CAREER DEVELOPMENT / MAY. 15, 2014
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The Waitstaff's Guide to Good Employment

There are whole magazines dedicated to which restaurants are nice to eat in, but nobody seems to care which restaurants are nice to work in. For people whose lives depend on tips, landing the perfect serving job can be a daunting task.  Some of the grunt work can be eliminated if you know what to look for. Here are a few tips I’ve discovered that can help you land the server job that’s right for you. The steps are pretty simple. The first thing you have to do is sit down.

Quality of the Restaurant

That’s right. You should sit down before you even type up a resume. Sit down in a restaurant that is not your favorite. You don’t want to work in the restaurant that is your favorite. That will ruin your life. Are you sitting down? Is the seating comfortable? If it isn’t, get up and leave. If the seating isn’t comfortable the customers won’t be comfortable and they’ll leave bad tips.

Now you’re on to step two. Look around and count to 30. What, exactly, should you be looking for? Red flags. Things like rats, possums, overly friendly bosses. If the server greeted you with a glass of water within the 30 seconds, you are probably in a chain restaurant. If a busser poured you water from a metal pitcher, you’ve ventured into fine dining. Okay, big spender. If nobody has been to your table and the wait staff looks confused, you’re in an independently owned restaurant. For some servers, indie restaurants are a dream job. Before we visit step three, I’ll run down a list of restaurant types you might encounter and explain the pros and cons.

Type of Restaurant

Firstly, there are the chain restaurants. You can pick them out pretty easily. They have names you’ve seen before. The staff members look identical. While the pay is not extremely high in places like this, it is dependable. You’ll make a moderate salary. You’ll be expected to own black socks and non stick shoes. You’ll have side work consisting of things like rolling silverware and cleaning the kitchen. They do not have housekeepers so get used to cleaning. You should also get used to things like showing up fifteen minutes before your shift to have your uniform checked. You will not be paid for that time. Expect your paychecks to total zero dollars and zero cents after taxes.

One upside to working for a chain restaurant is that most of them are not open all the time. The hours will be pretty consistent. Beware of any restaurant that insists on open availability. This means they’re going to work you around the clock and it will become extremely hard for you to make plans with anybody, ever. If you can get away with it, tell your boss you’re a part time student even if you’re not one. Your life will be much easier if you are always off on the same two days of the week.

The next type of restaurant is fine dining. These are usually found in big cities where parking is a problem. If you’ve found a four or five star restaurant in a suburb your commute will be much more convenient. If you’ve found one in a big city you should ask if they validate parking. If you’re taking public transit, find out what time the restaurant closes and what time the busses stop running. If the restaurant closes at midnight, expect to leave at one in the morning. That will be hard to do if the last bus home leaves at midnight, so keep this in mind. Most of the time, fine dining servers make tons of money. Notice I said most of the time, not all of the time.

The exception is the tourist traps. Some four or five star restaurants have a knack for attracting tourists. Tourists tend to be on vacation. Vacationers often underestimate their expenses. When they show up from out of town and realize the menu is way out of their price range, lots of them will order soup and tip you a dollar. Here is a good way to figure out if a particular four or five star restaurant is a tourist trap. Look for landmarks. Is it next to the Empire State Building? Can you see the Liberty Bell from the window? Are the people around you ordering soup instead of lamb?

There’s another thing you must pay close attention to if you want to rake in tons of cash in one of these establishments. I call it the chain gang factor. Pay attention to the age of the staff members and see if the older servers have a lot of tables and the younger servers are waiting on just a handful of people. If that is the case, it means the servers who have worked at this restaurant for fifteen or twenty years have formed a chain gang. They get all the tables. They steal tables from the newbie servers. They get away with it because they stick together. When a chain gang takes over a restaurant it means you will have to work there for at least ten years before you’ll get the chance to earn a decent living. In the meantime, you’ll be forced to watch the servers around you take home more money than you can imagine while you’re struggling to make your car payment.

Finally, there are the indie restaurants. The staff is small. The owner is friendly. If the owner is too friendly this could be a red flag. He or she might make unwelcome advances. Some indie restaurants do quite well. Usually, the successful Indies attract a niche crowd. This means they are very busy at specific times of the year. The pay will be sporadic. So will the hours. Indie restaurant owners might just randomly close their shop for the day, or even the month. The indie restaurant is the wild card. If it works out well, the staff will become like your family. You’ll get an unexpected day off now and again, and the rules and regulations will be much more relaxed. If it doesn’t work out well, you’ll be out of work for the entire month of January. This is the perfect job for a dare to be different sort of server.

So now that you’ve got the basics, we’ll head on to step three. Wait for the speech. If the server standing in front of you is rattling off specials or making drink suggestions, know that this is something that will be expected of you as well. Make sure you like the uniform. After all, you’re the one who’s going to have to wear it. Ask the server questions about their job. Be frank. Let them know you’re interested in working there. What is the boss like? What is the pay like? Are they accepting resumes? If they are, find out the best time to bring yours in. If they’re not accepting resumes at this time, it means people enjoy working there, so bring one in anyway.

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