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Monday, November 28, 2011

Letter of Resignation

I would like to start off this topic by stating that I am no job expert, but I have held over fifteen jobs and interviewed for even more. I have turned offers down, I have been called by former employers and asked if I would come back, I've been rehired twice, I have been given counter offers, I have been turned down, but I have never been fired. Most of the reasons that I have had so much luck with my career has been the passion I have for the work. I love working in the hospitality industry. I am a hard worker and I am good at what I do, no amount of reading can motivate you to be a good employee or work hard, it's a personal thing each of us must find out for ourselves.
Every situation is different, some people can simply tell their boss, "Hey, I've got to give you my two weeks, my last day is going to be on the 5th." Others are not so lucky. I think that most managers will appreciate a letter of resignation, some times a letter isn't necessary, but as long as you give some notice it will help.
The length of notice varies, many of the entry level positions could probably squeak by with only a week, but some corperate run places will require two weeks or they get upset. I would avoid giving any more than two weeks notice, no matter your position, any longer and things get awkward quick.
The letter should be short, sweet, and to the point:


Dear Boss,

At this time I must tender my resignation. My last day with Company XYZ will be on (two weeks). I appreciate the opportunity to work for your company. I hope my contributions have been valuable. I wish you all the best in the future.



You should type your letter, then sign it at the bottom. Address the letter to what ever you would typically call your boss, "Mr. White," "Mike," or "Chef Paul," are just possible examples. It would be strange to address a letter to your boss using anything but what you normally call them.
Obviously, if you don't wish them all the best in the future, maybe leave that out, but don't include too much of anything else:
  • Avoid the "why"
  • Avoid anything personal (leaving for medical reasons, new job, marriage, moving, baby, etc.)
  • Avoid anything that made you mad (bad management, lazy coworkers, poor pay)
  • Avoid anything long and drawn out, keep it short!
  • Avoid handwritten letters, typed is professional - let's keep it professional, not personal.
A boss will appreciate the letter greatly. They might think you're a little strange, but professional. The letter will also help clear any confusion about when you will be done. I've seen relationships take a hard hit because one employee said he needed to work until the 28th and the manager thought he was done by the 26th.
When the time comes to try to get hired again they'll say, "Oh, that guy's solid," or "she won't walk out on me or not show up." Just give notice and write a simple letter!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Filling Out The Application

This blog has, although intended for general restaurant industry advice, taken a turn more specifically about finding a job, filling out the application, handling the interview, and general advice of that nature. I don't mind writing about either subject. In fact I pride myself on having the skills necessary to get a job - especially in this job market.

I wanted to take the time to methodically go through the process of filling out an application and giving possible (valid/good) responses to each line item as well as their importance. It is important to remember that an application is a legal document, so, I must tell you that I am not a professional career advisor nor do I claim that the information within this blog has been written by a legal authority so take it for what it is - good common sense with a bit of experience mixed in.

Date: Write the date in Month, Day, Year format. 11/7/11 being today. This is generally understood and accepted in the United States (it may vary in other countries). The date is important, because when a manager goes to file it they will slide it into a filing cabinet, and if they have less than perfect record keeping and organizational skills it may get jumbled up, then without the date on it the manager will never know if the application was filled out a day ago or six months ago. The date will also make it easier for the organized manager to find your application when you check on it's status.

Name: Obviously, you write your proper legal name. Even if everyone calls you Bill, still write William. Also, there may be a line for other names you might be known as such as Billy or a nickname like Sonny. You may be required to list your maiden name as a married woman. This information will be important if hired.

Address: This line is going to be used for your personal information. If the company needs to send you anything, a paycheck possibly, this is where they will send it. Write where ever you want your check to be sent. BE WARNED that your address may bring up red flags if your home address is in either a different state or far from the company location. If you are applying for a job in New York and you list your address as New Mexico they may be less likely to offer you a job. However, you should never lie on any portion of your application, it may haunt you later.

Telephone Number: This is the primary way your possible employer will get in contact with you. It seems like common sense to tell you to make sure the number is valid, listed with the area code, you can afford to answer the phone (have minutes on it or ensure you can accept incoming calls), it is yours or somewhere you can have a message taken (not a public/work phone), and alert anyone that may be taking messages for you to answer calls professionally.
Likewise, make sure your voice mail is also professional. Do not have a perspective employer listen to you say, "Hey! I'm probably drunk or hung over so leave a message when it beeps. Deuces." It will not look good toward your character.

SSN: Make sure it's yours and legitimate. The pattern, if you don't know is three digits, two digits, then four digits, separated by dashes, i.e. 123-45-6789. This will be used to verify your right to work.
There may be other questions about if you are a legal citizen, check the appropriate boxes.

Age: An employer cannot ask how old you are, but they can ask if you are above a certain age to determine if you are legally allowed to perform some of the functions the job entails. Usually these questions will be in the form of "Are you at least 16 years old? Are you at least 18 years old?" Check these boxes accordingly. If you check the 'Yes, I am over 18 years old box' then make sure you do NOT check the 'No, I am not 16 years old' box. I've seen it done.

Position Desired: Check any and all that apply. It would not hurt to check some jobs that you wouldn't be thrilled to have and some jobs that you may not be qualified for. I mean this, if you are applying to be a bartender, it would be wise to inform them you wouldn't mind being a dishwasher and you would also like to be a shift manager. BE WARNED! You may be offered the dish washing position and if you need the job it will get your foot in the door, but if you don't NEED the job, you can always decline the offer.

Hours Desired/Required: These questions will come in a variety of styles:
  • When can you work?
  • When can't you work?
  • Are you available nights?
  • Are you available weekends?
  • Can you stay later than your scheduled shift?
  • Are you seeking: Full-time, part-time, temporary, or seasonal employment?
  • When can you start?
Obviously, I cannot answer these questions for you. You know what is going on in your life, and you know when you can or cannot work. Some helpful hints include to not divulge any planned appointments, trips, or possible reasons why you may have to miss a day until after you are hired. It can look poorly on you if you decide to hide information about a month you'll be needing off for a family vacation just a few weeks down the road.


Who do you know: These questions are along the lines of "How did you hear about the opening" or "Do you have any friends/family that work here" Before you list any one's name, make sure it is okay with them. Do not list some one's name without consulting that individual. The reasons are a few fold:
  1. That person may not be willing to stick their name/reputation out for you.
  2. That person may not have good report with their manager.
  3. That person may not like their job.
  4. You might be 'guilty-by-association' if the management team doesn't like that person.
  5. Management team might assume you will be too chatty if you are believed to be best friends.
Be careful with this one, it can come back to haunt you.

Salary Desired/Required: Some employers ask how much you 'require' and salary negotiations are a topic for a whole different post. In most cases minimum wage is the expected, especially in the restaurant world, but you should write 'neogotable.'

Previous Experience: There is a couple parts on this subject the "Have you ever applied here before?" with the "Have you ever worked here before?" and the other side, "List former employers" section. Answer the first two honestly. In some cases it will help - it will show that you not only have relevant work experience, but you have relevant work experience HERE or it may be bad in a situation where a new manager/management team is brought in and they have been informed to clean house and not rehire any of the former staff (for whatever reason).

The second part of the application where you fill out the previous employer information is important, and if your manager is worth a grain of salt should check references with these employers. So, while you may be a little fuzzy on your employment dates, there is a good chance your former employer may be too.

Go back at least three employers, some may require four, others want employers based on a number of years. Just fill in the blanks they give you, and if they request more experience fill out another page of employers.

Have the phone numbers and addresses of these employers written down. If a manager goes to check your references and they cannot figure out which location you worked at they may assume you lied on your application - which is a not-so-fancy way of saying you're not getting a job.

Many of us in the restaurant world aren't given an official title - so you may be creative, but don't take too much latitude. If you were a cook and you list your title as Executive Kitchen Chef they might not find it as humorous as you do. As a cook you could write "Line Cook" or "Intermediate Line Cook" or be specific like "Grill Cook" or "Saute Cook." Remember if you are just applying to be a bus boy and you write that at a previous restaurant you were the "Sanitation Captain" they may feel you are over qualified, even if it is simply an exaggeration of your title.

List salary information as accurately as you can remember. This could be a whole post by itself.

List your supervisor's name as accurately as you can remember. Also, with this situation if you didn't/don't get along with the Restaurant General Manager, you might want to list the Assistant
Manager or if your immediate supervisor can speak towards your skills better than a company boss can then it may be better to list someone like a shift manager.
In this same category, it can be difficult for many employers to hire you if your former work is of a higher caliber than your current position seeking - try to have an explanation for this. If you were an assistant manager and now you are applying for a hostess position it may way a red flag, but if you explain that you are going back to school and as a result can only work a few hours a week they will probably understand the situation.

