The saying goes, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Well, it’s worth stretching the kitchen to the entire restaurant, because a server’s job can be as taxing and challenging as a chef’s.
Yes, being a server at a restaurant is tough. The best servers are crackerjack multi-taskers, schmoozing wizards, and part oracle. In addition, a server’s on-the-job performance can have a significant effect on a restaurant’s bottom line as well as their own tips.
While much of a server’s personality is innate, other facets of service (like how well a server knows the menu, wine pairings, and how they connect with customers) can be learned. So what does a server need to do to take their service from ordinary to phenomenal? Read on.
What Does A Restaurant Server Do?
First things first: while a restaurant server’s tasks vary depending on the type of restaurant they work at, their principal duties are to take customers’ orders and deliver food and drinks. Their main consideration is the customer experience. Consequently, they must be “on” at all times and ready and willing to build rapport with guests.
A restaurant server does not need a formal education. Nevertheless, on-the-job training is almost always required and restaurant operation classes are available for servers wanting to upskill.
10 Restaurant Server Responsibilities
- Servers should know the menu well enough to help diners make an informed meal choice, and should also be able to upsell when possible.
- Restaurant servers should be well organized. Being well presented, keeping track of tables, and remembering orders requires focus and concentration.
- Servers inform the kitchen and bar of customers’ choices as well as any special dietary needs or special requests.
- Servers will greet customers and build a positive customer experience, from when they sit down until the bill is paid.
- Servers at certain restaurants are responsible for some front-of-house tasks like setting tables, removing dinnerware, replenishing utensils, and refilling glasses.
- Restaurant servers are also responsible for cleaning up tables and dining areas, as well tidying up any spills.
- Servers must process sales and bring the check to customers at the appropriate time.
- A server needs to be trustworthy as they determine total charges, issue the check, take payment, give the check to the host or manager, and return a customer’s credit card, signature slip, and any change.
- Servers must know all of a restaurant’s sanitation, safety, and alcohol policies. A health inspection could happen any day, and restaurant servers need to make sure they aren’t committing any violations.
- Communication between servers and chefs, hosts, and managers on meal progression time is also vital in keeping the restaurant running efficiently.
How To Get More Tips As A Server?
Thanks to most restaurant tipping structures, servers are in a unique position to earn more based on how well they serve guests on any given shift. There are many tricks to improve your service (which we get to later on), but here are seven proven ways servers can earn more tips during each service.
- Greet your table ASAP
- Connect with your customers
- Upsell customers
- Never make assumptions
- Be efficient
- Handle campers diplomatically
Greet Your Tables ASAP
We’ve all been at a restaurant that’s clearly busy and straining to keep up. What’s the difference between you deciding to stay at your table or heading out the door for some place a little less stressed? A greeting.
All it takes is a greeting and mention that you’ll be with them in a minute to make your customer feel seen and important. It takes just a second to do and already kick starts your customer service on the right foot. Minus a greeting, a potential customer can rapidly feel that they’re going to have a battle for their server’s attention throughout the meal, and who wants to do that?
Connect With Your Customers
While it can be hard to do so, especially with so many responsibilities running through your mind, a server’s top priority needs to be creating a remarkable dining experience for each and every guest they serve.
They can’t just go through the motions and rehash the same pitch with each customer. Outstanding servers connect with each guest in a different way. Those who succeed produce more tips, repeat customers, and table sales.
Acknowledging your regulars also goes a long way to boosting their customer loyalty. Recognizing people’s faces is the easiest first step. And, as time goes by, servers can get to know regulars by name, remember their favorite menu items, and develop a long-standing relationship.
Upsell Customers Using Personal Experience
Upselling is a sale where servers suggest higher priced menu items based on the conversations they have with guests about their likes and preferences. Astute upsellers ask exploratory questions (questions that can help you learn more about the guest), listen carefully to their answers, and recommend menu items based on the information furnished.
One reliable way of upselling productively is to direct attention on how an item will enhance the dining experience. For example, rather than saying “would you like a glass of wine with your meal,” an excellent server could say, “I tried this Cabernet Sauvignon the other day and I think it would pair nicely with your N.Y. stripsteak. It will bring out the flavor in the meat while intensifying its texture. Would you like me to bring out a glass to taste?”
