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Waiters & Waitresses unite: it’s time to come together and get to serving! This category of The Back Burner is just for the servers!

Difficult Diners in the Restaurant

© iStockPhoto

© iStockPhoto

Here at Tundra Restaurant Supply, many of us have worked in the restaurant industry before: as hosts, servers, chefs, managers and more. When you serve the masses you’re bound to face conflict; it could be a simple miscommunication, or maybe the diner or your server is just having a bad day. Regardless, many people assume that your restaurant should have not only the best option, but every option available to them (No coconut milk?).

Over the course of our careers we’ve come upon several kinds of difficult diners, most of which you can find by searching #Serverproblems on Twitter.

We’ve outlined 5 difficult diners you may have faced in your career, as well as some ways to help mediate the situation:

1. Ice Water

Some diners hate ice water, and they’ll communicate that to the first person they see (regardless if that person actually has the water pitcher in their hand). Problem is, sometimes the message isn’t communicated quickly enough, and some poor busser is doling out chunks of ice water into their beverage glass before you can blink an eye.

Meal. Ruined.

It’s sad that a simple ice misstep can ruin an entire service, but it’s true—this first world problem isn’t messing around.

If this scenario sounds familiar, immediately bring your guest a new glass and pour ice-free water in it tableside. Communicate with your busser that you’ll handle the water refills for this particular table. Seems silly, but your diner will acknowledge your confidence and know that you have their best interests.


2. The Great Egg Debate

If there was ever a time for miscommunication to occur, it’s with eggs. There are easily 10 different ways guests order eggs:

  1. Hard boiled
  2. Soft boiled
  3. Hard scrambled
  4. Soft scrambled
  5. Omelet style (if not ordering a filled omelet, they might desire a plain-style omelet)
  6. Sunny Side Up
  7. Over Easy
  8. Over Medium
  9. Over Hard
  10. Poached

You may find your guests order their eggs one way but fully expected a different preparation. Under these circumstances, it’ll be up to you to take the hit and bring out a new set of eggs—you’re out the additional food cost, and there’s no guarantee your diner will leave with only positive reviews.

The best thing to do here is to train servers to repeat the egg style back to customers to ensure they understand what they are ordering. For example, “Over easy, with a runny yolk correct?” Sure, your servers might get strange “Why don’t you know this?” looks, but at least you’re avoiding a potential incident. Just make sure your kitchen is on task with their egg preparation as well.


3. Vegetarian Modifications

Now that we have gluten-free, dairy free, paleo and other dietary restrictions, a vegetarian diet almost seems ridiculously easy to accommodate now (versus just a few decades ago). While most vegetarian options are priced appropriately for the lack of protein, some diners will push you for more.

For example, a vegetarian scramble that is the same portion size as a regular one featuring meat:

“Do you realize that I’m not getting as much protein in this scramble because it lacks meat? How can you expect me to get enough protein in my vegetarian diet with this portion?”

I’m paraphrasing the dialogue here, but the sentiment is true. And while you are accommodating a diner’s dietary restrictions, some go so far as to expect you’ll fulfill their nutritional requirements as well. Problem is, where do you draw the line?

When faced with a particularly challenging diner, the best thing to do is listen….and then listen some more. There’s little benefit to you from picking an argument, particularly when there’s little you can do to change the opinion. Instead, listen and apologize for the miscommunication on portion size, and that you’ll take their comments into consideration. Remember to always pick your battles.


4. Pets in the restaurant

You’ve probably seen it before: dogs sitting on an outdoor patio, or some even sitting inside on a chair or in the booth beside its owner. Here at Tundra, we love our furry friends—but we also understand that not everyone wants a furry friend when they’re dining out. Restaurants must be cognoscente of all of their diners, some of whom could be severely allergic to dogs. Plus, most states have barred dogs (except service animals) from being inside. So what do you do when you have a customer who insists on bringing their furbaby inside?

First, review these commonly asked questions about service animals in places of business.

