We've been experiencing the post holiday doldrums in my store. After every big holiday, especially Thanksgiving, we hit a stretch of days where tables are few and far between. Last night was particularly bad. I don't know what the record for the fewest number of guest is in our store, but we had to be approaching it. Many servers left last night having had only 4-6 tables all night. I had 7 in almost 5 hours. That is bad. Especially for my wallet and bills that come due the next few days.
The challenge when it is this slow is to balance giving great service with pestering the guests. I watch some new servers who I honestly think get nervous when it gets this slow, and the result is they interfere with the guest's experience by trying too hard. Then there are the others, generally the old and crabby servers, who simply ignore their tables when it is this slow, slacking off, talking in back with other staff, and basically milking the clock and avoiding the cleaning and side work that needs to be done.
I think it is harder to work when it is slow, we all loose focus. The worst is when your night starts really slow, and then you get a late push. Your mind has slowed down, and you no longer feel energetic like you did when you first arrived for your shift. This is where the good servers rise above the rest and find a way to get it done. This is where the mediocre to poor servers get in trouble, forgetting to ring things in, getting flustered and making mistakes, and generally fouling things up.
I experience this over the weekend when I went out to dinner with my family. We got to a restaurant fairly late (no, not just before closing!) and our waitress was clearly over matched. She seemed to be competent, but it appeared she got caught unprepared by a late rush. Her table approach was poor, her service was scatter brained. She had good personality, but it was clear that she was in the weeds with only 4 tables, 3 of which were 2 tops and my 5 top. I resisted the urge to coach her, nothing worse than unsolicited advice when you are in the weeds.
I left thinking over the need for better training for servers in most restaurants. While some people are simply gifted, and others not cut out for serving, many fall somewhere in between. A book on serving would go a long way to helping these middle people out, giving them tips and ideas on how to deal with things, especially the unexpected. I doubt I am the person to write this book, but I suspect the book if ever written would benefit from a group writing approach, so a larger pool of experience could be tapped for it.
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