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In Defense of the Wait Staff


dcs
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Interesting article, and personally I like Phoebe's writing style. She seems to be in favor of restaurants going to a service charge. Considering her first book was title "Service Included" I can't help but wonder where she stood on the issue when Per Se went to being a service inclusive restaurant. In the article it sounds like chefs don't appreciate the service team.

I remember overhearing a conversation once (no make that twice) at two different restaurants) that went something like this:

Chef "so are there anymore questions on the philosophy of why we're going to a service charge?"

Service Team "this doesn't work, I'm not going to upsell if I'm not incentived."

Chef "I don't want you to be a used car salesman, I want you to be a service professional"

Service Team "yes, but going to a service charge you're taking away our incentive to upsell, and if you take away my incentive to upsell, the restaurant is going to lose a lot of money."

Chef "I don't want you to be worried about upselling, I want you to give our guests the best service you can. Your salary is going to be based on your current earnings, so you wont take a pay cut all you need to worry about is giving each guest the type of experience they're looking for."

Which side of the debate was Phoebe on when she was at Per Se? What was the reaction of servers in New York when it was announced that Per Se was going to a service charge? Would it really be an issue with guests feeling like tipping was taken out of their hands, or would it be a problem with the service team? The disappointing part of the article in my opinion in that with all of the rhetoric written into the article she never once credited Thomas Keller.

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I found the article interesting as well. And while I can see the merits of going to a service charge, based on my experience living and dining in Europe (where the vast majority of servers I encountered were not the type of professional waiter described in the article), I can't say that I'm sold on the idea. Don't get me wrong--I'm all for giving servers stability, benefits and of course, more respect for a job (which is admittedly not among the easiest of jobs) well done. I just don't think that going to a "service compris" (service included) system is the answer. Rather than throwing out the baby out with the bath water regarding tipping (and the issue of upselling aside), I'd advocate for more and better training, job security, basic benefits, and more frequent performance evaluations with wage/salary increases and bonuses as incentives.

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I'd advocate for more and better training, job security, basic benefits, and more frequent performance evaluations with wage/salary increases and bonuses as incentives.

All of these things that you name are HUGE costs for the restaurant. Where is the money supposed to come from? You're not ok with a service charge being included, but it would be ok with you if, though you still had to tip, the menu prices jumped 30% overnight?

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All of these things that you name are HUGE costs for the restaurant. Where is the money supposed to come from? You're not ok with a service charge being included, but it would be ok with you if, though you still had to tip, the menu prices jumped 30% overnight?

The issue of how to pay for these things is a good question, but in the context of the article, if one of the goals is professional service and a long-term commitment by servers to their jobs, things like job security, benefits, and a decent wage are necessary. I didn't say I wasn't OK with a service charge being included, but rather that based on my observations of service I experienced while living and dining abroad, it doesn't seem like the be-all, end-all solution--in my humble opinion (in fact, the author of the article mentions it as one possible solution.). Although not always, quite frequently what I have observed in restaurants and shops in a couple of different European countries that employ the service compris and guaranteed wage system is poor-to-mediocre service due to a lack of incentives to improve and a culture that acccepts or is resigned to living with bad service (which I think is a shame). And I have no problem tipping and paying a little more (I don't think customers should absorb all of the costs, and 30% is a bit exagerrated as far an increase, again in my humble opinion). I don't know what the solution is. I'm only going on what I've experienced and think that it's not a black or white issue or necessary an either-or choice between a service charge and not tipping. Perhaps what is needed is more thinking out of the box, and like the current health care debate, thinking about how to balance the cost associated with attracting and maintaining committed, professional employees with business owners' abilities to stay in business and make a decent profit. As someone who has worked in restaurants before (admittedly only part time while in college) and currenty works closely with small business owners and entrepreneurs (and as self-employed consultant, pay for my own health insurance), I do understand understand that.

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All of these things that you name are HUGE costs for the restaurant. Where is the money supposed to come from?

Some restuarants do this already. Clyde's, for example, offers a fairly robust benefit package. A friend of a friend recently took a job as a server with Clyde's and had to go through 5 days of training before starting work. I agree, however, that this is an easier burden for a large corporate chain like Clyde's than smaller single-store restaurants. If server benefits became standard, however, I am sure there would be group benefit providers that would sprout up that would permit mom and pop restaurants to buy in for their employees at a more affordable price than if they had to go it alone. They probably exist already.

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Some restuarants do this already. Clyde's, for example, offers a fairly robust benefit package. A friend of a friend recently took a job as a server with Clyde's and had to go through 5 days of training before starting work. I agree, however, that this is an easier burden for a large corporate chain like Clyde's than smaller single-store restaurants. If server benefits became standard, however, I am sure there would be group benefit providers that would sprout up that would permit mom and pop restaurants to buy in for their employees at a more affordable price than if they had to go it alone. They probably exist already.