Many managers don't check references, so it is a good idea to always allow a perspective employer to contact your current or former employers, even if your work was less than stellar. If you did something just ridiculous like stole something or assaulted someone... Don't check 'yes'

There are a thousand different ways to say nearly everything. So, avoid damaging your reputation when filling out the section on reason for leaving. If you were laid-off, explain there was a lack of work. If you were fired for a disagreement write something like 'Tense workplace environment.' Most of these situations would need to be addressed on a case by case basis - there is no blanket statement. If you are currently employed simply write that "Currently employed."

Some applications will ask what skills you possess or your interests. The interests portion may be used as a spur during an interview, but the skills are important and should be relevant. It doesn't matter if you are a cattle rancher if you want to flip burgers. Include any certificates/licenses you possess as well as years of experience total you may have.

Education: List your high school's name and location and under course work or field of study write "General" and under degree write "High School Diploma" if you graduated. Pretty simple. List any college or vocational school course work as well - this may not have to be relevant, but it shows a certain level of responsibility and education.

References: Some applications list personal references. Just put any three people that will speak of you like you are a saint, this is what the manager should be expecting. One of the least important parts of the application in my opinion. Be sure to tell these people that someone may be calling about a job reference.

Legal Stuff: Read this, make sure the application is as accurate as you can possibly make it, don't lie, if you do lie you may have problems later. Sign and date.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Getting A Job in a Restaurant - What NOT to Do

Most of the people reading this blog are mostly interested in the actual process of getting a job and many of them have questions about getting and maintaining a job in the restaurant/hospitality industry. I have given my two cents on things you should do, but there are some things that I haven't mentioned, possibly out of my own common sense filter or out of error, that you most certainly should NOT do.

Most of these things will be based on real world scenarios:
1. Don't forget a pen. Some managers won't hire anyone that asks for a pen. Can't bring a pen = unprepared (for application, work, life, etc.)
2. Don't turn your phone on. Leave it in the car, leave it at home, don't put it on vibrate, just DON'T let it be the reason you don't get a job. Recently, I was getting ready to explain to a gentleman we were only looking to hire a single cook, when his phone rang, he told me to hang on, and then took two seconds to realize it was a wrong number. That wrong number cost him a job. Never 'shush' anyone you want something from.
3. Don't expect an interview on the spot. Be ready for one however.
4. Don't ever say, "Are you ready to give me a job yet?" Use some tact when asking about the status of your application.
5. Don't call the manager or come in more than once a week. Managers are busy, they don't really have time to deal with the same old person over and over. If you haven't been hired in a few weeks time, then you had better put your application in elsewhere.
6. Don't fill your application with grammatical errors, typos, and scribbles. It just looks like you don't know what you are doing. Avoid looking silly if at all possible.
7. Similarly, fill the application out with the same pen, don't change colors. A change in color will show an employer you had to ask your mom your social security number.
8. Similarly, don't have someone else fill your application out for you. It will look like your mom had to force you to get a job.
9. Similarly, don't have someone else bring your application in for you, pick one up for you, or check on it's status for you. If you aren't responsible enough to pick one up, drop it off, and call to check on it's status, then you probably won't go through half as much effort to work for me.
10. Don't dress like you normally would - unless you always dress prepared for an interview. Wear something nice, button down, slacks, dress shoes, maybe... maybe even a tie. Again, you probably won't get an on-the-spot interview, but if you look half way professional maybe you will.
11. Don't show up unprepared (either dropping off an application or for an interview). If I ask , "What did you like about your last job," or "What are some of your strengths in the kitchen?" Don't give me the impression you were not ready for these questions. Review sample questions and formulate possible answers.
12. Don't lie. We will know or we will find out, and either way - you're screwed.
13. Don't leave any piercings in. In most restaurants the number/style/size of piercings are both a company policy and is a matter of following health codes. Don't be offended if a manager can't hire you because you have some kind of permanent piercing or something along those lines, it's generally nothing personal - just company policy.

I'm sure the list goes on and on...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Job Profiles: Front Line / Counter

It is important to remember that in the restaurant world, all experience counts. Most chefs and many restaurant owners all started in a fast food scenario or worked their way up from washing dishes. No job is beneath you, and it is all valuable in your career ladder. Service industry skills are valued by all industries. Everyone is looking for people with outstanding customer service skills, and the restaurant is a good place to get them. That being said...
Anyone that has worked in a fast food restaurant knows the position of front counter (counter) or front line. This person is the direct interaction between the customer and the restaurant. The front counter employee has several duties, but these should be their priorities:
  1. Greet/Treat every guest with a smile and a friendly attitude within a quick amount of time.
  2. Keep the dining room/lobby/front clean.
  3. Keep the bathrooms clean.
No one wants to feel ignored, unwelcome, or like they are hassling someone so the greeting is very important. Everyone, no matter their position, should greet the customer in an authentic and friendly manner. "Welcome to WhereEver Burger" verses "So glad to see you on this Sunday afternoon. Thanks for joining us at WhereEver Burger. Are you interested in the Sunday Sandwhich Special?" If you greet someone with a genuine love for the job with real hospitality it will make it very hard for them to start yelling at you if you make a mistake or the order is wrong. If you don't care about how you treat them, they will not care how they treat you.
The other side to the coin is that, the greeting needs to be fairly quick. The front counter employee should ALWAYS be in sight of the register (POS). If you can see the register, it is likely that you can see anyone waiting. This should not be a problem because the front counter crew should always either be at the front counter cleaning, stocking, expediting (packing), taking an order or in the dining room cleaning, stocking, or taking care of a guest. The only time they won't be able to see a guest coming is when they are cleaning the bathroom or using the bathroom. In either case the counter person should tell the manager or someone else to watch the front line while they are away.
The front line (behind the actual counter) should be kept stocked with all trays, cups, condiments, sides, containers, bags, and anything else they need. This area should remain clean as well, if you don't keep it clean it gets cluttered quickly, which makes it easier to confuse orders and slows the whole operation down. The lobby needs to be as clean as a surgery scrub room, well, maybe not that clean, but just as clean as possible. It should not be STICKY! (Almost nothing is worse than a sticky restaurant lobby). Everything should be clean from the napkin holder to the salt and pepper shakers. The lobby should be checked every 15 minutes or as often as possible. As a restaurant manager if I see even one empty tray on a trash can I feel that the lobby needs to be checked.
Bathrooms need to be checked every 30 minutes if not more often (every time you check the lobby, check the bathroom). Checking the bathroom doesn't mean going in noticing it's a mess then leaving it. It means checking the toilet paper, paper towels, soap, sanitizer, toilets, sinks, trash, walls, and floors, then filling/cleaning it all.
You are not a cook, so limit the amount of time you spend in the kitchen. If you have to do dishes, let someone know you are away from your register.
You are not a manager, if someone wants to speak to a manager or yell at you, go get a manager. The guest can yell at them not you, chances are you don't make enough money to put up with that nonsense.
Don't let anyone else make change or use your register. Thievery is too prevalent in the restaurant world to trust anyone to handle your money. You are responsible for the money, if you mess up you will get written up.
Follow these general guidelines and I can assure you things will start to look up for you at work. Obviously every restaurant is different. I haven't worked at every restaurant so I can't say how the job roles are for every place, but this is a solid set of rules to live by.

Long ago I served my time working the front counter.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why are restaurant failure rates so high?

I recently have been doing some searches to discover some new ways to improve sales in my store. I came across one little jewel, although unhelpful to me was a prime example of how no matter how good you think (or know) you are restaurants are not that simple.

Author: Bradley James Bryant (I thought it was a man, evidently it's a woman).

Degree: MASTERS of BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION with an emphasis in FINANCE from Florida A & M University

She writes...

"Identify your most profitable items. These items should be marketed the most to your customers. The one thing to remember here is that "highest profitability" is not always synonymous with "most expensive." For instance, an alcholic beverage may only cost $2 to make, but you might be able sell it for $10--a 500 percent return. However, lobster may cost $10 to purchase with a $20 menu price--a sizable but inferior 100 percent return. Obviously, you're better off selling the drink in this case."

...which you should be aware is almost direct plagerism from this site:

"Identify the most profitable items and promote them well. Do everything you can to ensure that these ‘most profitable items’ become the darling items of your customers. Keep in mind that the most profitable items are not always the most expensive. One you have these identified, you may instruct your servers to subtly promote these items to your guests. The more of these items that are sold, the higher your restaurant profit margin would be."

Still, this may seem logical, and she has a Master's degree with an emphasis in finance so she knows what she's talking about right?