Second, you can recognize most service animals by the special collars and harnesses they wear.  For those animals who are clearly not service animals, instruct guests that animals are not permitted inside or on the patio. Some service animals are licensed or certified and will have identification papers, but guests may not be carrying documentation of their medical condition or disability.

Unfortunately this type of situation requires discretion and so must be handled on a case-by-case basis. Be sure to communicate the proper way to tackle these situations regularly with your staff.


5. Patio Woes

In Colorado our famous saying is, “Don’t like the weather? Wait 5 minutes.” All too common we’ve seen guests enjoying the start of their meal on the patio, only to slowly bake in the hot sun or get unexpectedly caught in a downpour. The weather is unpredictable, and you know that, but sometimes your guests seem to forget.

Or they forget about the outside critters:

“Is there something you can do about the bees/flies?”

Whatever the issue, you need to be ready to accommodate guests who second-guess their outdoor decision. Try investing in a few large umbrellas to make your patio more enjoyable. As far as flies go, consider these discreet fruit fly traps from Bar Maid. And as far as the bees go, lay on the guilt about the rapidly declining honeybee population.

Just kidding.

Guests know you can’t control the weather or the insect population, but they will appreciate any efforts to make them more comfortable.

What kinds of difficult diners have you faced? Any tips for making your guests (and staff) more comfortable?

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How a $200 Tip Exposes an Unfair System

Above, you have a classic feel-good Internet video, the kind that fills up email inboxes and Facebook newsfeeds the world over: Two random guys visit random restaurants and tip their servers $200 each. They capture the resulting jubilation and stunned disbelief on video.

The video goes viral and hearts are warmed everywhere.

Nonetheless, this warm-fuzzy montage indirectly exposes the cold reality of restaurant-server compensation: utter dependency on the kindness of strangers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, tips often represent 50 percent to 90 percent of a waiter’s income, making them extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in their customers’ generosity.

In the U.S. there are two separate minimum wages: tipped and non-tipped. Most restaurant workers are paid according to the federal tipped minimum wage, which is $2.13 per hour.

If that figure sounds low to you, that’s because it is. And it has been low for a while. The federal tipped minimum wage has remained stagnant since 1991—back when the USSR was in its last throes and C&C Music Factory was churning out Billboard hits.

Federal law requires restaurant workers to be paid at least $7.25 once tips are divvied up. If wages fall short of that, restaurant owners must make up the difference. Leaving aside whether $7.25 is sufficient to live on, you still have a situation in which hardworking servers must rely on the whims (and basic math skills) of their customers.

Videos like the one above are powerful because we know, often from personal experience, what it means to work for tips. According to the National Restaurant Association, half of all American adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives, and a third got their first job in a restaurant.

So let’s applaud these filmmakers for their generosity. But why stop there? Let’s show our respect for hardworking Americans by making sure their hard work means something.

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Trust & Service: Building Customer Relationships One Guest At A Time

Server Build Customer ServiceServer Build Customer Service

There’s no question about it, your servers are the face (and essentially heart) of your restaurant. They’re the windows through which your customers view how you run your business. This being true, it’s important to equip your servers with the skills and tools needed to make you money while leaving the best impression.

Servers can, and probably should, be some of the most well trained employees you have on staff. This doesn’t mean they should know the ins-and-outs of all your restaurant equipment,  but the traditional “would you like ____ with that” is no longer the convention… and customers are catching on to this selling tactic.  Plain and simple, they’ve come to expect more from their dining out experience. If you train your servers to follow a few simple concepts when making their rounds, and give them the opportunity to upsell without seeming pushy, you’ll be impressed by how well they assess the needs of your guests.

Evaluate customers individually.

Being able to approach each customer from a fresh standpoint, without a set routine that treats them all alike, can mean the difference between providing an enjoyable evening and coming off as inattentive. Are the customers in your section out on a romantic date, looking to be left alone, but well taken care of? A group of party-having friends wanting new drinks regularly? Or a familiar face coming in for daily breakfast and coffee? Servers should be able to actively evaluate the air and attitude of guests in their sections, adjust their serving style appropriately and provide the service that’s expected.

