Tales from a Former Server: Creating a Guest Experience (Or, Smile Damnit — You're on Stage!)

By an Anonymous Former Server, as part of our new 'Tales from a Former Server' column

I’m just going to preface the following post with this: I am a service snob. You’d think, having been in the biz for so long, that I would give my servers the benefit of the doubt. But it’s actually quite the opposite: I expect a $hit ton from you. Why? Because I’ve been there, done that, and let me tell you: it’s seriously not that hard. This is especially true if you’ve worked at a place for more than a year. The menu hardly changes (unless you work at one of those finicky we-change-our-menu-all-the-time places, for which I feel sorry for you because daaaaamn, that’s a lot of memorizing), and your script should be the same for every single table. 

Nothing irks me more than a server who does not provide an experience. I once had a boss put this into perspective for me. He said, “This may be just another shift for you, but for your guests this is a birthday, an anniversary, an experience. So remember that you are on stage and go put on one hell of a performance.”

Those words really stuck with me because I’ll be damned, he’s right. Most of my guests are out to have an experience. They aren’t paying me to bring them food, they are paying me to add to that experience. Anyone can bring out food, but to provide a great experience is something else altogether. 

So from server to server, here are some friendly tips.

1. Know What the Hell You’re Talking About.

Foodable WebTV Network

Foodable WebTV Network

There is a brand new, upscale sushi place that finally opened its doors last week. I’ve been waiting for it to open because there are zero decent sushi places near me, especially by the beach. Anyway, long story short, I asked my server to help me pick out a beer because they only serve Japanese beer. So I ask the guy, “Can you name some familiar beers that might be similar to these?” My server was literally dumbfounded and had no clue how to answer my question. (Side note: Seriously bro, how did you not expect that? We are in South Beach with an Asian population of 3%. Who the hell would know what Asahi Beer is?) I ended up Googling the beer so I wouldn’t be disappointed, and I wasn’t, but the point is this: you look like an idiot and I am less inclined to give you a good tip. Of course I did, but that’s because I’ve worked in the biz before. But to an average Jane, you did a crappy job. All you did was bring me stuff that literally ANYONE with hands could bring. 

Foodable WebTV Network

Foodable WebTV Network

Flash-forward to the next weekend: I go back to said sushi place, have an amazing server who not only answers my questions, but makes recommendations, and I spend about 5 hours and nearly $300 on lunch. That guy got way above 20% for sure. Why? Because he knew his stuff, and made me feel like he was in control of the table. All I had to do was sit back and relax, not Google beers. He provided me an experience and it is honestly one I will never forget. I had so much fun and loved every second of it that I am now that restaurant’s biggest fan. When I go back, I will ask for him again, which means more money in his pocket. 

2. Smile, Damnit: You’re on Stage!

You may think your job sucks, but guess what? So does everyone else’s. There’s a group meeting for that — it’s called the bar.

Serving really does blow sometimes. I feel you, man. I know what it’s like to be on an open/close double on Kid’s Eat Free night (seriously, Hell on earth), but guess what? Some people shovel poop for a living. You are not this person, and therefore your life is fantastic. You also make more money than most in this failing economy, so buck up and do your job. 

Remember what I said about being on stage? I know, I know, you’ve heard that a million times, but seriously, it’s true. Everyone knows you’re not THAT chipper all the time, but it doesn’t matter. And to hit it home a bit harder: You want these people’s money, and you get more money with honey, honey. 

3. Help a Brotha Out!

Some servers are only concerned with their section, their side work, and their money. This is the WORST attitude to have. If someone else’s table asks you to bring them a drink, just do it. Sure, it might put you in the weeds a bit, but not to sound cliche: teamwork makes the dreamwork. If everyone helps out then every single table prospers. Happy tables means happy customers, happy customers come back, and the more people that walk through that door means more money you take home at the end of the night. 

There is no reason a few should run around like chickens with their heads cut off while others are sitting around. It makes the restaurant look sloppy and guests notice when their drink is taking 10 minutes and three other servers are biting their nails or talking smack at the nearest POS. And I know you’re thinking right now, “But that’s not my money. Why should I help them wait on a table when I don’t get the tip?” See logical statement above. 

At the end of the day, you are at work to make money. The better you make your restaurant look and the more you learn to provide an experience, the more consistent business will be and the more money you will collect. It’s a win-win situation, great service. Don’t just be an order-taker, control your tables and make it so that when they leave, they are already planning their next visit.