My comment:

I stopped reading this after the very first point. The very first concept of any business is that DOLLARS PAY BILLS, PERCENTS DO NOT. When the liquor delivery comes and I tell him I have a 500% return on my drinks he's going to ask if I have any cash for the product (percents don't pay bills). If your food cost is 3% but you can't afford to pay your employees you go under. Using your same numbers, although comparing a drink to an entree is skrewed, I will work with it. Generally if you are comparing menu items it is important to first compare items in the same category of sales (a drink effects beverage cost, an entree effects food cost, you can't compare them) Depending on the drink it might even be classified as liquor, beer, or wine. If I was going to write this I would have compared a chicken breast to a lobster, anyhow. If 100 people walk into your restaurant on any give day and they all order the drink, you make $800 (with a 20% beverage cost, yay for you) BUT if the same 100 walk in and order the lobster you make $1,000 (with a 50% food cost and $200 more dollars in your pocket). You said identify your most profitable items, this means their profit margins. The drink has a profit margin of $8 and the lobster a profit margin of $10, the lobster is more profitable. You, just like hundreds of thousands before you, successfully just failed to identify the most profitable items on the menu. It is because of these kinds of business concepts that aren't fully understood many restaurants go under. There is a constant power struggle between the ownership and the management. The owners want the highest profit margin, but they give bonuses to managers with the best food costs (it's strange really).

These people. I never grow tired of listening to the "statistics" of restaurant failures. If the author spent six years working in a restaurant instead of getting that coveted (yet worthless in this case) degree, she might have been able to give a good answer. She screwed up the only part she didn't steal from someone else.

I love working in restaurants too much.

Read the full article here: How to Improve Restaurant Sales |

Monday, July 18, 2011

Making the Most of Your Fast Food Job

Working in a fast food place, although not really glamorous, will/can teach you a lot.  You may be thinking, "How can you compare my  greasy spoon on the corner to that steakhouse down the road!" Here's how:1. Service Industry Job
   Whether you are asking to super size a meal or if they want their filet medium rare we are interacting with (not customers or clients) guests. Some places will take it so far as to say friends. Every guest wants some of the same basic things including: outstanding service, quick service, quality products.

Outstanding Service
A 13 year old with a couple dollars wants to be greeted with a warm smile and a friendly 'welcome' just as much as the governer of the state. It is our job to ensure that these two and everyone else is greeted in a way that makes them feel welcome. Honestly, have you ever gone anywhere and hoped someone was a real jerk about your order and told you all about the trouble they were going to, just so you could stuff your face. NO! You want to go somewhere where "everybody knows your name," and "they're always glad you came."

Quick Service
Some people really don't mind waiting, some people (usually us in the hospitality industry) understand that the guy in front of them ordered 65 chicken sandwhiches and as such the kitchen is swamped, and some people just don't care about our problems. Every restaurant I have ever worked in has had some general expectations for the staff as far as the Speed Of Service (SOS) is concerned. Do many of us expect to be in and out of the drive-thru in under 60 seconds? Not usually, but when it does happen it's nice.
Soccer moms, business people, and all others generally in a rush do not want something that takes a few minutes to take several minutes, it's that simple. Everyone knows what I am talking about, just be reasonable.

Quality Products
No one wants to pay more than they have to for anything. People are generally aware of the quality of product they will get and we should try our best to meet that standard (however high or low it may be, or we think it is). We cannot lie about the quality of meats used and people will appreciate anything above the norm, at the same time, quality is something we may not be able to directly control. As a cook we cannot decide which bread to order, we are given bread and told to use it, BUT we can use only the bread that's not moldy, the bread that isn't smushed, or we can decide to use the bread that's fallen on the floor. The servers can ask the cooks to remake a steak if it looks burned. We have controls over the quality.

Multiple times in my career have I been asked to, "Make sure it's perfect. It's for... me, my mom, my dad, our boss, the owner, the owner's daughter, the critic, that celebrity..." Never had I ever had what we should be saying, "Make sure it's perfect. It's for some random customer I've never seen before."
Surely a successful business plan strives on these three things.

2. Sanitation
Every restaurant (within the bounds of it's authorities) are subject to the same rules. The fast food place on the corner is judged by the health inspectors (city, county, state, etc.) just as harshly as the fine dining restaurant in the country club down the road. Clean is clean, dirty is dirty. It's just that simple.
While working in the front-of-the-house of a fast food restaurant you can learn just about everything you need to know to clean the dining room, but there are some pieces of equipment that don't cross bounds. Finer restaurants may have brass to polish or actual silverware. They may have carpets that require special cleaning, etc. etc.
In the BOH you can learn to do a lot of cleaning, but you may not be exposed to a salamander or flat top grill. It just depends on your restaurant. Something nearly all restaurants have is a deep fryer of some kind, learn to clean it and filter it, but beware! I have worked over a dozen different restaurant jobs and no two fryers are the same. They may operate on the same basic principle, but still very different. Some are interconnected, some are seperate. Some have a drain, some a screw on spout. Some you just spray with hot grease, some you scrub with a green pad and a scraper. Some fryers use oil some use lard. It's a wild world for fryers out there.

There are dozens of things to compare restaurants that are seemingly different together. Just look on the bright side, you could be moving up the ladder in no time flat in this industry!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Getting a Job In the Restaurant: Convictions

I have been conducting numerous interviews lately, many of the applicants have had a felony conviction. Although I am no expert, I feel I can give some advice to your situation if you are in the same boat. Take it for what it is worth.
As stated before in the blog about the applicantion process any time you have a conviction ask to discuss it with the manager right then. Always fill out the application honestly, but when the application asks about your conviction simply write "Will discuss." If you simply write 'assault' or something similar the manager may look it over and decide against even calling you, verses 'will discuss' which opens the gates to almost anything (which may be good or bad for you).
If you feel you need to write something, it's a good idea to write the lesser of the crimes you may have been convicted of. I mean if you get convicted of possession of a controlled substance and possession of stolen property, I would list the stolen property, but ideally again, just write "Will discuss."
Different managers have different opinions on different crimes. A female manager may say absolutely not to an individual convicted of rape, but maybe you were 19 and your girlfriend was 16, it's a complicated world. Some managers say absolutely no persons with drug convictions others say drug convictions aren't violent crimes. Some say fraud is not a problem in a restaurant, some believe it's the worst. It really just depends on who is doing your interview.
While you haven't done yourself any favors for getting a job, it is important to remember than many restaurants are still willing to hire you. Restaurants are typically a fairly rough place. The kitchen crew can typically hold there own, so hiring a (or another) ex-con is not unrealistic. A felony conviction is not necessarily a disqualification at all restaurants (it may be at some).
Treat the interview as professional as possible. Hiring managers want to see someone that has changed their life, not a possible repeat offender. See the post about dressing for an interview. As an ex-con you will be scrutinized more so than others, so you need to be dressed better, arrive earlier, be more polite, be more prepared.
Don't bring up the conviction until the manager does (which, if they are any good manager, they will) Without being too graphic, ligitimately explain your side of the story. Be brief. Do NOT go on and on about it. Make it short and to the point, explain in a sentence or two that it is behind you. Explain you are moving forward and leave it at that. You want the interviewer to remember the interview, not the conviction. Make the conviction a small footnote in the whole interview process.
People understand that life happens and some times you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, BUT BE AWARE! Honesty is the best policy! If the interviewer asks you about your conviction and you said, "No, that wasn't me. Lawyer screwed me." The manager is not likely to believe you. Managers typically would prefer an honest rehabilitated felon over a lying employee.
If you do not get the job don't automatically assume it was because of your conviction, something else might have come up, maybe a better canidate. If you read this and follow it to the 't' don't assume you will get the job.

Good luck with the job hunt,
I'll be rooting for you.

Working in the Restaurant: Having Fun!

Up to this point I have only blogged about getting a job, what work will be like, different working conditions, and that sort of thing. I haven't written a single word on the amount of fun you can have while working in a restaurant. While games can be played anywhere, I think these ones are particularly fun in a restaurant enviornment.
We in the hospitality industry work hard and play hard. It's what we do. There are dozens of games you can play while at work, many of which are competitive, it's our nature... Cooks have races to see who can cook the fastest burger, who can make the best dish out of three ingredients (often times this game is called Iron Chef after the secret ingredient theme), ticket time races, etc. etc.
My favorite game is from the front of the house, but can be played in the back with any participant that isn't aware of what's going on. This game is the word game, some times called the Super Trooper game. The object of the game can go one of two ways 1) Classic version, to see how many times you can say a word while interacting with your guests or 2) to see if you can get your guests to say a particular word. Obviously you can't choose an inappropriate word and you must follow the company rules and policies, and obviously you can't just say "meow meow meow" or ask them, "Hey, can you say 'meow' for me?" It has to be subtle. The more common the word is in your establishment the easier the game is and generally the stranger the word (or more distant from your venue) the harder it is.
If you work in a pizza restaurant:
Easy Words to say/make them say: cheese, pizza, pepperoni, large, toppings, hot, fresh....
Hard words to say/make them say: kittens, silo, missing, Michigan, bedspread, pain...
All parties playing the game must agree on the word or the words you are trying to get them to say or are saying. Honestly how many times can you say 'freedom' while selling pizzas? Even harder, how can you get the customer to say the word freedom?
Some people get too complicated and claim they get a point for every word that begins with a letter, that's just too complicated!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cook Education: Ears Open!

