They’re usually the first and last people diners come into contact with and the experience they create is arguably as important as that of the food.
Waiting staff are the beating heart of every restaurant operation, and mistakes made by the team in charge of serving customers will have a significant impact on the likelihood of a return visit being booked.
Restaurant staff turnover is thought to cost the industry in the region of £300m per year – an eye-watering figure that also suggests new starters will regularly make an appearance table-side. Some will be experienced, but many will be making their first, tentative steps into the sector.
For the latter, there are plenty of opportunities to make rookie mistakes, but the best restaurant managers will know how to spot – and fix – errors that result from inexperience. Here are five of the most common:
1. Walking by empty-handed
Most of us have experienced this: you’ve been sat at your table for a good fifteen minutes with empty glasses. A waiter continually walks past the table, empty-handed and seemingly in no rush to take your glasses and ask if you’d like another round of drinks.
There’s an old adage in the restaurant trade, which goes something like “you should never spot an empty-handed waiter”. And it’s true; waiting staff should be looking for every opportunity to clean tables, dispose of used glassware and ensure diners are being looked after.
Sometimes, it’s the simple stuff.
2. Offering the bill too soon
There’s nothing worse than being prematurely ushered out of a restaurant, and rookie waiting staff are often inclined to do that – albeit inadvertently.
To some, a cleared table following deserts is indicative of a set of covers that need to be moved on, but by hurrying over the bill (Chip and Pin machine in hand), they’ll do nothing more than irritate the diners in question and potentially lose the restaurant money.
Ensure waiting staff feel empowered to ask long-stay guests if they’d like more drinks, after dinner coffee or – if time really is of the essence – a polite “are you ready for your bill?”
What’s more important – replacing the till roll in the bar receipt printer or tending to table three who have been waiting ten minutes to order their food?
If you’re a restaurant industry veteran, the answer is obvious, but to new starters, prioritisation is a tricky thing to get right. It’ll come from experience, but if you spot a member of the restaurant team putting back office stuff before front of house work – point them in the direction of the latter and remind them that the customer always comes first.
4. Forgetting to use trays for drinks
This is more of a visual thing than anything else, but there’s an element of courtesy involved, too.
First-time waiting staff are often inclined to deliver drinks to tables without trays, preferring instead to simply carry them over. In doing so, they’re making hard work for themselves, but certain guests may not take kindly to their drink being delivered in such a casual manner.
Tray work isn’t easy, and may be seen as an inconvenience by new waiting staff, but the more you encourage them to use one of the restaurant’s oldest and most revered tools, the more natural it will become.
5. Discussing workplace issues with colleagues
This is a pet peeve of most diners, and is again something most of us will have experienced at some stage.
Picture the scene: you’re out with your significant other trying to enjoy a romantic meal, but two members of the waiting team are doing their level best to disrupt your evening by talking animatedly about how many extra hours they’ve been asked to work. Oh, and Dave didn’t turn up to work today, either, which means they’re all rushed off their feet…
Stamp out any instances of workplace issues being discussed within earshot of diners immediately.
We’ve only scratched the surface above, therefore if you think we’ve missed out a crucial rookie waiting staff error and know how to fix it, get involved in the comments section below!