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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Customer Mystique

I had a lot of fun yesterday.  News of my engagement had spread through the blogosphere, Facebook, Twitter, and the ever-chattering workplace, so by the time I showed up for my dreaded free-dessert-day double shift, just about everyone knew I was getting hitched.  I was greeted by "ohhhhhhhhmigawwwwwwwwd!"s, tackled by hugs, and peppered with excited questions from nearly everyone I work with.  Some of those gals are living proof that even the most seasoned, rough-around-the-edges women can be subdued down to "(girly gasp) oh how preeeeeeetttty!" when looking at an engagement ring.

Photo credit:  My shitty iPhone 3.

So, I got to be feminine for a day.  :)  Thank you, Scott, for the excuse.  And for asking me to be your wife! That was pretty awesome of you.  I think I'll do a bang-up job.

Even my customers were getting a kick out of it.  Thank you, my tables from yesterday!

Today's topic is psychology.  Maybe more specifically, sociology?  I'm not sure yet.  

A lot of what goes into my tables as a waitress is psychological.  I didn't have to deal with this at my cubicle job, because if someone snapped in a meeting or something, I'd just stare at them.  Literally, the only time someone ever demanded something from me at my cubicle was when the director of bench testing asked when a guidance would be ready.  "Should be ready before lunch," I replied, glancing from my computer screen briefly to give him a nod and a tight-lipped smile.  "Oh, okay, that's great.  Thanks!" he said, and shuffled away after an awkward pause.  (For the record, I think there's a prerequisite 500-level course called The Awkward Pause in every engineering Ph.D. candidate's itinerary.)

But with waitressing, it's like... here, I'll put it this way:

You've got a bad back, so you go to a chiropractor.  The chiropractor fixes your back, but then all these other joints (your knees, shoulders, ankles) start to ache because they've been working with support from a damaged core this whole time, and they're now surprised, somewhat confused, and are using muscles and tendons that they hadn't been using before.  So your back feels great now, but for some reason, your left shoulder is bothering you.  That's because your left shoulder isn't used to your back being aligned; it had been over-correcting for the issue this whole time.

Waiting in a chiropractor's office.  This has actually become kind of a regular thing for me since that accident.

This is what it's like to deal with a table where, just the second they come in, everything is wrong.  "I don't like this booth, give us a table," "Your drinks are too expensive," "But it's on the menu, why don't you have it?  It's on the menu," etc.  (P.S.  You initially requested a booth, I don't price the drinks, and I don't write the menu and/or control the products that run out that day.  Yell at the people who built the booth, created the drinks, and ate all the food.)

You kill the absolute shit out of them with kindness, while thinking all your raging thoughts.  Smile, smile, smile.  This is the "fixing the back" part.  Get them their food; people are happier when they have food.  Have a manager visit the table to charm them.  Smile until your face falls off.

But then, it's the little things that help the surrounding joints that may ache due to the initial correction.  Say that you and a manager helped appease the customers by comping a meal off their bill.  And that worked for a while, but while inspecting the bill (obviously), the customer flares up again:  "This isn't right," they say, wagging the bill inches from your face.  Take a breath and explain it.  If that doesn't help, then for Christ's sake, get a manager again.  You're not paid enough to have to deal with that.  

Here's some stuff I've learned about the psychology of restaurant customers, in a nutshell:
  • If you're a server and you get true-blue double-sat (i.e., two tables are sat at one time in your section, so you have to somehow greet and get drinks and food orders for both tables within like thirty seconds), take a deep breath and bring a bread basket to one table, and get drink orders for the other table first instead.  When people have carbs and butter in front of them, they won't notice that they have to wait an extra minute or so to be properly greeted.  It's just a lot better to bring some food with you when you say "I'll be right with you folks," rather than be empty-handed.  
  • They feel more comfortable when you have a clean, happy, fresh appearance.  I go to the restroom a few times during my shift to touch up my makeup, dab sweat from my forehead, and wipe any smudges from my uniform.  I give daily attention to my skin, hair, and fingernails.  I'm not girly by any means (despite the engagement ring), but this is stuff I have to think about now.  
  • They love an honest server.  "Are the fried pickles good?"  "Oh, they're great.  I actually don't even like pickles, but I really enjoy them fried!"  They love a kind server, especially one that can anticipate the needs of children.  They love a funny server.  "Could I get a tall Stella Artois on draft?"  "Sure."  Then while delivering the drink, "'STELLLLLLAAAAAA!'"  

  • Note:  Don't use this joke on people under 30.

  • Knowledge the crap out of that menu, and sample any item you can.  Offer personal notes to a dish that interests your table.  Which sounds better to a customer?  "Yeah, the prime rib is pretty popular," versus "I love our prime rib -- it's slow roasted in-house all day, so it's very tender, and the way it's seasoned really adds to the flavor."  I also tend to get better tips when a customer orders a menu item, and I say, "Good choice.  Actually, my dad gets that sometimes when he comes in to see us." (I'm actually always honest about that.  I'll tell guests if a dish they're ordering is a favorite of my dad, my cousin, my fiancé, a regular customer, etc.  I don't blow smoke.)
  • On the same note of knowing the menu, I once got a $20 tip from a man who was on a low-carb, low-calorie diet, just because I told him the specs of a menu item.  A few weeks ago, I described a dish to a couple in the same manner and received both a large tip and a job offer elsewhere. Customers really respond positively when you're not only confident about the menu but can suggest items for any request.  
  • My tips increase exponentially if I'm joking around with a customer and lightly touch them on the arm (wrist area). This is most successful with men over 50.
  • Talk about the weather to your guests.  I'm sure there's some sort of point in the barometric pressure index where people want to visit a restaurant, and then customers like to talk about it.  It seems lame, but really, you develop a connection with your customers if one of the first things you say is, "Care to warm up with some potato soup or coffee?" or "Wow, gorgeous day out, right?"  
  • If something goes wrong with the meal (a guest doesn't like the food, the steak is too rare/too well, it's too spicy...), apologize.  I know you didn't cook it, you didn't handle it, you put the order in correctly, etc., but apologize.  Do all of that, and then get a manager, ASAP.  Customers are very easily charmed by getting a manager visit.  

I'm sure I'll think of more little "tips and tricks" of restaurant insight into the brains of customers and how to make customers happy, but that's all for today.  Thanks for reading.  :)


  1. wow fantastic comments....I am hard-pressed to even add to this after 20 yrs of experience! a few little points I would add to would be:

    If you are slammed and you are seated with children, grab the colouring books and crayons and show up with those and the bread when greeting the table if you have to make them wait for the drink order. works for me every time and buys me a few mins.
    Always offer an app to share if nobody at the table orders one. often is a yes and can even lead to multiple sharing apps if you bother to mention. same goes for dessert, but I try not to use the same trick at the same table twice ;-)

    1. GREAT tips, thank you!! Where I work, the hostesses provide children with kid's menus and crayons (and the kid's menus have little mazes, trivia questions, and areas to color... they're disposable). And we're required to offer appetizers, so I have to say, "Care to share a plate of fried pickles or spinach artichoke dip/Anyone interested in some apple pie tonight?" etc.

      Thanks for the congrats and for reading!!