Anyone that has ever cooked in a commercial kitchen can tell you that there are lots of things you need to be a good cook. One of the less obvious things is a good set of ears!
An experienced cook can hear the microwave beep while the pressure steamer is releasing steam and the expo is shouting at the server that just dropped a pan because the dishwasher malfunctioned and sprayed her with hot water. It is important to be able to distinguish sounds that are relevant like water boiling, hot pans searing if they are hot enough, and deep fryer oil spackling if it is also hot enough.
It's important to hear and respond to maintain your time management and flow of food through the kitchen. If you are cooking product in a fryer that isn't heated up, you will run into trouble.
There is a whole lot of noise going on in a kitchen, pay attention, listen closely, and focus.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Management Education: Cash Handling

I've written a lot about server education and that sort of thing, but I haven't really touched on the management side of things. I ran into this situation the other day and my employee's had no idea how to handle it. A woman paid for her meal, the employee made her change, then the lady said, "You didn't give me enough change back." another way it could have gone (I've seen it) is "Oh, I gave you a $20 not a $10." There is a handful of these kinds of traps just to milk the system.
As a manager you need to stop everything, run a cashier report and count the drawer right then. Don't hand them the cash then count the till later. If the drawer is spot on, then you know the employee made correct change, if it is $10 over or whatever then the wrong change may have been given.
I find that if it's possible:
  • Don't accept bills over $20. The bigger the bill the more money you could lose.
  • Don't make change for people who want to break a bill. There are banks for making change, not restaurants.
  • Don't allow customers an option as to how they get their change back (5 $1's is easier to miscount than one $5).
  • Don't refund cash on a credit card order. If the card is stolen they get cash and keep spending on the card.
  • Require a signature on all credit card slips (or all of the ones over $25 at least).
  • Require the staff to do drawer drops if the draw reaches above a certain number ($250 in example). The drawer should have just enough money to operate out of. If there's a robbery they'll get away with much less.
  • Keep the safe locked. Sounds simple, but there are a lot of people a lot of places that leave it open.
  • Make sure employee's face bills. The till should have all the bills facing the same direction. If you have 10 bills in a slot facing 4 different directions it's harder to count and can cause someone to give wrong change.
These things will all add up to a much more secure cash handling system. Proper training is necessary for handling cash. Young individuals aren't the best at handling cash for some reason (inexperience) so watch them closely.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Getting a Job in the Restaurant / Job Expectations

Getting a job in a restaurant no matter what position (all job expectations) will include doing things that are never listed on any job description. There is no way you could ever really prepare yourself for some of the things you might be asked to do. It has seemed to me that the less corporate your place of employment, the more likely you'll be asked to do something just crazy. Mom and pop places are notorious for this kind of behavior for a few reasons including no actual job descriptions and no one else around to do the work.
Some of the things I can think of that I've been asked to do includes some tile work (cleaning grout, laying grout, ripping up tile, etc.), plumbing work (from plunging toilets to changing pipes on a three compartment sink), computer systems (setting up POS systems to wiring screens), and all other sorts of general labor like filling in pot holes in the parking lot, laying gravel, pulling weeds, painting signs, setting up racks, putting up shelves, etc.
This kind of thing would never happen at an accounting office or law firm. Can you imagine a lawyer filling in pot holes outside their office? Ha! When you are working in a restaurant you really need to be a jack-of-all-trades. I can only imagine some of the things some people are asked to do.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dining Out: Drive-Thru's

Recently someone asked me, "How hard is it really!? Every time I go to WhereEver Burger they get my order wrong!" I will try to explain...
First, before the person even hears your order, you have to know what you want. What's the difference between a burrito and an enchillada? Should I get the Double Cheese Burger or the McDouble? Do you know what comes on a Whopper? The whole process starts with you communicating what you think you want to them. (No there isn't mustard on a Whopper).
Next, it has to come out of your mouth that way (no big deal, but people miss speak). It's common for people to be thinking Jr. Bacon Cheese Burger but say Double Bacon Cheese Burger. Do you want a Quarter-Pounder or a Double Quarter-Pounder, one word makes all the difference between complete satisfaction and a moody customer.
Ensure you speak in a reasonable volume. Do not whisper your order, remove the cigarette from your lips, get off your cell phone, and avoid yelling into my ear. This will help you get what you want.
So, your end of the deal is taken care of. You feel that all you needed to do was speak and drive around to the first (or second) window. Simple right?
However, the words travel to a little box a few feet from you to the speaker. These things arn't cheap to fix, so if the speaker blows, you may get someone asking you to repeat yourself often.
Even if the speaker is working fine remember that 327 Hemi makes a lot of noise, not to mention the ambulance flying down the side street, or your kid's in the back seat raising cain. It doesn't help that your drunk friend thinks you are a "Rockstar" if he keeps yelling, your order will be wrong.
Then order travels through the box into the restaurant (nothing too complicated)
Or in some cases this thing is out-sorced to another country, so the order flies through space to India or some place like that. In either situation you face some static and shorts, your order may come through in waves.
From the speaker it goes into the other person's ear. No big deal except for the fryers beeping, the soda fountain running, the kids screaming, the manager yelling, the cash register ringing, the hoods sucking, doors creeking, shoes squeeking, etc. etc.
We will assume for argument's sake that all parties involved are completely fluent in English, which is almost never the case.
The order goes from the ear to the person, then they input it into the POS. Not complicated but if you are in a hurry and you have to hit several different tiny buttons on a computer, you are likely to make a mistake occasionally. The more "special" your meal the more button strokes.
Next, to the kitchen! The order is sent from the computer to a moniter or a printer in the back. The kitchen staff reads the tickets (assuming we are all fluent in English again) and begins to prepare the order. This can be complicated. Words are ALWAYS abbreviated to various things:
  • Dbl Cbrgr
  • Dbl w/Chz
  • D HB w/ Am
Then you can run into trouble with modifiers (mods):
  • Dbl w/Chz
    • 86 Am, sub Chedr, no pickles/ketchup, sub must, x onion
  • Garden
    • no tom, ranch DOS
Keep in mind that different foods can and usually come from different parts of the kitchen. The guy making your burger is not the guy making your salad is not the guy cooking your chicken.
Let's assume that is all right. It's all understood and made perfectly. Next the food goes into what is called the window. In an ideal world the only food in the window would be one order, but often times there is too much going on for someone to be waiting for food, but someone does this job and they are called the expoditer. This person gathers up the order. This means the person goes through all the food in the window and finds the items to complete your order. (He/She is reading a moniter or a ticket). Even if EVERYTHING is perfect up to this stage if this person grabs the wrong sandwhich and stuffs it into a bag, the order is INSTANTLY and COMPLETELY wrong. Not only is it wrong for YOU it's wrong for the OTHER GUY.
Past that there is a steady stream of cars driving through and it has been known that a bag go out the window to another car. It's silly, but it happens. Usually this problem occurs when the expoditor sets the bag down and the window operator thinks it's for the current vehicle when in reality it is for the car behind them.
Finally, it goes from the window operator to you!

Let's recap the number of individuals:
  • 1, You
  • 2, Order Taker
  • 3-6 Kitchen
  • 4-7 Expoditer
  • 5-8 Order Taker/Window Operator
That's an easy 5 people.
Unfortunately, many of these 4-7 people are as described in an earlier post (high schoolers or passing through). These people are paid minimum wage and are treated pretty crummy, don't expect too much from them. Also, many of them don't speak English very well, but none the less, even if the language barrier is nonexsistant consider this happens hundreds of times a day, so it is possible to get your order right. It seems like a miracle to me that anything does come out right.
Hopefully you are beginning to see how things can get a little mixed up. It's a long complicated process that takes literally minutes if not seconds to complete. There's a lot going on. It's easy to screw up.

Getting a Job in the Restaurant: Co-Workers

I suppose it is with mixed feelings I can report that the hospitality industry, restaurants in particular, are possibly filled with quite literally with dozens of personalities. If you go into a law firm, you'll see an over whelming majority of business types, same with accounting or other professional service. If you go to a car garage you'll find people that love working on cars, with the restaurant... It's a grab bag of everything. While it is nearly impossible to describe every single person that walks through the doors looking for a job, there can be many generalizations.

This kind of person is always trying to be the best (typically not the boss, but always sucking up). They are constantly complaining about something not done right, health codes, company policy, etc. etc. This person usually has some experience and wants to do a good job, but can be a pain to deal with. They are sticklers for the rules and will bust your chops for over-portioning anything. The kind of person that grabs a scale or thermometer to check your work for no apparent reason. There aren't too many of these kind of people, not that many people really care.

