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  • Alex Minton

How Serving Tables Taught Me the Value of Serving Others

Updated: Dec 11, 2018

My 2017 summer anthem was... can I have a side of ranch with that?

As a third year Marketing student at an accredited university in Chicago, I decided to move back home for the summer in order to save some cash for my upcoming spring semester abroad.

By day, I interned with a nonprofit specializing in credit counseling. By afternoon, I remotely conducted market research for an executive training company. By night, I served up slices and salads at a local pizza shop.

I had no idea what to expect once I traded a summer of beach trips, lake days, and Netflix binges for a flour dusted apron - but I soon realized it was the best decision I have made all year.

Here are the Top 3 Takeaways I learned from my summer as a server:

The customer controls your paycheck.

I quickly learned the meaning of bringing your whole brain to work while waiting tables. My paycheck wasn't calculated by how many hours I worked, but by the quality of service I gave to each customer. Each time a table sat in my section I performed a mini SWOT analysis:

  • Strength: A family of five on a Friday night (two parents, two grandparents, one kid's menu), this is only the second table in my section so I won't be rushed to take their order.

  • Weakness: There is no busser on staff tonight and every other server has a full section, I will have to run their food on my own.

  • Opportunity: We have fresh kids dough and balloons in the background to enhance the families experience.

  • Threat: Their table is positioned at an awkward angle in the restaurant. I will need to make sure to position my movements accordingly so I don't dump red sauce on grandma's lap.

This mini analysis kept me in check with each table. As more tasks were added to my plate I was able to prioritize what needed to be done to ensure that each customer felt like my number one priority.

The adjustment from a guaranteed hourly wage to not having enough money for a full tank at the end of a 4-hour shift was definitely a tough one. However, it fueled my fire for customer service. Serving taught me to bring my full self to work, while checking my personal life at the door. My tables didn't care about how much sleep I didn't get the night before, and it wasn't my place to complain. At the end of the night, I could reap the reward of a positive attitude.

Reward loyalty with memory.

My second week on the job I waited on this couple whom I had seen throughout the restaurant quite frequently. Let's call them Don & Donna. Once greeted, they warned me that their order was extremely particular. I transcribed every substitution, right down to the extra sauce and light romano cheese. When my "order up" was called I eagerly ran them their meal. After a brief inspection, they told me their order was finally perfect. Donna was so happy she opened up about her love of New York style pizza and explained the reasoning behind her nitpicky nature. Her love of food comes from the sauce, not the extra toppings. When it was time to pay they told me they were going to ask me every time they came in - I had my first regulars.

Since that day I have served Don & Donna many times, and I keep their original ticket in the back of my book so I get their order right every time. Right down to the iced chardonnay.

After establishing loyalty with a business, customers know exactly what they like - shouldn't you? Rewarding loyalty with memory goes a long way in the eye of your customer. By paying attention to their specific requests they will no longer feel like they are eating at a restaurant; instead, they will think of it as another night at a friend's house.

You're never too experienced to roll silverware.

One of the first things they showed me was rolling silverware. In theory, it seemed simple. In reality, it took me a couple tries to create a crisp crease. My trainer advised me to take my time with each roll, no customer appreciates a half-assed utensil. With this task, practice really did make perfect.

At the end of every shift, every server was responsible for rolling a certain amount of silverware. To me, this seemingly mindless task soon turned into a sought after stress reliever at the end of my shift. A few servers would take over a booth in the party room and recount the night over a fork and knife. It fostered teamwork.

If we could complete the simplest task in the entire restaurant together, we could serve a Friday night rush with no problem.

At the end of the day, the restaurant would not function unless every team member pulled their weight. We all had one goal in mind - deliver the best customer experience to every table, every time.

Check, please.

There you have it, three takeaways that I hope will help you improve your customer service experience. If I could boil these three lessons down into one phrase it would be this...

Treat every table like they are your best friend.

Be friendly, be honest, and never be afraid to ask your friend if they want dessert.

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