Is This Restaurant a Good Spot for Servers? 8 Signs That Scream No

Updated on March 13, 2017
Paul Goetz profile image

Paul Goetz is the chief revenue officer at Upserve, one of the largest and fastest­-growing companies in the restaurant technology space.

No, This Work Isn't Easy

"Anyone who's worked in the restaurant industry knows that's not true, but this all-too-common assumption no doubt leads to underappreciated workers, which in turn exacerbates the hospitality industry's 72 percent turnover rate."
"Anyone who's worked in the restaurant industry knows that's not true, but this all-too-common assumption no doubt leads to underappreciated workers, which in turn exacerbates the hospitality industry's 72 percent turnover rate."

There’s a misconception that waiting tables or tending bar is easy. Anyone who’s worked in the restaurant industry knows that’s not true, but this all-too-common assumption no doubt leads to underappreciated workers, which in turn exacerbates the hospitality industry’s 72 percent turnover rate. Some make the mistake of assuming servers are simply transient and looking for more pay or better opportunities, but that takes the responsibility off bad restaurant owners and poor management. Sometimes, it’s them, not you.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but there are some definite slums out there. Paying attention to red flags when scouting out your next career move can help you avoid unnecessary job hopping and land you an opportunity to move forward in your career.

Lesson No. 1: Just because a location is busy doesn’t mean it’s the ideal place to work. Keep an eye out for these signs of trouble:

1. Negative management

Positive leadership is necessary to foster a positive work environment. Nobody wants to work for someone who only points out mistakes while ignoring accomplishments. Owners and operators who only talk about negative reviews, rather than how great the hospitality is, are a definite red flag.

While you’re at a restaurant applying and interviewing, take a peek at the bulletin boards to see whether they show off the mistakes or accomplishments of the staff and brand. Focusing only on the negative doesn’t give anyone the chance to learn and emulate what’s working well. There’s no opportunity to learn here, so move on to more positive places.

2. High turnover

It’s true that the restaurant industry has a high turnover rate, but like any average, there are businesses with high and low numbers. How long workers stay before leaving provides good insight into how well a business is (or isn’t) run. The service industry is fast-moving, but folks are willing to stick it out when they’re surrounded by supportive teams.

When talking to staff, ask how long they’ve worked at the restaurant and what they like about it. If they’ve worked at other restaurants and bars in the area, find out how it compares. Also ask questions about the restaurant staff training program: How long it is? What does it entail? If things seem disorganized and most of the staff is unhappy, why would you be any different?

3. Poor scheduling

If you’ve ever worked as a server, you know how important shift trading is in order to live your life. Most restaurants have shift scheduling software that makes it easier to manage and staff employees. The best restaurants have reporting and data that allows forecasting of guest demands to assist with scheduling. Despite all this technology, life happens, and you may need to change a shift to fit in important life events.

Managers should be upfront about what types of schedules they need, so don’t be afraid to ask. Also find out how the business handles shift swaps so you don’t end up having to quit the next time a loved one has a birthday. Businesses without a clear expectation and system in place often find themselves rushing to cover shifts. If that’s the case, shift your focus to a more organized business.

"The best restaurants have reporting and data that allows forecasting of guest demands to assist with scheduling."
"The best restaurants have reporting and data that allows forecasting of guest demands to assist with scheduling."

4. Lack of communication

We’re all familiar with a logbook to fill in gaps between shifts, but it takes more than that for a business to have effective communication. For example, what happens when you get sick? It’s irresponsible to show up and serve food to the public, but it does happen when servers can’t communicate with management effectively. Look at the employees around you — if it looks like “The Walking Dead,” there are too many miserable people trying to hero their way through a bad situation.

During your interview, ask the manager whether he or she responds to texts, calls, etc., on his or her personal number. If he or she is taken off-guard or dodges the question, nothing will change once you’re hired.

5. Inexperienced management

If serving and bartending are difficult, so is managing a restaurant. It’s always an adjustment learning to work with new people and management styles, but inexperienced managers can make the transition nearly impossible.

For instance, when the kitchen messes up an order, customers often take it out on servers through the tip. An experienced manager keeps an eye out for such things and checks in with guests to ensure they’re fully satisfied. That type of support is a vital foundation of a secure work environment, and if you can’t trust management to step up to bat for you, things are going to go south quickly. Ask the manager what she’d do in that situation. If the answer shows her noob status, apply elsewhere.

6. A poorly stocked bar

Drinks have the best markups, and the more alcohol you can sell a table, the more they spend. Nothing limits this golden opportunity like a poorly stocked bar. Inventory management is an essential restaurant operation, and you don’t want to spend your shift explaining to disappointed customers why you don’t have the latest seasonal brew or that you’re out of glasses for the prosecco.

Pay close attention to the bar, as it’ll give you insight into the rest of the restaurant. There should be plenty of liquor, beer, mixers, chasers, and garnishes. The glasses should be organized and clean, and there shouldn’t be a lot of empty space where bottles used to be. Chat the bartender up and order a drink — if they’re out, you should be, too.

"Pay close attention to the bar, as it'll give you insight into the rest of the restaurant."
"Pay close attention to the bar, as it'll give you insight into the rest of the restaurant."

7. Lack of growth opportunities

Nothing will make you quit a job faster than lack of growth. Training, marketing, project management, and more valuable skills can be obtained in the restaurant industry. During your interview, ask how many servers have become managers: the answer should provide a good gauge for whether there’s a future at the establishment. More important things exist in this world than money. If there’s no opportunity to move up, then move along. Better opportunities await.

"Unhappy guests mean unhappy employees, and there's honestly no reason for you to take any part in that business."
"Unhappy guests mean unhappy employees, and there's honestly no reason for you to take any part in that business."

8. Unhappy guests

If everything seems on the level, there’s one last thing you need to check. Look at the guests. The entire point of the hospitality industry is to make the guests happy. Do they seem generally pleased, or are they impatient and annoyed?

Unhappy guests mean unhappy employees, and there’s honestly no reason for you to take any part in that business. If it’s not fun eating or working there, why would you?

Plenty of people have fond memories of their time serving, and some do stay on to become leaders in the business or even start their own restaurants. There are a lot worse ways to earn a living than waiting tables or tending bar. Just make sure you’re playing for the right team.

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      Nate Xavier 

      17 months ago

      Great Article. As someone who grew up bouncing from one restaurant job to the next searching for the most lucrative opportunity, I can truly relate. It is a common misconception that the busiest places are always the best places to work. Poor management, and over or under staffing can make any place a nightmare for both FOH and BOH employees.

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