Passing Through
There is a lot of these kinds of people. There are many different sub-sections to this group:
  • Schoolers: They are putting themselves through school, no real interest in the job. Depending on where you live, there can be a whole lot of these people.
  • Out-of-Workers: Laid-off/fired recently, feels like the job is beneath them, seeking a 'real' job.
  • Part-Timers: They have a 9-5 job somewhere they are miserable at and enjoy doing something different. They are usually pleasant to work with, but no real loyalty to the restaurant.
  • DJs: These guys are 'DJs' or 'actors' that work for a steady paycheck until the band's hit single tops the charts. Usually they are cool enough, but you may pick up a lot of their slack. Worst part is they may ask you to come to a show or listen to a mix tape...
High Schoolers
We were all there once. Probably their first job, no experience, usually lazy, somewhat stupid to the world around them, etc. etc. They come and go, and it wouldn't be fair to generalize too much about them. I only mention them because you won't typically see high schoolers working at a dentist's office.

Pot Heads
These guys are just looking for some cash to feed the monkey on their back. No real drive in life, no cares, no worries, all of which translates to pulling your weight plus theirs. They are usually slow, clumsy, just generally not a great person to work with. They care about nothing, but it's not uncommon for one of them to be throwing a party on any given weekday.

This may seem horrible to say but what's a person to do without an education. I suppose they can be a day laborer or work at a restaurant. Either one.

Old people that want to make some money on the backend of their life, maybe even waited tables or was a car hop in the 1950's. Times have changed Grand-dad, you move too slow, this "computer-thing-a-ma-jig" is called a point-of-sale (POS), and you take too long to ring anything in, your memory isn't as sharp as it used to be, and if I have to tell you "NO pickles" one more time I might scream. Also, I've got my own tables to worry about I can't carry all of your food for you.

There is a large population of immigrant workers in restaurants. I have worked with Mexicans, Hondurans, El Salvadorans, Filipinos, Chinese, and people from the Sudan. This is only the surface of it. Most of these people are hard workers. They may have a speech barrier but they are some of the best workers around.

There are all of these different kinds of people, yet I have seen the patterns of them over and over again. This isn't meant to be rude to the elderly (sorry, but you really can't teach an old dog a new POS system) or the uneducated (I am in this industry!) just a glimpse into the world I love. This is just a sample of the kinds of people I work with, and how much or how little they care about the customer.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Job Profiles: Busser/Utility

A busser, occasionally called a bus boy but more commonly called everything else (words I won't care to write), is a key part of a restaurant. As every establishment is different, different people may perform the functions of a busser. Sometimes the host/hostess bus tables, sometimes it's the server's responsibility, sometimes managers help out, and sometimes they hire specific people to take care of cleaning up tables.

Job Description:
It's the busser's job to clear tables and reset them for the next round of guests. Other common requirements of being a busser include: checking salt and pepper levels, filling sugar caddy, cleaning up spills, maintaining the restroom, and general work. Sometimes bussers are responsible for doing dishes.

Pay Rate:
As a busser you should expect minimum wage, but oftentimes the servers are required to tip you out 1 or 2 % of their total sales. Depending on how busy the restaurant is a busser can make a fair amount of money for doing unskilled labor.

What's Next:
In the front-of-house, a busser can be promoted or cross trained to host or serve. Depending on their age, they could be a bar back. In the kitchen bussers can become dishwashers, prep cooks, or line cooks, but they will probably start at a slow station of the kitchen, pantry/salad.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dining Out: Tipping

Any and every good server will be able to immediately sum up what kind of tipper you are based on a few basic points, such as age, race, tab, what your drinking, what your eating, how you are dressed, who you are with, etc. All of these factors total to a pretty good idea as to what to expect. Then as a server we know if the steak was over cooked, if something went wrong, if your glass went empty, if we screwed up, all of which can effect the tip. Remember that often times if you order a steak well done, it's going to take some time to prepare. Also, remember that many times a food mistake may or may not be the server's fault, it's hard to say.

Occasionally, we are surprised by the individual that tips more than expected or the jerk that stiffs us, but for the most part it's nothing new. Does this mean that most server's profile clients? Absolutely. I cannot say who the best tippers are, nor can I say who the worst tippers are, it all depends on the server. I can speak to my own experiences and tell you that in my experience age makes more of a difference than anything else. An 18 year old college kid taking his girl out for dinner is less likely to tip as well as a 54 year old professor, but it is possible that the kid wants to impress his girl by leaving a nice tip, you never know. As a young white male I find the best tippers to be older female ladies. I suppose I have a grandchild's charm about me. The most difficult guests I tend to deal with suprizingly enough are people in my same category, young males. I don't watch sports, I don't have time for t.v. shows, and I don't play the latest video games, I know very little about what people like me do, I just know my restaurant industry.

There is no other industry where the employee's are dependent on the kindness of strangers to pay thier living wage. Remember to tip your server, 20% at a minimum, if you are a doctor tip more... Don't ask me to split a $100 dollar bill on a $30 dollar order then give me two bucks, I know you have money.

Tales from the Front Lines:
Best Tip:
The best tip, (neither percentage nor dollar value, but the one I feel was the best), was from an older white man. I was working as a server in a common chicken finger style restaurant (Applebee's, Chili's, Buffalo Wild Wings, etc.) and two older couples came in and sat at a booth. I took their order, nothing spectacular, then I brough out the one man's steak. He cut into it, had a few bites, then explained that it wasn't medium rare like he ordered it. I apologized, took it back to the kitchen and had them remake it. I returned the steak to the man, he said it was perfect, but I still feared for the worst. His ticket came to roughly $50, and to my suprize he left me $30! Even after the kitchen had screwed up his order he left me well over 50%! I was astonished. Like I said, there have been times when I have made more than 50% and there are times when I have made more than 30 dollars off of a single order, but none quite compare to this man and his experience with the steak. The best tip in my opinion!

Worst Tip:
People love this story. It was half way through a dinner rush, when to my suprize I am approached by a manager, "Hey so-and-so didn't show up, but I sat a group at tables 1, 2, and 3, will you take them?" Oh boy. Tables 1, 2, and 3, is the worst section in the house, someone else didn't show, I've already got tables 5, 6, and 7 filled, and on top of that these people have been waiting for who knows how long for so-and-so to show up, but now I get to deal with them. It was a group of 10 African-Americans, all varying in age, but most in the 30's. I get their order (it's an appetizer, entree, desert special all around). I get everything out, then around the time I get the entrees passed out an 11th member shows up. I deal with them. Then when everyone is working on desert (guy 11 is working on his entree) 2 more people show up, bringing my total to 13 people! Evidently it is guy #13's birthday so as all 10 people sit and wait for the last couple to finish eating their app, entree, and desert as I gather up birthday singers. We sing, the group that wasn't even in my section to begin with, who have sucked up nearly 3 hours of my time, (time spent away from my original tables), their bill comes to in the neighborhood of $250. I thought to myself, AT the BARE MINIMUM of ONLY 10% I am going to make $25 dollars off this headache. It's important at this point to mention that at this location we tipped out our bussers and bartenders 3% of total sales (So, on this ticket $7.50 to everyone else but me). I made a whopping....


I made $8.00 in 3 hours off of 13 people, $7.50 of which I was required to tip out. I made fifty cents in over three hours. At a servers rate of three dollars, I made $3.16 for half my shift. I should have made closer to $50 off the table... Unbelievable.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Getting a Job in a Restaurant: ServSafe Certificate

This is going to sound like a shameless plug for a company paying me tons of money, but unfortunately for me it is not. I am sending this message out free of charge with no expectation of payment. That being said, the single most impressive thing you can write on your resume (as long as it's true) is that you are ServSafe Sanitation Certified.

ServSafe is a nationally recognized company that teaches safe food handling procedures. They will go over everything, usually in an 8 hour class on Saturday, followed by an exam. Some community colleges offer ServSafe classes if there is a culinary program.

Some of the things you will go over include:
  • Food temperature Danger Zone
  • Ideal conditions for bacteria growth: Food, Acidity, Time, Temperature, Oxygen, Moisture
  • Food borne illnesses, symptoms, and common causes
  • HACCP plans
  • Dishwashing basics
  • Handwashing basics
  • etc. etc.
The class usually costs some money, not a ton, maybe $70. It is well worth it for the educational value. You will definitely get a different response when you hand in an application with ServSafe Certified written on it. It is a must have for any serious hospitalitarian. It's an edge you will have on nearly every single other applicant.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Job Profiles: Host/Hostess

There are literally dozens of careers within the hospitality industry. This blog primarily focuses on the restaurant industry. What's the difference? Hospitality industry includes restaurants, hotels, country clubs, caterers/banquets, casinos, and cruise ships. The list goes on and on, but today we are looking at the restaurant.