Recognize regularity.

Is that gentleman sitting at the end of the counter a first-time customer, or has he been coming in every day for the past year? Train your servers to recognize the regulars and invite the newcomers to become regulars. Whereas your daily customers have heard your specials explained before, new customers need that information to understand what you serve, how it’s served, and if they’ll enjoy it when they’re plate comes. Again, being able to adjust accordingly can mean all the difference.

Understand priorities.

Going hand-in-hand with recognizing your regulars, understanding the different reasons why customers walk into your restaurant, in the first place, can give your servers an edge when it comes to making an impression. Some guests stop in for a quick bite before heading home, while others make a night of eating out (and are looking to spend hours in your establishment). Servers who engage with customers, and understand individual priorities, tend to provide the best service.

Go with the flow.

Servers need to know how to pace themselves depending on which kind of customer they’re serving. Keeping a customer waiting for their check, stopping by too often to offer drink refills, or simply interrupting guests when they’re placing an order are all ways servers can overstep and misjudge a customer’s needs.

Gathering information from guests, and evaluating that information appropriately, is a crucial part of the hosting process – its part sociology and part psychology. Creating a relationship with a customer that goes beyond the crass “here’s your meal, where’s my money” approach is often effortless, but building trust can be diligent work. However, trust lets servers be more helpful when providing suggestions, creates a comfortable atmosphere, and ensures a positive experience. Customers who feel comfortable and well served are known for ordering more from the menu, taking advice when it comes to dishes they haven’t tried yet and leaving bigger tips.

But avoid the flip side of the trust coin. Never let an established relationship be taken advantage of for the sole purpose of monetary gain. Twisting trust that’s been built up over time, even if that time is the course of the night, can leave customers feeling exploited. Exploiting your customers can be a quick road to bad business and bad word of mouth, and in this industry word of mouth can mean everything.

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5 Simple Recommendations to Earn Bigger Tips

ServerWith most Americans eating out 4-5 times a week, it is no wonder the food service industry continues to grow even in a slow economy. A server’s position is a main component of a successful restaurant operation. A server’s job responsibilities include greeting guests with friendliness, knowing the menu inside and out, provide high quality service, maintaining a professional appearance, communicating with staff to ensure guest satisfaction, and a variety of additional side tasks. Research has shown that server’s who earn better than average tips are less likely to be turned over as quickly as industry standards and maintains a better working relationships with co-workers and restaurant guests.

Here are five simple recommendations that will earn you larger tips today.

  1. Lean or squat down to introduce you by name. This shows you are personable and ready to listen.
  2. Always smile when speaking to guests. Friendliness is always noticed, people go out to eat to enjoy themselves and have a good time. The last thing they want to encounter is a grumpy server.
  3. Entertain customers with a fun restaurant fact, joke or puzzle. Reiterating the friendliness aspect of a server’s job description, sharing a quick fun fact shows you’re here to give your guests a pleasant experience.
  4. Repeat a customer’s order back to them. This one is simple, but it shows you are listening and you care about giving your guests exactly what they want.
  5. Write ‘thank you’ on the check. One extra reminder that shows your guests you enjoyed serving them.

Severing can be a tough job, the hours can be long and the appreciation sometimes low. However happiness is contagious and chances are if you smile and treat people well they will likely treat you well. Listening to guests and helping them experience an enjoyable dining experience will likely lead to increased tips.

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Serving: Common Wrong-Ways of Doing Common Things

Sometimes in life, the experience we gain, the repetitions we perform, can create a false feeling of perfection. The more times we perform a task without complication, the more we tend to believe that we are performing it perfectly.  This isn’t always the case.

