At the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I got my first job at a restaurant. Although I was reluctant, I needed money, so I had to get a job. This first restaurant job was in Blacksburg, right off Virginia Tech’s campus. After working there for 7 months, I was fed up.
You see, for those who have never worked in a restaurant, there seem to be a lot of things that people just don’t understand. Although I’ve never been a server (I’ve always been a hostess) there are a lot of things I observe servers battling with. As a hostess, there are quite a few things I’ve experienced firsthand that need to be addressed.
- There is a set system for seating
In both restaurants I’ve worked at, the seating chart is fairly simple. Servers each have their own sections. Each server has a “turn,” in other words, servers usually get seated based on what order they came into work. At my current place of employment, a few servers will come in at 4 p.m., a few at 5 and a few at 6. This way we’re not over-staffed when it’s slow early on in the afternoon. But the one minor flaw with this system is that the sections of the servers who come in later cannot be used.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried my best to keep servers in their prescribed sections, but it never fails, something has to go wrong. For example, a few days ago I came into work at 5, before the closing (6 p.m.) servers had arrived. A couple came in, and the server whose turn it was only had one table that needed to be wiped down. I told the couple to wait just a moment as I cleaned off the table. They both started looking around confusedly, as there were a few tables nearby that were perfectly clean. The woman asked why I needed to seat them at the table that needed to be cleaned when there were already clean tables. As I cleaned off the table, I tried to explain how the system works but the woman just scoffed.
In a situation like this, where it will only take a moment to clean off the table, I cannot comprehend why it matters so much. Sure, if the table had to be completely bused and wiped down I probably wouldn’t have made them wait so I can clean the table. But it takes about 15 seconds to clean a table. If you want your service to be good, don’t mess with the system.
- We have limited space
It never fails that on Friday nights the restaurant gets busy. Families are winding down for the weekend and want to be able to relax and be served. During the school year, a lot of times big groups and teams will come to eat after a big game. But the thing that always seems to be hard to comprehend is that sometimes there’s no physically possible way to seat a large group together.
One night, at about 10:30 p.m. a woman came in and said she was going to be having a group of 12. Both of our big tables that can usually accommodate large groups were taken. I explained this to the woman and she said, “Do you not have anything we can put together?” I explained that the only tables that could be put together to fit them were taken as well. She looked around the store and said, “well it doesn’t look like you’re busy.”
The thing is, just because we’re not busy doesn’t mean we can still accommodate a group that big immediately. Especially a night such as where high school football games are being let out and several families decided to go out to eat right after.
Not only is timing for these bigger groups complicated, but sometimes we simply can’t fit a large group completely together. During the summer, a basketball team came in and asked to be seated together. There were going to be 25 people, so in the limited space we had, this was going to be impossible. You can’t always get your way.
- Small requests can be difficult to fulfill.
On a busy Saturday night, sometimes the smallest request can throw you off. As a hostess, sometimes there is a line going out the door of people who need to be sat. When I’m running back and forth, seating tables, grabbing menus and telling servers they have a table, it can be difficult for me to fulfill any extra requests.
Several times, I’ve been running through the store and a customer will flag me down. Even if I’m in the middle of something, I can’t ignore them. I’ll often be in the middle of a seating crisis and be asked for another cup of ketchup, or extra napkins. At my old job, it was very often that customers would ask me to put in an extra order of fries or a drink order. But as a hostess, I can’t even do those things.
As far as seating goes, picky seating is really difficult. I can completely understand when someone needs a table because getting in and out of a booth is difficult. But I’ve had customers say, “I don’t want to sit in the front,” or “I want to be somewhere quiet/cooler.” When it’s slow, these little requests aren’t hard to fulfill. But on a busy night, these little things can throw the whole restaurant off.
This goes back to the seating system. When someone asks for a booth and it’s a certain server’s turn, yet all they have is a table, I’m going to have to skip them. Sometimes this means someone else will get double-sat, if they’re the only one with a booth open. This can ruin no only your night, as the customer, but cause the server to not be able to tend to their tables at top efficiency. Therefore, you get bad service.
- There are rules
At both restaurants I worked at, there’s a rule that after 9 p.m. no one under 21 is allowed to sit in the bar area. When I say “bar area” I mean the area around the bar, including the bar. At my old restaurant, there was a rule that no child under the age of five was allowed in the bar area.
One night at my old job, a couple came in with their baby and asked if they could sit at the bar. When I explained the rule, they grinned at each other and walked into the bar area anyways. My manager had to go find them and explain the severity of the rule, especially because they were sitting at the actual bar with a baby carrier, which is a huge no-no.
The reasoning behind this rule is first, because they don’t want underage kids drinking. But second of all, especially with a little infant in a carrier, there is a risk that a glass could fall off the bar and onto their little head. There isn’t a bar stool made for baby carriers so obviously the glass catches a lot of momentum as it falls off the bar.
At my new job, a regular came in with his four kids. He asked to sit in the bar area, but because it was after nine and one of his children was only 18, I couldn’t let them sit there. As I sat them elsewhere, he grumbled, “I’ve been coming here for 25 years and not once have I ever had to sit away from the bar area.” I apologized, explaining that it was a rule at a lot of bars. He rudely scoffed, although his kids didn’t seem the least bit bothered by it.
Although I feel bad having to deny people of their one simple request, the rules are there for a reason. Some might seem egregious, but incidents have happened that have put these rules into place.
After working in the restaurant business for just over a year, I have a new appreciation for those who work in restaurants. I notice I’m a lot more friendly and understanding to servers when I go out to eat. I hope that those of you who haven’t had to work in a restaurant, reading this gives you a new appreciation for those who handle your food.