I hope to explore the various positions in a restaurant one at a time. This is the first blog on this subject so far, so we are starting at the beginning. The first person you see when you walk into a restaurant is the host or hostess. In some restaurants this person is call the maitre d'hotel or maitre d. Some restaurants do not have a host, servers simply "self-host" or this position is filled by a manager type.
Some hosts are young, probably their first job others are the most experienced server in the building. Every restaurant is different, as such the responsibilities of the host will be different. In example, some hosts are required to bus tables as well as clean the bathroom, many do not. Being a host can be hard work especially if servers are always bugging you for tables, too many tables, mad people in line, or drunks trying to get in (earlier we learned to refuse entry to someone intoxicated).

Job Description
The primary job functions include seating guests as the arrive, keeping rotation of the servers, general cleaning duties (clean menus, floors, doors, windows, waiting area, etc.), taking reservations, present menus/coasters/silverware, alerting servers when they get sat, opening and holding the doors for guests as they enter and exit. Some hosts might change menu cards (specials, inserts, etc.), write the specials on a dry erase or chalk board, clean the bathrooms, bus server's dirty tables, run food, plus a mirade of other possible activities.

Pay Range
The job is often times overlooked, but any server will tell you when a host double or triple seats you, it puts you in the weeds almost immediately. Expected salary for this job, also varies quite a bit, but you can expect to be paid $7.25 to $10.00 plus a tip out from the servers. The tip out varies just like everything else, but the standard seems to be 1% of your total sales.

The Best Qualities
  • Good memory, useful to know when you just sat someone, which tables are clear, which are occupied, and which need bussed.
  •  Very good customer service skills, to deal with people waiting too long, upset people as they leave, and general interactions with the public
  • Planning skills are necessary to know how long it will take a table to finish and where to seat the next group.
What's next?
Depending on your goals, dreams, laws, etc. the next step can be in any of the three primary areas of a restaurant: Front-of-house as a server, back-of-house as expo/utility/dish, or to the bar as a bar back.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Getting A Job in the Restaurant: Your First Shift

This post is about starting your first day in a restaurant. Hopefully, they have told you what to wear or have provided you with your uniform. If they haven't provided you with a uniform then it may be the first thing they do. If they don't tell you what to wear and don't provide you with a uniform, use common sense and wear clothing similar to everyone else's. You may not have a Sonic uniform, but a red polo and black pants are easy to come by.

If you haven't already you will sit down and fill out your I-9 and W-2 information.  Be sure to bring your driver's license. social security card. and a pen, if you haven't done this yet. You may also spend some time reviewing a policy manual/company handbook.

It's very common for a manager to pair you up with a seasoned employee. This style of training is called the "magic apron", because the manager assigns you to an "apron", another employee, and "magically" you learn how to do your job.  Occassionally, some places will have you read through training material, or have you watch a short video or series of videos, but that is uncommon. You'll be more likely to see it in a restaurant chain, like McDonald's or Burger King. 

Occassionally, the restaurant is in such dire situations that you are thrown in to learn as you go, so it's probably a good idea to be familiar with the menu before you start. Remember to stay calm and ask a lot of questions.  You should ask about the menu. Examples: Is there anything on the menu we don't have?, Can I substitute things?, What is the vegetable/soup of the day?.  Spend any down time you have looking over the store to figure out where things are supposed to go. For brownie points with management take a towel and wipe down things as you look at them. This will help you remember where things are. Physically touching an item and saying to yourself "I wiped down the credit card machine" will allow you to really remember where it is.

If you've never worked in a restaurant before, you'll  soon discover how fast paced and busy it can get followed by breaks with no customers in the store.  It's important to stay focused when you are busy and keep moving when you are slow. Nothing will make manager's or owner's more upset if they see an employee standing around doing nothing. "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean," is a common phrase you'll probably hear. 

On your first day you should try to absorb everything like a sponge. Make sure you really focus on your job. If you're hired as a cook don't worry about the expo guy, just being a cook. It's best to learn the proper way to do any particular task because most employee's will have developed shortcuts they may want to teach you. These may be inaccurate so learn to do the job right. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Server Education: Signs of Intoxication

So, earlier we talked about Liquor Liability but now we need to discuss how to identify an individual that has had too much to drink. Many of us can spot a drunk individual from a mile away, but some of the newer people cannot. There are some indicators like knocking something over, but remember just because someone knocks something over doesn't mean they are drunk. Avoid telling someone who has spilled some beer on themself after a single beer that they appear drunk (unless they really do). Here are a few clues:
  • Slurred speach
  • Impaired fine motor skills (drops money, backwards cigarette, knocks over glass, spills)
  • Impaired movements (can't walk, falls out of chair, trips)
  • Mood swings (came in quiet then gets loud, or comes in loud then gets quiet)
  • Extremely tired or falls asleep
  • Overly friendly or agressive
  • Complains drink isn't strong enough/orders higher alcohol drinks
  • Smells like alcohol
These are all good indicators. Often times it is difficult to tell if someone is drunk by first or second glance, but the change in the person is the biggest clue. Just because someone comes in making a ton of noise and yelling and getting everyone's phone number doesn't mean they are drunk, but if shortly there after they go sit alone and drink all by themself it may be an indicator. Almost anyone who has been drinking for some time will develope a tolerance to the side effects or the obvious indicators of intoxication.

WARNING signs:
  • Passes out
  • Throws up
Anyone that passes out or throws up has probably been over served and then some! This is potentially a very dangerous situation. Do not let them leave! Call a cab or designated driver (that has not been drinking at all). Watch for these signs all the time.

Story from the Front Lines
I went out with probably fifteen other employees once, we were all having a good time. We had ordered a few drinks, and one of the ladies in our group was having to go to the restroom constantly. She would take her purse (normal for most ladies) and she explained that while she trusted us, she never left her drink unattended, so she took her glass of vodka with her. Soon we realized that she was filling her glass with vodka from a bottle in her purse. I had to take her home that night and she had dropped her bottle of vodka in my car (when she sprawled out in my backseat!) I walked her to her house, had to unlock her door as she couldn't get the key in, and then she passed out on the sofa. Upon doing some calculations she enjoyed 2 drinks from the restaurant and then emptied a 375ml bottle of vodka all within about two to three hours, I figured she had about 7-9 standardized drinks in her system (aka totally useless hammered). So, even if the waitstaff only served her the 2 drinks she really drank much, much more than that.
A photo from that night out. The woman from the story isn't pictured. I am the one with the wine.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Server Education: Liquor Liability

BACK to the drab and boring need-to-know information as a server. This is related to that last post in that this is a blog about responsible liquor service and alcohol related laws. I am ServSafe certified in responsible alcohol service, which is a nationally recognized certification that say I am capable of serving someone alcohol without being a screw-up. I am not a lawyer, nor a police officer, nor a judge. I can only explain the laws as I understand them, and the legal liablilty as I know it. It is always your responsibility to know the laws and use your descretion, this is just a blog about one man's experience with it, not a legal reference book.
You do not need to be certified to serve alcohol, but you may need a liquor license, which is issues by the city (depending on your state).
Why do I need a liquor license? No individual can work with or around or manager people who work with or around alcohol if they have committed an alcohol related crime, usually D.U.I. A liquor license is a background check to see if you have committed such a crime and if you are eligible to serve, make, or manage drinks. This is incentive for the managers out there to not drink and drive, your career is on the line.
Why doesn't everyone need a liquor license? State laws vary, some states require the server to go out and purchase this card, other places require the employer to send in the list of employee names, then they will all be run at the same time. The alcohol authority will then send a message back clearing employees or explaining that John is not going to be able to continue employment. How often do they send in the list of names? Every time their liquor license expires (1 or 2 years typically, it varies). Liquor licenses should be availible for the general public to examine, so you shouldn't have much trouble determining when the license will expire.

