The Restaurant

The Restaurant
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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.