Waitressing

I'm going to link up with Anna's nursing blog here, but with a bit of a twist:  I'm doing an ABC of waitressing.

The ABCs of Waitressing

A is for Alcohol
I try to both suggest an alcoholic beverage and/or upsell an ordered alcoholic beverage within thirty seconds of greeting a table.  That's actually my goal, not the restaurant's requirement.  (Example:  "Coronas are on special tonight; could I get you a bucket for $5?" or "A rum and Coke?  Excellent.  Would you like Captain Morgan, Barcardi, Don Q...?  Want to make this a double?")

I'd also like to list "All Day" under the A section.  If you hear a restaurant worker say, "That's six catfish all day," it means several people have ordered catfish at different times, but an expo manager is clarifying to the chef that it's six, total.  I have to use the "all day" phrase often, mostly with the salad line, when many servers are requesting salads at once.  If the chef looks confused or frustrated, just say, "It's four Caesars all day, thank you," and everything's good.

B is for "Be right back with your change!"
If the customer interrupts you in the middle of this phrase to say, "Oh, no, that's all for you," then you've executed the cash payment process with grace.  You can take that check presenter with all the bills and coins in it, and easily close out the table in the computer system.  Under no circumstances should a server grab a check presenter from a table and ask, "Do you need change?"  It's presumptuous of the server -- no matter how much I promote tipping waitstaff -- to assume that a tip is left in there for them.  I know fellow servers (me included) who will tip way less if their server asks if they need change.

Even if a check presenter has $1 bills sticking out of it, I still say, "I'll be right back with your change."  Then, of course, a "No dear, we're all squared away," from the customer.  "Well, thank you so much!  You folks have a great weekend; come back and see us," I say, with a smile.    

This was almost an exception.  The family left before I picked up the check -- I almost ran after them... but then I realized that this was actually my tip.  Whoever you are:  Thank you so much, and please, please, come back and see me anytime.

I'd also like to acknowledge "Bev Nap" under "B," because where I work, that's how other employees know if a guest has been visited and interacted with -- if the table has beverage napkins in front of each customer.

C is for Coupon
The majority of the time, when you present a coupon to your server, that server has to get a manager to a computer in order to apply it.  We're happy to accommodate your coupon, and I personally am totally "go fight win" for budgeting wisely.  It's just a pain in the ass.  

Another pain in the ass by the name of "C" is "Campers."  These are people that stay hours after they've paid, taking up a table in my section, blocking any further money in my pocket.  You don't need refills, you don't need more bread, you don't need dessert.  You just need to use this table to catch up with someone regarding the last 15 years or so, it seems.  Good on you for reconnecting, but can you do that elsewhere?  There's a park, a sidewalk, some place that doesn't affect my income, etc., that I can recommend.  

I camped for a little while at a table last night, actually, because I had yet to finish my drink.  I tipped an extra $5, on top of what my boyfriend had already tipped, just to make up for the table that our waiter could've had there in the meantime.

D is for Date
Within a few seconds, I can tell if a couple at one of my tables is on a first date.  First date tips are hit or miss; a man who knows what he's doing will treat and tip me well in front of his prospective gal, but a man who feels like he has something to prove will talk down to me (fortunately, the woman in these circumstances will usually whisper "sorry" as she puts a $10 bill on the table).

D is also for "Dead."  This can refer to an embarrassingly empty restaurant, or it can refer to food prepared by mistake that's drying out under the heat lamps on the line.  "The restaurant is dead."  "There's dead food in the kitchen."  The former means you won't make money, but the latter means you can eat for free.

D is also for "Dine & Dash."  The one time I've had this happen to me as a server, the guests were dumb enough to order alcohol and show their IDs.  I remembered not just their faces, but their names as well -- my manager took note.  :)

E is for Eighty-Six
Any time the kitchen runs out of something, that's an "86," so if you hear one server tell another, "hey, 86 coleslaw," that's what that means -- the restaurant is out of coleslaw.  The term "86" has a long history in American slang.  This can also apply to an intoxicated customer, e.g., "We have to 86 the guy at table 42; he's getting too drunk."

F is for Free
Occasionally, guests will come into the restaurant and bitch from that moment on.  They know that, in chain restaurants, where managers have their hands and balls tied to anvils, free food is just beyond the bitching horizon.  This free food, of course, doesn't include tip.  It's understood that the server won't be receiving one.