A false feeling of perfection is something I have witnessed many times in the restaurant industry.  It seems that once servers get comfortable with their environment, they stop considering their actions.  As professional servers and managers, we must always strive to be better, to learn more, to hone our craft and to question our processes. When working with the same group of people, who have the same mentality and knowledge as ourselves, there is no one amongst us to correct us, to improve us or to guide us; we must rely on ourselves.

Below is a list of common wrong-ways of doing common things.  Do you do any of these?  What could you change tonight that could make you even better at your job?Waiter serving drinks.

1.  Handle stem-ware from the stem not the globe.  Holding glasses from the base is what your customer can do, not you.  Keep the glass clean and free of smudges for as long as it is in your possession.

2.  When clearing glasses from a table DO NOT GRAB FROM THE RIM.  Palm the glasses in your hand or use a serving tray.  When you grab glasses from the top you are touching lots of people’s lips and spit…yuck.

3.  When you go to your table, return to the same spot every time.  People are creatures of habit.  Create a fast habit for your table and train them to notice you by being consistent.

4.  Seams down, seams in on all things linen. It’s a small thing but it creates a polished look that lets customers know that attention to detail is important to you.  That can create trust in the server/customer relationship.

5.  Do not carry your check presenter in your butt.  Some people do this and those people shouldn’t.

6.  Do not carry your serviette over your shoulder.  Your serviette should never be near your hair. Carry the serviette in your hand and pocket it when not in use.

7.  Do not point in the dining room.  Pointing is rude, you were taught that when you were little.  That rule applies in the dining room as well.  A flat hand or pointed fist is how you should show direction.

8.  Don’t call a female guest “Mam” or “Hun”.  Mams & Huns hate that!  Call them Miss.

9.  Don’t stand akimbo at a table (hands at hips).  Don’t stand with your hands in your pocket.  Stand with your arms at your side, clasped in front of you or clasped behind you.  This shows attention without showing a casual or over-familiar attitude.

10.  Present food open handed.  What is open handed?  If you could immediately and easily hug your customer after you set down their food that is open handed.  If when you set down their food Serving Platesyou could immediately and easily elbow them in the face, it’s not.

11.  Do not auction food.  Unless you work at Denny’s, Denny’s servers have a free pass. If you don’t work at Denny’s, know who ordered what before you get to the table.

12.  Don’t tell a guest how you are unless you are doing good.  If they say “how are you?” DO NOT tell them ANYTHING negative.  A customer should never have to hear that your house burned down, you’re tired or you’re having a bad night. When they ask how you are, treat it as a nicety and nicely reply.

13.  Don’t touch your face in front of guests.

14.  Don’t touch your hair in front of guests.

15.  Don’t interrupt your guest’s conversation.  If they are in conversation, go to your “speaking spot” at the table, count to five, if they don’t give you attention then walk away and try back in a few minutes.  Do this as many times as it takes.

16.  When asking permission to remove dinnerware from someone, do not ask the guest if they are “still working” on their meal.  Remember, dining on the food that your restaurant serves is not work.  Instead, ask if they are finished “enjoying” their meal.

17.  When bussing a table, don’t stack plates on top of food or silverware.  There is a correct way of stacking plates.  Hold one plate in your hand, this plate is for silverware, share plates, bread plates and food scraps.  Place the next plate on your forearm, balancing it.  From that position add more plates to the plate nearest you and the food scraps, silverware and small plates to the plate in your hand.  When you have stacked all you can, put the plate from your hand on the top of the plate stack nearest you.   You are left with a nice, neat, manageable stack of plates.

18.  When presenting plates to guests you should not have your thumb on the plate.  Carry with the meat of your thumb/palm as much as possible.

Opening a Wine Bottle

19.  When possible, remove from the right; deliver from the left…unless it is soup.  Soup is delivered or poured from the right.

20.  Do you follow a set direction on the floor?  Developing a traffic map will make service more seamless and less clumsy.

21.  When presenting a bottle of wine for a table, remember to place the cork on something, never just place it on the table. Your goal is to keep the table free of clutter and clean, not add to its messiness.