First, some basic knowledge is needed about alcohol. There are three major types of alcohol: wine, beer, and liquor. Each is different, and a different method is used to produce each one. I will write more about this sort of thing as I have made both wine and beer, and have an extensive knowledge of the liquor making (distillation) process. But that is neither here nor there.
The average human can effectively process or "neutralize" the effects of one alcoholic drink per hour. Well, what is considered a drink?? 12 ounces of beer (5% ABV), 5 ounces of wine (12% ABV), 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor (40% ABV) or 1 ounce of 100-proof (50% ABV) liquor. So this means if someone does 3 shots of 100-proof liquor back-to-back they will begin to process one, then still have 2 backed up in their system an hour later, thus the danger of hard liquor. So, if you are enjoying a gin martini (containing 3 ounces of 80-proof gin) you are really enjoying 2 drinks not the 1.
Knowing this information will allow you to effectively ration the number of drinks you are serving to a particular individual.
You should never over serve anyone.
You should never allow a drunk person in your building.
You should never touch anyone else while dealing with drunks or drinkers.
Liquor liability is a huge deal. If you over serve anyone and they drive home it could mean disaster for everyone. If that person gets in a crash or hits another car (hopefully without killing anyone) you, your establishment, and the owner of the place can all be held liable (state laws vary obviously). Even if you just serve one drink to someone already drunk, you can be held liable. The best bet if a drunk approaches the building is to refuse entry. Don't let them in for anything. Offer to bring them a phone to call a cab, or a glass of water, whatever, but don't let them in, even to use the restroom. You should call the police as well. Any time you have a drunk person attempting to drive you should call the police, even if it was you that over served them. Try to get the vehical description and which direction they are headed.
Before a guest gets drunk, slow them down, offer them water, offer them a fatty food like a steak. Don't let them get drunk. If you no longer feel comfortable serving drinks to a guest get a manager to handle the situation, it's why they are there. Do not ever serve someone if you don't feel comfortable with it, even if your manager tells you to (remember it is your livelyhood on the line). Do not ever tell someone, "I'll get you one more." or "After this one you're cut-off." It's problematic, wait until they order the other drink, then get a manager to cut them off.
If you can't get a manger always bring someone else with you to the table and explain in 'I' and 'me' terms. NEVER say, "You've had enough." that's just asking for trouble, try "Unfortunately, I am not going to be able to serve any more drinks tonight." or "I am concerned about your safety." You can always lie and blame almost anyone, "We are not allowed to serve anyone more than three drinks."
Communication is important when dealing with potentially drunk guests. As the server you need to explain to the bartender not to make them anymore drinks, the management that you need to cut someone off, and other servers or support staff that you may need assistance with a dangerous situation potentially.
Serving alcohol is not rocket science but as Spiderman knows, "with great power comes great responsibility." This is all information you will learn and will become second nature, look for more blog posts about spotting someone becoming intoxicated, checking ID's, and different types of drinks!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Server Education: Glassware

Getting away from the drab, getting a job talk for a moment, let's discuss something fun and productive! Alcohol and it's glassware!
One of the best ways (if not the best way) to increase sales is through server education. Servers are the sales team, the face of the company, and the ones that can upsell products. Naturally the more your servers know the more they can provide and ask. If your service staff only knows the name of the house vodka you will not get many people ordering Grey Goose or Ketel 1, but explain it and sales should sky rocket.
Today, I am discussing something that may seem like common sense but many don't know. I was once working in a country club as a manager and my story comes from those days. I was standing in the restaurant doing something when a memeber approached the bar, where two friendly servers greeted him. The man asked for a, "Dalwhinnie in a snifter." They looked at each other then handed him an empty footed mug. I knew we had to review...

The basics:
 L to R: Traditional shot glass, tall shot glass (shooter), smooth sided shot glass.
Shot glasses are small 1-2 oz glasses usually used for a single liquor, tequila shots in example, but sometimes mixed for different drinks, like the B-52. Some times shot glasses are used to drop into a beer like an Irish Car Bomb or Lunchbox. Occasionally a margarita is served with a side of lime juice in a shot glass to sweeten to your preference, some people refer to this as a sidecar, eg. Frozen Patron Margarita with a side car.
 L to R: Rocks glass, Old Fashioned glass, Double Rocks glass.
A rocks glass will usually be a single liquor served with ice (Jack Daniel's on the rocks), but it is perfectly acceptable to serve mixed drinks on the rocks in one. The old fashioned glass is used for the same thing, but has smooth sides, used to make the old fashioned cocktail. The double rocks is just a larger rocks glass, nothing else.
Old Fashioned
 Next we have the Highball, Pint (mixing glass), and a couple different styles of Pilsner glass.
The highball glass is used for mixed drinks in a tall glass or other cocktails. They are typically used for Collins drinks and Bloody Marys. The pint glass is for serving beer or to be used in a shaker to shake a cocktail. A traditional mixing glass is thicker and a little more heavy than a standard pint glass to put up with the constant abuse from ice shaking inside, but they both have the same appearance. The pilsners are used to serve beer in, again, traditionally pilsners.
 Cocktail (Martini), Snifter, Footed Mug (Irish Coffee Mug)
There is more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to call different glasses. The cocktail glass called a martini glass will be used for martinis and other cocktails, such as the Sidecar. The snifter is used mostly for brandies and cognacs, but some drink scotch from a snifter. Lastly the footed mug or Irish coffee mug, used for hot drinks.
 Water glass, (red) wine glass, champaign flute.
Don't even get me started. Check out Riedel glassware for all the different kinds of wine glasses in exsistance, there's too many.
Specialty glasses that don't necessarily have names, but are marketed by companies, in this case Samuel Adams.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Getting a Job in the Restaurant: Application Process

Most of this information is just general life knowledge, but some of it is geared toward the restaurant industry.  While many places have options for online applications it is still best to go in and fill out a paper copy. You should go to fill out your application and plan on filling it out at the restaurant.  It's a good idea to call ahead by a week or so to find out the manager's name and when he/she is usually there. The ideal time to go in and fill out an application is between 2-4pm. It's also best to go during the week, Monday-Thursday. If the manager is only available in the morning go around 11 because they are usually slower then.

You should bring a few things with you to the restaurant when you apply. You should bring pens and your resume (see earlier post). You should also bring a little notebook with your: list of references, employment dates, employer addresses, and their phone numbers. You can bring your phone but make sure it is on silent. Don't expect an on the spot interview but be prepared and dressed for one just in case.

When you fill out your application make sure you fill it out honestly.  This can come back to bite you if you lie on an application.  If it's about anything serious you can and will be fired if not worse. Make sure the prospective employer can read what you write. If they have to struggle it won't be worth their time. When filling it out use a blue or black ink pen. It's unfortunate that a lot of companies ask a lot of illegal questions, example: How old are you?, but if you need the job you might have to answer them. If you want, google questions that are illegal, but it may cost you the job if you don't answer them. I've never heard of anyone getting a lawyer and suing for this kind of thing, but it is an option.

When asked about salary requirements/wage desired, every situation is different. If you have no experience and are applying at McDonald's expect minimum wage. If you have a lot of experience but you're not sure write negotiable. If you have a criminal record and it asks you to explain the details simply write will discuss. Then, when you drop off your application discuss it immediately with the manager, if they have time. Do not write that you have stolen things and expect to be hired.

An application is a legal document that contains your social security number, address, name, and that information should be protected. NEVER give your application and resume to anyone other than a manager, because you want to ensure a manager gets it. You also want to keep it out of the hands of a sixteen year old clown or an identity thief.

Most managers review applications early in the week, Monday or Tuesday. Wait four or five days before calling them back. The same rules apply for calling them, Monday-Thursday 2-4pm.

A few more points to consider include who you apply with. What I mean is this, if you don't have a car and who ever it is driving you around comes in with you the manager will see this and assume you don't have reliable transportation, and as such you may not be a good canidate.
Another example is that as a young person if you mother is there making you fill the application out, or even worse still she is filling it out for you, don't expect to get a call back about an opening, no manager is going to want to baby you like this.
The final point to ponder is this: As a restaurant manager, there may be only one opening, but if you and your brother or you and your friend apply, while you may both be qualified, if there is only one opening I would be reluctant to hire either of you, for fear of having to deal with the other one calling all the time about their application or resentment between the two people.

Think about it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Getting a Job in a Restaurant: Expectations