This overture works because you’re giving a backdrop, relating to your personal experience, and selling the wine not only on its palate, but also on how it will heighten the guest’s meal and elevate their dining experience.
Never Make Assumptions
A great server never assumes what a guest is going to order until it’s keyed into the point of sale system. Keep in mind that guests see servers as the restaurant’s directory. They’re going to question you about specials, new menu items, your personal faves, as well as your wine list.
Take time to talk about the menu and discern what each guest’s inclinations are. In doing so, you’re forging opportunities to upsell them….and get better tips as an outcome. Furthermore, spending the time to chat helps you create a connection with the customer, which increases the odds that they come back, leave a positive review, and plug your restaurant (and even you as a server) to family and friends.
Turning tables efficiently is crucial to a restaurant making more money, but there is a fine line between turning tables and hurrying guests.
If you want to be a productive server when its busy, here are a few guidelines
- 90 seconds: The server welcomes guests and takes the drink order
- 4-5 minutes: Drinks are delivered and the server takes the meal order
- 10 minutes: Server plates the table, adds appropriate utensils, and checks to see if guests need a refill
- Food delivery: The server asks if there is anything else they can bring them (additional condiments, etc.)
- 3-5 minutes after food being delivered: The server checks in on guests, asks if the food is to their liking, and asks if they need any refills
Speaking of efficiency: Star servers know how to never waste a moment; they never go from one place to another empty handed. There’s always something that needs to be taken from the dining room to the dish pit, bar, or kitchen, or vice versa. Even if you have your pre-assigned area, you can help your team bus tables, restock server stations, or clear tables which helps build spirit with your front-of-house and back-of-house team members.
When it comes to establishing efficiency with your guest’s order, the simple act of repeating orders back to them is key. Servers who repeat orders enjoy bigger tips than servers who don’t repeat the order, and not repeating regularly generates mistakes. One of the worst things you can do is guess at what you don’t know. If you forgot to ask someone if they want their Martini up or on the rocks, go back and ask. It doesn’t make you seem forgetful, it makes you look like you care.
Handle Campers diplomatically
You want your guests to enjoy themselves and keep the conversation going but there comes a time when they are impeding your restaurant’s ideal table turnover rate….and your income.
We call guests that stay at a table a very long time after they pay their check ”campers,” and for many servers this is a pet frustration.
As a server, you never want to be impolite and make guests feel unwelcome. Sometimes, the best way to deal with a camper is honesty. Try saying something like this, “sorry, folks, I enjoyed serving you, but we have a party that made a reservation who’s been waiting for 20 minutes.”
Tips To Increase Your Tips
- Write ”thank you” on your guest’s checks; studies show it can increase your tips by 13%.
- Always stay positive and always approach guests with a smile.
- Know your restaurant’s VIPs.
- Always actively listen to your guests.
- Try not to interrupt guests’ conversations.
- Never say, “I don’t know.” If you actually don’t know, respond with, “let me find out for you.”
- Never remove a plate with food on it without asking a guest first. And if a guest asks you to take it, ask if anything was wrong with the dish.
- Don’t leave place settings if they aren’t going to be used.
- Let guests know if the kitchen or bar is out of something as soon as possible so they don’t read it on the menu and get disappointed.
- If one of your guests asks to speak to a manager, don’t take it personally.
- Always place a check in a neutral place. Otherwise, you risk letting your personal biases show, which isn’t good.
- Speak to your guests, learn their likes, and suggest drinks, appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Try to sell the experience.
- Offer guests recommendations based on your personal experiences.
As a server, you are the face of a restaurant. When it comes to deciding where to dine, customers have choices. No matter how great the location, the food, or the ambiance, nothing ruins a meal quicker than terrible service. Good service though, can be a differentiator. Reviewers that mention “good” or “great” service are 5X as likely to give a restaurant a five-star rating than other reviewers. It’s as simple (but as hard) as that: provide the service, increase the check, increase your tips.