G is for Gratuity
Common practice in the United States now is to tip about 20% for great service.  The norm is changing from 15%, which is now considered the standard for "adequate" service.  I live in the Midwest, so I'll pretty much accept whatever, even during tax season, where people who have no business eating at a restaurant will order expensive food and then leave me a 5% tip.  As long as they're nice to me.  That's all I ask.

With large groups, however, servers can (in most corporate chains) no longer add automatic gratuity to large parties.  Remember those notes in restaurant menus that said, "An automatic gratuity of 18% will be added to parties of 8 or more"?  Yeah, the assholes at the IRS, who've never waited tables, decided to end that.  So if you're in a large party at a restaurant, please make sure to tip, because "auto-grat" is gone.

H is for House
Most restaurants have a house salad, house dressing, house soup, house sandwich, etc.  The "house" implies that it's made literally "in-house" -- it's made in the building.  When it was made in the building, I can't entirely vouch for.

I is for Iron
Looking homeless is frowned upon by managers and customers alike when you're a server.  I wash and iron my uniform daily, and I take a curling iron to my hair most days to smooth out the frizz and kinks and attempt to make it look like an actual hairstyle.

J is for Jesus
I'll occasionally receive a "tip" in the form of a prayer card.  I don't care how religious you are -- those useless pieces of idiocy have no monetary value.  I can't hand a depiction of Jesus to the electrician/veterinarian/mechanic/etc. and just say, "It's cool, this Biblical allegory is good for it."

Oh, good, you'll be handling all problems today?  Can this card convert itself into cash?

K is for Kill It
Same as "hockey puck," "cremate it," "paddy well," etc.  It means that a guest has ordered meat so well done that the food is beyond hope, as far as food is concerned.  PSA:  If you're in the mood for steak, but you want it well done, why not just order chicken?  

L is for Left-Handed Spatula
These don't exist.  If you're a newbie cook and someone asks you to find a left-handed spatula, you're being fucked with.  On the same plane, if you're a newbie server and your trainer asks you to empty the hot water from the coffee machines...

L can also stand for LTOP, which I pronounce like "ell-top" in my head.  It's just my abbreviation for "lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle" -- the common toppings that come with a burger.

M is for Make-up
I try to take especially good care of my face/skin, now that I'm a server.  Guests want to be greeted with a clean, fresh face that isn't caked in make-up (yet, the server should have just enough make-up to look like she hasn't just crawled out from under her hangover).  The only difference I make in my "work make-up" versus my "going to the drug store/seeing my boyfriend or family/someone's coming to my house make-up" is eyeliner.  My hair takes a bit more time as well.  

N is for No-Show

A staff member that doesn't come to work or a guest with a reservation that never arrives.  Fuck you, either way.  This is universal, whether you're in a restaurant, an office, a relationship, or at a pot-luck.  Fuck you guys, too.

N is also for "nametag."  I'm allergic to mine.

O is for "On the Fly"
When you mess up an order or a table decides out of nowhere that they want an appetizer (when their dinner entrĂ©es are five minutes away from coming to the line), the phrase "on the fly" can be your best friend.  If you tell a cook that you need a dish on the fly, that dish will be ready with priority speed.  

P is for Pittsburgh-style
Most of you probably order your steaks "medium rare," "medium," etc., but if you order a steak "Pittsburgh-style," any experienced server and/or line cook will know what you mean.  A steak like this comes to the table with a charred outside and an inside that's still mooing.  This temperature of steak is also called "black and blue," after the colors of the dish.

I'd also like to mention "pre-meal" under "P," but this is called many different things, depending on the restaurant:  alley rally, pre-shift, curtain call, line up, etc.  It's the brief meeting that the managers have with waitstaff, usually in the kitchen, before the shift gets hectic.  This meeting usually involves free food for the servers.  :)

Q is for Questions
I'm happy to answer questions about the menu for my customers.  I once got a $20 tip from a couple because I recommended some entrĂ©es after they explained they were on a diet.  

Successfully answering questions about the menu, making the guest's experience everything it could be -- I LOVE that part of my job.  I really, really do.  But if your questions sound like, "Can I get extra lemons with my water?  ... And lots of sugar packets, thanks," which basically tells me you're making yourself a free lemonade, then the person handling your food has just become unhappy.