Such a scheme does exist, at least for health insurance coverage. I've heard about specialized pools or guild-like set-up whereby people working in different places, but the same industry can get health coverage at group rates. And I'm not surprised by Clyde's. Although a chain, it's not a huge one and yet, addressing DanielK's argument, it hasn't passed 30% price increases onto customers in order to provide its employees with training and benefits (and at the same time, servers also receive tips). IMHO, its menu prices are quite reasonable. To be clear, I'm not saying that Clyde's approach would work for every size restaurant, but certainly it shows that at least it can be, and is being done by some. I would also argue that service is generally good (at least in my experience) at Clyde's, and I have no doubt that the employer's commitment to the employees and investment in benefits and training, is an important factor in the quality of service.

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Memory serves them well, but perhaps not for long.

Waiters who write don't bother me at all. I don't consider it to be low-brow or classless. As a matter of fact, waiters who go by memory, especially when I'm in a large group, tend to make me nervous. Some even give off an air of smugness at being able to memorize it all. I like my waiters friendly and obeisant, not smug and superior.

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I've never found memory waiters to be particularly smug and I've had enough orders screwed up despite being written down that I don't consider that a cure-all. Taking orders by memory is just a grace note in the overall performance, but isn't that what fine dining is, a series of grace notes (surrounding good food)?

"Obeisant" is an odd word to use.

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A few days ago (at a pleasant place here in DC, with unfortunately terrible food) we had a waiter who didn't write anything down. After she walked away, we were discussing how, being over the age of 40, we could not possibly remember five people's orders without writing things down. Apparently she overheard, because she came back and told us proudly what a great memory she had, nearly photographic, by virtue of eating various brain-enhancing foods. Then a few minutes after that, she came back and asked what one person's order had been. Then she forgot about a glass of wine that had been ordered. Then she brought one person the wrong thing. Give me a waiter with a pad, any day.

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Memory serves them well, but perhaps not for long.

Can't stand it when the order is memorized. In my experience, it fails, even in fine dining situations, more often than not.

It also puts extreme pressure on my guests who may want a moment to discuss the entrees with the wait staff. I've found that guests rush to order from a memorizing waiter rather than ask questions or clarify their dining needs because they don't want the waiter to forget what the orders have been from the other guests.

Writing it down enables less anxiety for everyone. Of course that's not fail-proof, either, but makes for a more enjoyable ordering experience.

(ymmv)

(why can't we all just write it down)

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A server without a pad, is like a gigolo without a condom.

IF TRUST-WITHOUT

... IF NOTHING-BAD-HAPPENS

... ... Relaxation, Fulfillment

... ELSE

... ... Irritation, Rash

ELSE

... IF NOTHING-BAD-HAPPENS

... ... Anxiety, Relief

... ELSE

... ... Fury, Revenge

If you are referring to today's story, on the front page no less, of the WP, my reaction is sure it was relatively easy in the old days at the Palm, at the original on 45th and 2nd in NYC there was no menu, for waiters to retain the orders in their head. Steak or lobster? Hash Browns? Creamed spinach? How would you like your steak? [Olive or twist? :angry: ] Still it's nice in a throwback kind of way to know that they are trying to retain at least some of the traditions by not writing the orders down, even if modernity is catching up. I liked the kvetch about it becoming more difficult because many customers are watching Food Network and thinking they're chefs.

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A server without a pad, is like a gigolo without a condom.

IF TRUST-WITHOUT

... IF NOTHING-BAD-HAPPENS

... ... Relaxation, Fulfillment

... ELSE

... ... Irritation, Rash

ELSE

... IF NOTHING-BAD-HAPPENS

... ... Anxiety, Relief

... ELSE

... ... Fury, Revenge

Spot on.

Is there a proper etiquette in the situation where a server begins to take an order with no pen?

Is it appropriate to say "I'd prefer you write it down, we want to ensure accuracy, we'll wait while you get a pen."? Is there a better way to say this?

We went out for breakfast yesterday and the waitress didn't have a pen. The menu items had numbers - breakfast #1 through about #28. There were 4 of us and she said "please just order by the numbers." Well, I knew that we'd actually order about 6 dishes (for instance, a fruit plate for the table) and with a type 1 diabetic, she'd have a question or two when it came time for her order to be placed.

So I thought to myself that she should write it down. Sure enough, about 4 minutes later the waitress returns and asks for the numbers again - "was it 2, 14, 15, 23, 24 and 26?" "well, I dunno, let's break out the menus and do this again - I certainly don't have the numbers memorized." And she still didn't have a pen.

The orders came out OK, but came with the "roll call" delivery - "who got the quiche?" It wasn't a high end place, just a neighborhood cafe. But all that for the sake of a pen?

I don't expect perfection. I certainly don't think less of the waitstaff for using a pen. Why don't they?

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Is there a proper etiquette in the situation where a server begins to take an order with no pen?

Is it appropriate to say "I'd prefer you write it down, we want to ensure accuracy, we'll wait while you get a pen."? Is there a better way to say this?

I say something like, "This is actually going to be a complicated order, so you might want to write it down." It gets the point across without being aggressive. Either they'll write it down, or they'll pay extra attention if they don't. :angry:

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I have waited tables at fine dining restaurants where memorization of orders was the standard, and others where it was permissable to write orders down. It (taking the order) is a small part of the overall service you provide, but it is the most important. Why not make sure it is accurate?

On a side note, I don't ever recall being tipped extra because I memorized the whole order. I am sure, however, that over the course of six years I forgot any number of things and was tipped less because of it.

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