UnderCover Waitress: February 2011

Monday, February 28, 2011

Pretend to be a Waitress!

As if working in the real world as a waitress wasn't enough, now you can play a free, online game in which you pretend to work as a waitress! This is too funny; it includes real pressures such as time, limited tray space, and the moods of you diners. Very cute, worth a look-see for entertainment purposes. Enjoy!

The Waitress - fun game where you waitress a restaurant

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Best Restaurant Manners and Etiquette: How to be a Great Restaurant Customer and Get Good Service

This is a great article for restaurant patrons. Even as a waitress, I find the comment about not lowering a tip for bad service to 15% a bit entitled. Good, professional servers deserve to be paid, but why pay top dollar for shoddy, unprofessional service? I firmly believe that leaving no tip is a reflection on the patron and not the service.

But the article is about how to be a great restaurant patron. Great patrons tend to get great service because the waiters and waitresses are happy to serve them. Quid pro quo.

Best Restaurant Manners and Etiquette: How to be a Great Restaurant Customer and Get Good Service

Friday, February 25, 2011

Lunchtime poll – service with a snub – Eatocracy - CNN.com Blogs

Eatocracy has a nice blurb about treating waiters and waitresses with respect. Not grovelling, just treating them like human beings.

This short article brings up the point that it is insulting to expect that career wait staff are down on their luck or can't find anything else to do. Compare the service you receive from professional waiters and waitresses to the service received by the person who does not take the job seriously, and you will be willing to wait for a table in the professional's section!

Poll at the end of the article:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Managed Heart

If you enjoyed yesterday's post about the health problems associated with fake smiling and pretending to be happy at work, you may enjoy one of my favorite books, "The Managed Heart." Among other things, Hochschild writes about the plight of Delta Airline stewardesses in the early '80s. Their physical appearance and weight were critiqued as part of their jobs, and they were required to wear high heels while on their feet on an airplane. More like geishas than safety officers, stewardesses continue to be seen today as waitresses and entertainers rather than authority figures. Twentieth anniversary edition of this work is as relevant today as it was when it was first written.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fake Smiles and Health

Wow -- this study, published in the NY Times, focused on bus drivers. Anybody who has waited on tables can see the connection!

It turns out that pretending to smile and be happy when in a bad mood worsens the bad mood. So, smiling and being gracious to one rude table can ruin the entire evening -- any waitresses out there disagree? Another interesting finding was that this phenomena hurts women more than men. I consider waiting tables a female job even though some men do it -- similar to teaching and nursing. The article states that women are more geared to express emotion and therefore hiding and faking emotion has a stronger negative effect on us.

Another aspect of the study is that thinking positive thoughts in an attempt to smile and be gracious helps keep one's mood positive. Focusing on something happy is a true help. Perhaps picturing rude diners in the morgue will make that smile more sincere and lift a waitress's mood.

Can a Fake Smile Be Bad for Your Health? - NYTimes.com

Monday, February 21, 2011

Obama adviser mistakes 4-star general for waiter - CNN.com

This is funny. We all make mistakes, but the thing I enjoy about this article is how nice everybody is.

Valerie Jarrett asked Army General Peter Chiarelli for a glass of wine, thinking he was a waiter and not a guest. He took no offense with having his uniform mistaken for what I shall call "servant's garb."

Jarrett was not reported as being rude, simply mistaken. We all prefer waiting on polite people like Jarrett. And Gen. Chiarelli was gracious, another quality I always appreciate in people sitting at my tables. It's a cute story:
Obama adviser mistakes 4-star general for waiter - CNN.com

Treating Waiters Like Human Beings

Fun parody on Cracked.com, which I believe (?) is one of the many sites owned and run by Demand Studios. Cracked is meant to be humorous, and the cartoons are tongue-in-cheek although many wait staff may not think so.

Even more interesting than the cartoons, however, are the comments...

Treating Waiters Like Human Beings: A Chart for Beginners | Cracked.com

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oh Really? 5 Things Companies Assume About Customers, But Shouldn’t | MintLife Blog | Personal Finance News & Advice

Nice, short article by Christopher Elliot about how businesses see (or fail to see the real) customers.

Funny, I can see it relating to how restaurant workers see diners...

1. Customers are Thieves.
Yup, we think this. Too many people looking for a freebie, trying to find something to complain to get the bill lowered. People coming in with expired "2 for 1" coupons and slipping them in the bill as if I won't notice that the coupon is no good. Or people who don't want to tip. Wait on some thieves, and everybody starts to look like one.

2. Customers are Big Babies
Well... yeah. Except we are not dishonest about the "2 for 1" deals, but people do have to read the fine print. No one does.

3. Customers Only Want One Thing
I disagree here when it comes to restaurant patrons. They want lots and lots of things, and I have to go get each and every one of those things.

4. Customers are Fickle
Okay, I completely agree with the author when he says that, "Providing a good service will keep customers coming back, as ever." In the restaurant industry, we know this.