I suppose I put the cart before the horse when I started writing about how to get a job in the hospitality industry without putting much emphasis on what you are really getting into. I firmly believe that there are a few classifications of people in the world, among them are 1) people that can hack working in a restaurant and 2) people that cannot. Working in a restaurant is a very challenging thing, it is constantly changing.
First, a few obvious points that most people realize. You will be working nearly all weekends. You will be working some evenings typically. You will be working holidays (including Easter, Mother's Day, Christmas Eve, Independence Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day, some places even Christmas and Thanksgiving, etc. etc.) You will be at work when your friends want to get together. You might not get off work until late, then every where is closed. Might not seem horrible, but sometimes you'd like to end a day with some friends and a cocktail, forget about it.
Your schedule will typically change. Some people in the restaurant industry work a pretty regular schedule, but most change every week. This just makes it difficult to plan life more than anything. If you want to get away from the 9 to 5 life, then a restaurant is a good place to start.
You will be on your feet 95% of the time. While this doesn't seem so bad consider this, you won't just be standing and strolling along for a few hours, you will be constantly walking, some times almost at a jog, (occasionally a sprint). You will be standing for potentially hours on end. My longest day in the restaurant was working from 10 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. (16 and a half hours) and I had to be back at work the next day at 8 a.m. for Mother's Day, the single busiest day for most restaurants. I have worked in restaurants where literally the only place to sit down is the toilet. Your feet will hurt, your ankle will throb, your knees will ache, get used to the idea.
Restaurants are filled with a handful of, while not necessarily deadly but still, dangers. There is hot grease, slick floors, sharp knives. It gets really hot and it gets really cold, this is not your climate controlled office building.
While you will normally be doing rather light weight work, there are times when you will need to move tables, change soda BIB systems (roughly 40 lbs), change the trash (??? pounds), carry a drunk out, change a keg (roughly 150 lbs), it's rough.
There will be days when two people call in sick and you will have to work the kitchen alone or you will be stuck with a ten table section, you'll be so busy you will look up and realize the restaurant is closed! Time flies when your stacked. Some days you will have prep work, set-up, this and that and won't have a chance to do anything but work. Some days are so busy. These busy days require a lot of time management (we'll get into that later).
On the other side of that coin there will be days when there is nothing is going on. You will not spend this time looking over the sports page, you will be cleaning. Cleaning floors, chairs, tables, the walk-in, the freezer, the reach-in, the bathroom, the parking lot, the dry storage, the drains, the ovens, the side stations, the office, the everything. You will be cleaning constantly. In addition to cleaning all day you will make squat in tips and it is going to suck.
As a front-of-house employee, you will have to work with the general public. These people can be morons. As a back-of-house employee, you will have to work with the front-of-house employees. These people can be morons. Either way you go you will have to work with management, and these people too can be morons.
After all that is said and done at the end of the day there is still nothing like working in a restaurant. There is a certain thrill, a necessary rush to it. You will be doing many things at once, and hopefully having a good time. There will be long days and hard days, but it is all worth it. The more I work in the hospitality industry the more I realize that ultimately if you expect to stick around for very long the restaurant business will pick you. You may apply, interview, get hired, and start work, but you will know within a month or so if this is something you can live with. Too commonly do people say, "Oh you're just a server/cook anyone can do that." This is not true. It takes a special breed of people to come to work and put up with all the ridiculous silly nonsense and still maintain a smile. While anyone can do it, you need to have a certain set of skills and ability to really be good at it, then you need an attitude of service to do it day in and day out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Getting a Job in a Restaurant: Restaurant Selection

You may not have the opportunity to pick and choose where you work, especially if you are desperate and just need a job. Usually if you haven't had a job before or are
switching careers then you won't have as much flexibility as someone with some experience. This post is to explain how to identify good employers and ways to spot
places you should avoid. One place that always was hiring for cooks when I did my stretch in the kitchen was the Cheesecake Factory. I will never work there. They boast a menu with over 200 items. That is crazy. 200 items to know by heart, up, down, and sideways! Forget about it. Before you send in your well crafted resume (see earlier post) it is always a good idea to do a little homework. Every location is different,
even for fastfood places. Just because the restaurant by your house is filthy doesn't mean the one down the road is too. Generally it is a good idea to go scope out
the restaurant. Sometimes (especially online) you don't know the name of the restaurant, so in that case this will not be effective. Other examples of when this is
near to impossible is when your applying to a private club, a catering company, hotels, or extremely expensive restaurants.
When you do a little research look around, check to make sure general maintenance is being done. This is particularly important because if your employer won't change a few light bulbs or fix a hole in the wall forget about any raise! When you go in you should be able to make a general assessment as to
wether this place is a five star employer or a train wreck. Be cautious, we in the service industry are actors and if this place has a serving staff with some skill
the kitchen could be burning to the ground and you will never know. If you're feeling good about the place ask a server or bartender about working there, be sure to
tip them for their time and information, a topic for another day. If you are getting good vibes, then start doing a full review.
You need to make a list of everything you see. Everything. It is wise to count the number of cars in the parking lot, look for trash outside, is the paint chipping,
etc. You need to do a complete restaurant review. You need to go in, order something simple and time the whole thing. The time it takes for them to acknowledge you,
seat you, beverage, etc. etc. It is important that these people not know you are doing a full scale review or else they will slant service in your favor. Check the
bathrooms, where's management? How many are staffed? Server's name and attitudes of staff. Check the menu for item count, prices, complexity, diversity, etc. You
should gather enough information to write a five page paper on this place, then pick up an application and fill it out. Drop off the application and a copy of your
resume to the management (preferably the hiring manager), never to a hostess, server, or bartender.
A good work place has a smooth flow to it, no one should be moving too slow and no one should be running across the floor. There shouldn't be too much idle chit-chat
by servers at the side stations, usually that's a sign of gossip and drama. You should be able to see a manager for a good portion of the time. Managers have other
things to do as well but seeing a manager is a sign of active management, a plus. No employee should be chewing gum, texting, messing around- a sign that you will be
picking up someone's slack. Everyone should be clean, constantly washing their hands, but you may never see that. Run don't walk from any place that is willing to hire
you to work the same night. This means trouble. Restaurants have incredibly high turn over rates, some much worse than others, ask a server or bartender how many
people they go through. High turnover means trouble. It is difficult to narrow down the problem in a restaurant, but don't think you'll be the one to fix it.These are just a few general words of wisdom on picking places to apply at.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Getting a Job in a Restaurant: Resume

I was sure I was going to write about this sort of thing at some point in time, so it just made sense to me to do it now, especially seeing as I have just gotten a new job. I have had 14 different jobs in my life time, each and every one of them required at the least an application, some a resume, and all an interview. Some of these jobs required only one interview, some require two, one required an interview with 6 different people! These next few posts are going to be about getting started in the hospitality industry, from even before day 1. Today's topic is the resume. Some of this may be general knowledge, most of it is common sense...
There will be a post on choosing your employer shortly, but for now aim at something reasonable. If you have no experience don't expect an offer from the classy formal nightclub, and likewise if you're new to the job world don't overlook the dish washing positions.
I told my current employer I am leaving and as such they are trying to find a replacement for me. I gave two weeks notice, a standard and probably a topic for another day. They put an ad online almost immediately and asked if I would help in the process of hiring my replacement. Of course I will. Unfortunately for my employer the inquires and resumes coming in are just down right pitiful. The ad is for what we in the industry would call a banquet captain, someone who oversees all of the banquet functions. Typical duties include speaking with the events coordinator as to how to do things, setting up banquets, working banquets, recording hours, taking a head count, breaking down banquets, etc. As this is a role of a supervisor, some experience is necessary. I can't help but think that not very many people in the job market have formal banquet experience, but probably some kind of restaurant experience that will hopefully be valuable. Unfortunately any of those people with experience haven't applied yet. We had a handful of resumes sent in. One was an individual that worked as a daycare employee - not really experience we are looking for. One applicant had a master's degree, but it was in "art therapy" (whatever that means?). The one resume I read that takes the cake for least productive was someone that was "OSHA Certified Forklift Operation Instructor." Well, with that certification and a dollar fifty I can buy myself a Coke! The first lesson of writing a stellar resume is to tailor it AT LEAST to the industry if not to the specific employer. I do not care if you can operate a forklift or even teach me how to do it, I will NEVER need to do that as a banquet captain. Employers don't care if you can cross stitch, tap dance, juggle, play the flute, type 1,000 words per minute, recite Hamlet, invented the clip-on tie, have eleven toes, collect wheat pennies, or can skip a rock seven times across the Mississippi River. Everything MUST be relevant or at least brief. By brief I mean do not give me highlights on your ability to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics when you were a archaeologist intern, just mention the experience and move on. If you got a degree then great, but unfortunately most of us in the hospitality world still learn from on-the-job training. This is probably why there are so many bad managers out there, they just get promoted for not getting fired, but alas it's the truth. I don't really care if you spent four years studying psychology, sports medicine, costume design, or nursing. A single year of busing tables will probably trump your years of education. Even if you have a degree in Food and Beverage Management (or similar) be prepared to either A) intimidate the hiring manager (meaning you don't get hired) or B) look like a know-it-all-jerk to everyone else. If you have no work experience, are moonlighting, or switching careers a functional resume may be a better option, than if you are a seasoned restaurant employee, then a chronological resume is probably ideal. Any resume should contain RELEVANT highlights, like your home economics class in high school or your food handler's permit. If you are out of high school and have been for some time, stop writing about it. I do not care if you were the French Student of the year seven years ago, I want to know if you can box a table. Always include experience with customer service and satisfaction, as well as time management. Always include any restaurant experience. The nice thing about our industry is that the same grill used at a fast food restaurant is the same grill used at a five star place. The same thing applies with health codes. The cheapest place adheres to the same health rules as the finest restaurant in town. Busing dishes is busing dishes, etc. There are some things that any good hiring manager will expect to see, but then immediately dismiss because everyone writes them. This list includes: fast learner, good attitude, and friendly. Hopefully these things will all be true, and when you score an interview will prove to be accurate. Avoid using references, unless asked for. Everyone knows that a reference is just a friend that is going to make you look like a saint that works twice as hard as anyone they know. It should go without saying to double check your spelling and grammar (including the e-mail you send it with), some people have a great resume but the e-mail it is attached to looks like a drunk three-year-old wrote it while driving down the freeway. Common sense should prevail, but it has been my experience that people just don't know how to write a good resume.