R is for Re-cook
"Excuse me, but I ordered my steak medium well."  (customer pokes at their steak, which is almost well done... and almost entirely eaten)  "This is not medium well.  First off, it took an hour to get here--" (actually, sir, it was about 15 minutes) "--and now it's all bloody."  Despite the dried up shards of well done meat on your fork?  Sure.

S is for Shorthand
When someone is listing modifications about their food order, there's no way that you can write it down in its entirety.  "I'd like the pretzel burger... cooked medium with pepper jack, with no onions, no pickles, no tomatoes, and with lettuce but on the side -- oh, and mayo and ranch dressing on the side -- and with a baked potato with butter, sour cream, cheese, and chives... and a cup of potato soup, no bacon."  People rattle this off in a New York minute and don't consider that someone is transcribing for them the whole time.

Looks normal to me.
T is for Tip-outs
Most servers have to tip their bartenders, hostesses, food runners, bussers, etc., even if those employees didn't do anything to help your service that day.  It's mandatory where I work.  I tip out 1.5% of my sales to hostesses that seat people at tables that they haven't cleaned yet, bartenders that stand around and text, etc.  (Note:  Most days, I'm happy to tip them.  They do a lot of work.  But I notice when they don't.)

The letter "T" has special meaning to me for the phrase "two bites/two minutes," which means that you check on your guests shortly after they receive your food to ensure they're satisfied.  It only has special meaning to me because I would really hate to know that one of my guests has sat there for a long time with a dish that disappointed them.  But, literally, wait about two minutes.  Don't hover around on your guest's first bite.

FYI, "Tips" does not mean "To Insure Prompt Service."  That would be what we linguists call a "backronym."

U is for Uniform
Not just a NATO alphabet reference.  You wouldn't believe how often I have to scrub the food stains off my work uniform.  Where I currently work, I have to wear a black button-down Oxford shirt with one breast pocket, dark blue jeans, black belt, black non-skid shoes, and an issued green apron.  And things, all things -- napkins, slips of paper, bits of cheese -- accumulate in those pockets.   

V is for Vintage
Many guests who think they're food/wine connoisseurs will ask for a "vintage wine."  The "vintage" part, technically, implies that the grapes for the wine are aged beyond a certain year.  For the wine enthusiasts out there, take note:  If you're dining at a TGI O'Chilibees and request a vintage wine, you're probably just going to get the house Merlot, and you might not even know the difference.  It's a win-win. 

W is for What Are Your Soups/Sides/Desserts/etc.?
It's on the menu.  The menu in your fucking hands.

"W" is also for "Weeds."  I could write an entire blog post about being "in the weeds," but it's basically defined as the panic you feel when you've been triple-sat and have a six-top requesting separate checks and all desserts to-go and your party of four has decided to start ordering extremely specific drinks from the bar.  Thankfully, for those of us who know what this is like:  It's just food.  It's just a restaurant.  It'll be over in an hour or two.  It's an hour or two of your life, and you won't remember this five years from now.

X is for Xyloid
There is a serious amount of furniture in the dining room, and the stuff that's made of wood just makes me bruise more.  Can we find a lighter substance, please?  I can't go one day without knocking the shit out of an elbow or knee on these fancy chairs.

Y is for Yield
Every once in a while, I'll get frowns for throwing out half-eaten nachos, when the other servers could have devoured the leftovers like vultures.  The yield for food costs is apparently serious business, and the frustration of seven other broke servers is as well.  

Z is for Zeppelin
A zeppelin is a sausage.  Seriously.  If that zeppelin is "in a fog," that means it's surrounded by mashed potatoes.  


  1. This is so interesting! I just learned so much about the waitressing world! :)
    I'm so impressed you got all the difficult letters! and occasionally multiple items for each letter. So where do you work? I'm guessing somewhere where you get really cool customers, due to the stories about the sweet tips. :)

    1. Thanks for reading! I'm not sure my restaurant chain is in your area, but I work at a location in the Midwest. Our menu has kind of a Southern aspect, though. Within the blog, I call it "TGI O'Chilibees" to avoid getting "dooced," but I'll message you the real name. ;)