5. Customers Don't Understand We Have a Business to Run
This one is a point of contention, misunderstanding, and bad feelings between restaurant customers and restaurant workers. Customers want to stay long past closing time but owners don't want to pay staff to stick around, or the staff doesn't want to stick around. Customers think the prices are high, but the profit margin in restaurants is low. And so on and so forth.

And on to the business article:

Oh Really? 5 Things Companies Assume About Customers, But Shouldn’t | MintLife Blog | Personal Finance News & Advice

More Water?

Water is a bigger deal in restaurants than it is in the Sahara Desert. Managers yell at servers and bussers when patron's water glass looks empty, never mind the fact that the poor patron has already told her server and two bussers "no, thank you" to the water.

Some customers come in ready to find fault and water is an easy fault to find. "If she doesn't refill my water glass, I won't tip her!" Deep down, they don't want the waitress to refill their glass; they just want an excuse to be cheap.

And how do the wait staff feel? A colleague once grumbled to me "I'm not paid to fill water glasses." He had a point. We made our money based in part on how much we sold, and water is free. Not that the water drinker isn't thirsty, but the wine drinker wants another glass, too. The person who wants something that costs money will come first.

Hot, busy nights are the worst, but good servers will still come by to ask how you are doing and if you need anything. We were unexpectedly busy one night and had no back-up to run around filling water glasses and helping us turn tables. And I had a rather uncommunicative beast at a table with his wife and two older children.

He must have been thirsty, because I noticed more than once that his water glass was empty and returned with a pitcher of ice water each time. Ran myself ragged that night. At some point toward the end of the evening he took to grunting at me in response to 'yes or no' questions, for example, "Would you like more water?" and "May I take that for you?"

Toward the very end of the meal I returned again with a water pitcher and asked if anyone would like more. (By the end of the meal, many people would prefer not to have more water.) He grunted. I couldn't tell if he was not articulating "no" or "yes." I stood there, not sure what to do. His wife looked scared. (I always feel for women who are with men that scare them. What did she think he was going to do?) So, I asked for clarification... he grunted again. I can't remember whether I filled the glass or not.

He filled out a comment card before leaving. He complained that I didn't keep his water glass full.

Word to the wise: Communicate clearly with your restaurant waitress. When I approach your table with a full pitcher of ice water, if you grunt at me I am hard pressed to know whether to pour the water into your glass or over your head. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How I Became Public Enemy No. 1

Really, I never meant to make enemies. Was just trying to do my job. Restaurants, however, are funny places and some customers are royalty. Or, at least, they think they are and the restaurant employees are expected to treat them as such. Place this type of restaurant culture in a close-knit community and the problem intensifies.

In a small and tight-knit community, there is a resident I shall call the "Emperor." The Emperor happens to be good friends (surprise, surprise) with the restaurant owner. Many a night the tickets of paying customers get pushed back to make the Emperor a kid's size pizza or bowl of mac'n'cheese. Being royalty has its privileges.

Extremely busy, hot summer night while I am hosting in the manager's absence the phone rings and a voice barks at me "Do you have room at the counter?"

People are piling in the door and I have to tell the guy that we don't. We have a full reservation book and I am juggling keeping people waiting at the bar for a place to sit, greeting more customers walking in, and answering the phone. The barking voice on the other end is pushy, however, and to get him off my back I tell him that the only way there will be a seat is if he arrived in 5 minutes or less. He slams the phone in my ear. I hang up and don't give it another thought.

More people come in and I seat the counter. Later, the Emperor and his (current) wife come in and he demands to sit at the counter, which is full. He accuses me of reserving the counter for him?!? It takes me a moment to realize that the unidentified voice who hung up on me was the Emperor. Really, I have never taken a reservation without at least a name (and usually a phone number and a time.) And most people both identify themselves and hang up politely. Most people.

Emperor's wife looks terrified (of what?) and Emperor storms out, with her on his heels. So, being royalty does not always get you anything and everything you want in a restaurant.

Emperor hated me from that point on and came up with numerous complaints trying to get me fired which I may save for other posts. Suffice it to say for now that he never succeeded. Being royalty does not have all privileges.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Telephone Caller

In the restaurant industry, we have to be nice. We are not feeling nice; actually, we may hate you. But we pretend, even when you call at 6:30 which is extremely busy and want somebody to tell you all about the specials... on the phone. 

And then you need to have the regular menu read to you. And you do have lots of questions! (Yes, it's good.) 

My favorite caller was the one who the manager had to politely put on hold so she could seat the slew of people walking in the door. When she was able to get back to the phone, she said, "Sorry to keep you waiting so long."

The caller, who seemed to feel that she had somehow received substandard service, replied, "Do I get free dessert?" 

Good times. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

McDonald's Hot Coffee Case Facts

McDonald's does not want the general public to know the truth behind the lawsuit Stella Liebeck filed against them. The truth would result in public outrage and a reduction in McDonald's booming business.

