Handling The Hurried Diner

Quick entry here. WordPress offers all kinds of statistical info to bloggers, including ‘Top Searches’ on your site. Recently, this appeared on my admin page:

a abr is very busy and one person did not show for their shift. a guest says he is in a hurry and you already have three tables that sat down before him. what do you do,  a bar is very busy and one person did not show for their shift. three tables one guest in a hurry what do you do

Someone seems to have had a big problem – a write-up or maybe even being fired – with a fourth table that was in a hurry and complained, even though our server already had three tables seated earlier.

I have made up an inaccurate concept about foodserving: The big trick is understanding who can wait and how long they can wait. That’s why they call us waiters.

Of course it’s inaccurate because it’s the guests doing the waiting, not us. But I still like the play on words.

The way to handle the above situation is to assess correctly who can wait, and for how long. Obviously, there’s a later-seated table in a hurry. Your first thought must be to get them going, eating, and out as quickly as possible, and damn the torpedoes. This is what you should do. Unlike, presumptively, the other diners, they have stated their desires. At that point you would tell them the compromises they’ll have to make, i.e., order very quickly; be prepared to have courses overlap; and you’ll drop the check as soon as physically possible. In other words, they will have to be willing to forgo the usual pace – and some of the service frills – of a meal in your restaurant. Make it clear you are doing this at their behest.

Next, you get a handle on what the rest of your station is doing.

Side Note: There are too many possible nightmare scenarios to address that would render this analysis impossible – like, for instance, the kitchen has collapsed and everyone is waiting too long for their meals. Instead, I must assume we have a relatively normal night on the job here.

There’s a good chance most of the other three tables are being perfectly normal. So, when opportunities arise to give faster service to the impatient table, you serve the impatient table first, on the assumption you have more good will to burn with the other tables. Essentially, because you’ve set things up the way I described, and placed the full order for the impatient table immediately, you can now proceed with normal service. In other words, taking out the food, clearing the plates, etc, as the tasks come up.

In the event that another ‘nice’ table notices that the other table was served first, you can then explain to them what happened: The other table was in a hurry, and thus ordered immediately upon being seated; that the kitchen doesn’t know from anything – they just make the dinners in the order they come in. And finally that this is not delaying their dinners in any way – they will come up promptly at the proper time.

Of course, our Internet Searcher specified a ‘bar table.’ This is probably a lot more difficult, as bar patrons expect their drinks orders to be accepted quickly and placed quickly and to be served quickly – regardless of what kind of ‘cool’ people they are. They also expect to be served ‘in order,’ as in, first seated (and to order), first served. This is a totally acceptable expectation.

In this case, the server really has little option other than to explain to the impatient table that he/she will do everything possible to make this all quick, but there are several other tables waiting ahead of them. You just cannot serve a bar customer first merely because he states that he’s in a hurry and can’t wait. It’s totally likely that all the other customers feel the same but are just too respectful (and knowledgeable) to state the obvious.

When the impatient table gets indignant, that’s when the server earns his stripes. You must be firm without being threatening, condescending, or confrontational. It helps, usually, to interject your personal dilemma into your firm explanation.

‘I understand, and I’ll do everything I can. But right now I already have three other orders to place. Those people are all watching me, waiting for their drinks. If I serve you first, they’ll all be angry, and rightfully so. Just like you would if you ordered first. I’ll do the best I can – I understand you’re in a hurry.’

Who has time for this kind of a soliloquy? You. You almost have to do it, or else you’re going to have an irate patron pouting, shouting, giving you a bad (or no) tip, and/or complaining to management. If nothing else, when the above does happen anyway, you’ll be able to explain to the manger how you handled it, and you’ll be exonerated.

Finally, the cryptic Search Query mentions that one guest is in a hurry, what do you do?

God bless you bar people! We dining room people have a lot to handle that you never deal with, but I’ll never understand how you can still do a good job with all the ‘separate tabs’ obligations of your job.

Assuming your hurried guest in the same party has a separate tab, it’s fairly obvious that you have to attempt to be ahead of the game and bring his check with the delivered drink. Even if you don’t have the physical check (because you don’t have time) you can just tell the guy, ‘If you want to close out, that’s $8 for the martini.’ Let him give you the cash or his card, then you can figure it out later. Likewise if he’s had several drinks: just spitball it and say, ‘Two martinis and an Amstel, that’ll be $21, more or less.’ Figure it out for sure at the machine.

Again, the communication to the guest is the most important part of this. You must tell them what you’re going to do for them, what you are doing for them, and what you have done for them.

When you do this, most any human guest will come to understand that he’s gotten the best that can be gotten under the circumstances, and he’ll be happy enough – though maybe stressed out because he’s late for his plane, and maybe shouldn’t have stopped for drinks in the first place, but anyway it’s all on him.


3 thoughts on “Handling The Hurried Diner

  1. SkippyMom Fri, April 17, 2009 / 3:00 am

    Beautifully written.

    As a former waitress I would have ALL day to say your lil’ soliquay as it is relevant and not all that long [nicely said]

    If it is a bar patron wanting drinks in a hurry – then they can wait, sorry…but if it is just drinks they come up pretty fast and that just screams “EB” to me. No little speech required. Even if the bar is slammed drinks take little to no time as opposed to food especially if it is a drink I can pour/mix myself.

    If they were eating I would use all your tactics but add one caveat – “May I suggest….” and then go for the menu items that I know I can go into the kitchen and have plated almost immediately [especially those I can do myself, i.e. salads, soups] If they order a well done steak? I am rolling my eyes in front of them, giggling [in]appropriately and suggesting the fish.

  2. waiterextraordinaire Fri, April 17, 2009 / 6:12 am

    Communication at all times with the guests on what you are doing is important like you say. Even if it is I will be right with you to start with. It is all about prioritization isn’t it?

  3. waiternotes Sun, April 19, 2009 / 12:58 am

    SkippyMom – What is “EB?” And, yes, ‘May I suggest’ is a magic phrase. Also magic is the knowledge about what items are quickly prepared. And, yes, sometimes showing the guest (eyes rolling for comedic effect) how difficult their requests are is a very effective tactic.

    Waiterextraordinaire – Yes. As I said in earlier posts, knowing what you’re going to do next (and next and next, etc.) is one of the fundamentals of food serving. In other words, prioritizing.

    Thanks for your comments.

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