Order Up!

Mike Cook

 "Where the hell is our waiter?"


If you've never wondered where your waiter has gone, you've probably never eaten at a restaurant. Waiters have an uncanny ability to vanish.

Sometimes, we disappear intentionally (I've spent years in both catering and restaurants, so I speak from my own experience). Nobody wants a waiter hovering over their shoulders while they eat. Often, though, we're pulled away by work you may not realize we're doing.

Most restaurants use a service bar to get alcoholic drinks to servers. Waiters ring the drinks into their computers, a list of those drinks prints on the bartender's printer, the bartender makes the drinks, and the server picks them up and delivers them. The system is used to control access to the alcohol and limit bodies behind the bar, among other reasons. The downside is that it pulls bartenders away from their bar guests.

Any decent bartender serves the people right in front of him first, but bartending is also about listening and talking to guests, and a service bar doesn't let a bartender do that. While at Kona Grill recently a rush had the bartenders busy at the service bar. No one at the actual bar went thirsty, but we didn't get much attention. When the rush let up the bartender did come over and chat for a minute. He was funny and friendly and helped cap off an excellent experience.

Had the rush not let up, though, we would have felt ignored and our time wouldn't have been the same. Rushes are the number one thing that will pull away your server. The nature of waiting tables front-loads most of the work. Explaining specials, taking a drink order, delivering drinks, taking a menu order, and more all happen in the first 20% of your time in a restaurant, so when two or three tables sit at the same time, waiters get stretched thin.

But the real question is what is the server doing when not on the floor? Sadly, they are sometimes hiding in a corner texting, flirting with the kitchen staff, or smoking out back. There are no excuses for this, and I'd never defend a server who did it. Sometimes we're in the kitchen working, though. Many restaurants make waiters responsible for heating bread or even making the house salads. The more of these we end up making, the less time we have to watch over our other guests. There is another legitimate thing that pulls us away from service that we can't do anything about, but restaurant patrons can.

Credit cards take time to run. Even on a quick machine, running six cards is time consuming, and on a glitchy or old machine it can be a true slog. We'll never say it, but when a six person table hands us six credit cards, we die a little on the inside. Can you not buy your friend a meal? Can you not hit the ATM on your way here? It's not that cash is necessarily better (if we have to split a check six ways and make change for all those people it would take just as long); it's the splitting that makes it difficult. If you're eating together, consider paying together. Do that for us and we promise we'll be on the floor more.


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