Stella Liebeck of Alberquerque, New Mexico

According to the Center for Justice and Democracy, the following are the real facts of Stella Liebeck's case:

  • Stella Liebeck was 79 years old at the time of the accident.
  • She made $5,000 per year working as store clerk.
  • She was sitting in the passenger side bucket seat of her grandson's car at the time of the accident.
  • She was wearing sweat pants; this is important.
  • They used the drive-through window to purchase a cup of coffee for Ms. Liebeck.
  • Chris, her grandson, pulled over and parked so Ms. Liebeck could add cream and sugar to her coffee.
  • She had trouble removing the lid from the Styrofoam cup.
  • She placed the styrofoam cup of coffee between her legs to hold it steady while she removed the lid.
  • She accidentally spilled the coffee.
Many people who make fun of this case say that the victim was driving and trying to put cream and sugar in the coffee at the time of the spill. This is just one of the many fictions that McDonald's wants the public to believe. The real story of Ms. Liebeck's injuries is a testament to the need for consumers to stand up to corporations.

When Hot Coffee is Too Hot Coffee

Nobody wants a nice cup of hot coffee to be lukewarm. McDonald's corporate specifications are to serve the coffee at 185 degrees F, give or take five degrees. McDonald's also admitted in open court that a beverage at that temperature is unfit for human consumption because it will scald flesh.

A hot beverage fit for human consumption cannot be over 135 degrees F.

Scalding and Third Degree Burns

In cooking, to scald means to bring to just below the boiling point. So, imagine having boiling water dumped in your lap.

Scalding causes third-degree burns. Third degree burns are the absolute worst a person can suffer; they cause all layers of the skin to be eaten away by the source of heat. The only way to treat third degree burns is with skin grafts: razing skin from one part of the body to sew it over the place where all skin was burned away. Skin grafting is painful and disfiguring.

This is where Ms. Liebeck's sweat pants become important. 185 degree liquid will scald, or cause third degree burns, within a couple of seconds of touching flesh. It took Ms. Liebeck about 30 seconds to remove her sweat pants that were soaked with burning liquid, all while screaming in severe pain.

Ms. Liebeck suffered third degree burns and required skin grafting on her thighs, behind, and most private and sensitive parts of her body.

Over 700 People Burned

Not only does McDonald's want people to believe that serving too hot coffee is a nice thing because it won't cool down quickly, before Ms. Liebeck's accident the problem was already known to McDonald's.

Records indicate that McDonald's was aware of over 700 complaints of severe burns due to spilled coffee, but refused to do anything about it. McDonald's behavior is reckless, callous, and willful. They continue to be so to this day.

Litigation and Financial Awards for Plaintiff Damages

Ms. Liebeck's surgeon testified in open court that her injuries were the worst case of third degree burns he had ever seen.

Ms. Liebeck's medical bills far exceeded her annual income. At some point after her award was reduced to $450,000, Ms. Liebeck and McDonald's entered into a secret agreement which included a gag order on the Ms. Liebeck and her family. In return for their silence, the legal ordeal was over and an undisclosed amount of money paid to the Liebecks by McDonald's.

This left McDonald's free to tell lies and get the public riled up over "frivolous" lawsuits.

The real problem with the gag order is that McDonald's is free to influence public opinion while Ms. Liebeck and her family are not. By turning Ms. Liebeck into a stooge in the public's eye, McDonald's makes its future burn victims less likely to stand up for themselves for fear of public ridicule.

Consumer Attorneys of California have expressed the opinion that secret settlements of otherwise public cases should not be condoned. Certainly, if Ms. Liebeck were allowed to speak, the public would have a chance to understand how she was wronged and that it can happen to them. As it stands, many burn victims seem to remain mute.

Good Customer Service Means Staying Open

Restaurants go under when employees don't obey the cardinal rule: good customer service means staying open to serve the customers.

The kitchen and the waitstaff are ready to serve meals at 5:00, but not everyone wants to start in on a three course meal by 5:30. Even people who are seated at 7:00 may wish to linger and enjoy themselves, not be booted out the door at 8:45. Still others may not wish to be seated until 8:45, and any customers who feel that they are imposing on the employees simply won't come back.

Working a dinner shift means being there for the long haul. The absolute worst things a restaurant employee can do include:
  • vacuuming while patrons are still in the dining room
  • clearing things diners are not finished with
  • turning up music, or turning off music
  • turning off most of the lights 
  • putting chairs on tables while guests are still in the restaurant. 
I actually worked for a restaurant in which the chef would start bullying wait staff to get people through so he could close up the kitchen at 9:00. That place lasted less than a year. 

Its hard enough to make ends meet for restaurant owners. Why shoot yourself in the foot? Hire people who either want to be there late into the evening, or at least are willing to pretend that they do. Make customers feel welcome; they will come back and the restaurant will turn a profit.