Team Waiting

Some restaurants implement team waiting as part of their permanent labor structure. Team waiting takes myriad forms, the most extreme of which is the ‘Front Waiter/Back Waiter’ system. Essentially, the front waiter handles the P.R. and customer relations: Greeting, order taking, orchestrating service, handling the bill, and being general liaison with the guest; the back waiter more or less does the grunt work like making salads and other server-prepared items, running food and drinks, clearing plates, etc. Like all teamwork arrangements, if each person is strong at his/her job, the results are exceptional. Just like having one man building a car is slower, less efficient, and likely resulting in inferior quality, while the assembly line system is the opposite, with different people of different expertise handling specific jobs.

In my experience, team waiting has a lot more duplication of duties, though certain tasks have a natural way of falling into the hands of the most capable person for the job. For instance, if a waiter is much at ease with his tables, has a great personality, and is a great salesman, he’ll usually somehow end up performing those functions, while his partner will do other things.

The last two days at Michael’s I had teammates. This is pretty common during the Christmas season because of the surplus of large parties. Yesterday (Tuesday) I paired with Jane, a young lady who was a pretty good worker. I have a lot more experience than she, both at Michael’s and in general. I did a lot of the orchestrating: ‘You go set table 48 up for appetizers, and I’ll do the specials on the new table.’ That kind of thing.

Communication is very important. The left hand needs to know . . . There were problems only a couple of times, and none of them serious. At one point, I really needed help and I couldn’t find her. I spent a minute or two searching and gave up. It turned out she was taking the order for the large party in the private banquet room. So, this was necessary and productive, and ultimately not a bad thing. It could have been better if I’d known though. Because in my head, besides the other tasks I needed help with, I knew the banquet party needed to order soon, and I was stressing about that.

The opposite of good communication is obvious. But there’s another angle to it – and one of my pet peeves – over-communication. There’s a certain waiter at Michael’s that I hate to be paired with because she soils the communication lines with extraneous, confusing, and often totally useless data. I’ll be entering a complex order into the computer and she’ll interrupt me to say that she just refilled all the waters. ‘Great. Thank you. But I don’t really need to know that. It’s something we both should be doing on an ongoing basis and there’s no need to brag about it.’

She also likes to inject too much complexity, especially when serving the order. Most (all?) restaurants serve based on seat numbers. But this waiter will be standing there with the first three plates in her hands, and I’ll say ‘Go!’ And she’ll hesitate and ask who’s the first position? Well, the same as it always is: the person in position 1. (There is a codified system in most restaurants for position 1. Easiest example is, standing before a booth, the person on your left is #1, moving along through #4, clockwise.)

‘Is that the lady with the red and black sweater?’

‘I don’t f’n’ know who’s sitting there, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a naked werewolf! Deliver this steak to position 1 and move along.’

One time she royally screwed up a party of 20 by doing this, because as the ‘other’ server on the party, she started directing our helpers.

Anyway, today I was with another teammate, Jack, and he was even better than Jane. He really takes care of business. He doesn’t ask too many questions. Detail work, like resetting silverware, he just does it. He also has a good personality. I had a good handle on our two big parties during the second turn. Meanwhile, he did a lot of talking with a VIP deuce, which was the perfect thing to do. He worked them good and got a 20% tip from a habitual 17%er. He knew without asking that if I wasn’t doing something important that had come up, he should do it.

It was a very pleasant day. We worked hard, got a $300 tip on $1100 from our best party, and ended up walking with $215 each.

I’m off tomorrow night because I’m going to the Dan Hicks concert at the Coach House way down in San Juan Capistrano. Maybe I’ll let you know how that went tomorrow night or the next day, depending on how much I drink.

Merry Christmas


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