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Working as a Restaurant Server: Five Tricks of the Trade

I have been a server for over two decades, during which time I've worked at many, many restaurants.

A busy restaurant kitchen

A busy restaurant kitchen

Surviving in the Kitchen

If you've ever served tables, you know that there are a few tricks of the trade that can help make the job a little less painful. Servers deal with hangry, entitled individuals almost every time we step on the floor. And while there are far more pieces of advice than what I've listed below, here are five tricks of the serving trade that have made my life as a server much more peaceful and enjoyable.

5 Tricks of the Serving Trade

1. Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

Yes, we are not the mafia, but this is good advice to take heed of when working in a restaurant environment. People talk smack; it just happens, and strong personalities can prevail over weak management. Not to mention some servers try to score points by narking to management. And then others go so far as to target certain coworkers and try to get them out. It's a tough world out there, and servers are no exception.

2. Appreciate the High Turnover

Restaurant employment is a revolving door, especially in the bigger cities. Because of its flexibility and shorter hours with higher than minimum wage pay, it draws in artists, students, those in transition, and the like, resulting in a high turnover because that group of people tends to be on the move.

And then there's management. Not only can they sometimes be quick to let servers go, they too have a high turnover. I once was at a restaurant for nearly three years and in that time had over a half dozen managers come and go, as well as two GMs. The better the restaurant management, the less turnover. And remember: The beef you have with someone today could disappear tomorrow. Be patient!

3. Keep Some Must-Haves in Your Apron

This is a bit subjective, but in all my years on the floor, I've found there are five things that I always want in my apron to make myself and my customers as happy as possible.

  • First, at minimum two pens. They're a hot commodity for servers, and most get lost in the pen Bermuda Triangle that exists in every restaurant.
  • Second, paper. For those who take handwritten orders, this is a must, even if you prefer to remember things. The memory fails, and you often need a backup. And if you take orders on computer handhelds, then you know they are glitchy and paper is a necessary Plan B to have on hand.
  • Third, a working wine key. Invest in a good one as this can singlehandedly save you from entering the weeds. And if you work in fine dining, opening multiple wine bottles is part of your nightly routine.
  • Fourth, a lighter. This is for candles on tables and desserts for birthdays. Having to track a match down is a waste of your valuable time. Keep a small lighter in your apron and you'll be happy you did.
  • And lastly, mints. A server does a lot of talking. And many times, the mouth can get dry. Without always having time to get a glass of water, popping a mint in your mouth can do the trick and do it nicely.

4. Start Your Sidework Early

First things first: Make sure your tables do not suffer in the slightest. It's not worth it. That said, use your time at the end of your shift wisely to ensure your exit is as swift and smooth as possible. The end of the night is a hodgepodge of finishing the last tables and shutting it all down. And one way I've found to ensure I waste no one's time, including my own, is to begin my sidework as my last tables wind down.

It's not anywhere as hard as it sounds as there is a lot of standing around at the end of the night when there doesn't have to be! Also, your sidework can affect other servers' sidework, so be considerate and don't wait until the final moment to begin, especially if it’s shared.

5. Learn How to Order Food for Yourself

Many restaurants offer servers the opportunity to order off the menu, or a limited version of it, at a discounted price. Sometimes, there is even an employee menu where food can be purchased at cost. But even if there is nothing like this, servers know the menu inside and out and are well versed on how to order things when it comes to pricing.

Figure out what offers the highest protein or vegetables (or whatever you’re going for) at the lowest cost and make that your go-to for ordering before/after shifts. Not only will your wallet thank you, but so will your belly. Not to mention you won't have to cook when you get home!

Are You a Server? Share Your Tricks!

At the end of the day, there are many tricks of the serving trade. These are my top five. I'd love to hear yours in the comments below!

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Christina Parisi