22.  Do you leave the cork on the table?  You shouldn’t…unless they want to keep it, so always ask. The idea here is table maintenance.  One of your constant goals is keeping the table free of clutter, mess or debris.  An unwanted cork on the table is a mess, clutter and debris.


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6 Steps To Making The Guest Experience Perfect

Restaurant Guest ExperienceThere are several moments that are crucial to the guest’s perception of your restaurant. In order for service staff and managers to deliver a great guest experience, they must understand these important aspects of the guest experience. Specifically these are when the guest is entering the building, being greeted by the server, checked on during their meal, asked for feedback and thanked before they leave.

Every detail in the restaurant is important. That said these are the moments when you can win people over and generate rave reviews. Your service staff touches all of these points, with staff members in different roles starring at different points of the guest experience. By emphasizing these moments to your staff, you can improve your staff’s awareness of them. The result will be improved performance and increased restaurant sales.

Entering the Building, Before and During

The server is the most important point of contact for the guest, the face of the company, and the person with the most responsibility for whether the guest leaves with a good experience. That said the server is almost never the member on the service staff who first interacts with the guest. That person is the staff member who answers the phone or greets guests at the door. Your hosts and hostesses are vital to the guest experience, as they are the people who do.

After the guest has made a phone call to your restaurant and before they are greeted, their impression of your restaurant is forming. The appearance and condition of the building, either from driving by or walking up through the parking lot, can impact whether or not they want to eat at your restaurant. People hanging around outside can positively or negatively affect the guest experience, depending on whether it’s a lively crowd waiting to enter or employees off duty or on breaks.

Their impression continues to form as they enter the building. The first person on the service staff that greets them is usually a host or hostess. For this function, demeanor and appearance are the most crucial, as the door positions require a particular type of professionalism. There are some great servers and bartenders that might not be the best fit working up front. Managers and owners must be cognizant of this fact when hiring and selecting staff for these roles. The demeanor of the people working at the very front can greatly affect restaurant sales.

The Greet

Greeting guests at their table is a very important aspect of the guest experience, as well. The greet must take place in a timely manner. Equally important, it must be warm, friendly and hospitable. The server must smile, make eye contact, and use hospitable language. As they are doing this, they need to observe the makeup of the party, the tone of the guest and tailor the experience accordingly. In the initial greet, the server gets a lot of information.

As does the guest. While you are observing them and collecting information, this is when the guest decides whether or not they like you. This affects your tips and the future revenue for the restaurant.

If I had any advice for any server anywhere, it would be to be great at the greet. Pay attention to your details, because everything else you are doing is important, but be great at the greet.

Checking on Meal

Checking on the meal is equally crucial for the restaurant. At the end of the day, people are coming for the food. People buy the experience, but the food is a big, big part of that.

Of the several functions of the checkback, a key one is to show hospitality. You are checking to make sure everything is ok and most of the time it is. Still, while executing this step of service the server must be able to sincerely show empathy and concern.

After demonstrating hospitality, the next function of the checkback is quality control. The server must make sure that the orders are correct, complete, and satisfying. Orders usually arrive at the table correct, but sometimes the expediter in the kitchen may miss something. A correct order is also correctly prepared. If something is over or undercooked, you want to find out as soon as possible.

Sometimes orders arrive incomplete. Someone could be missing sides or one person at the table could be missing a meal. This is especially possible if a food runner or server assistant delivered the dinners and not the server. There is also the possibility that people may be missing condiments, napkins, or silverware. Should a guest need any of those, they must be delivered promptly. If someone waits four minutes for a soup spoon the soup will be cold. The same goes for mayo and mustard for a hamburger; the food gets cold and they are waiting that long to start their meal.

Along with demonstrating hospitality, checking also provides the opportunity to enhance the guest experience. For instance, if a guest labored over a choice, you want to take the time to specifically ask that person if they are happy with their choice. If they enjoy it, you can play up a great decision and celebrate a great product. Taking this action can impact future sales. By contrast, if the choice is unsatisfactory, you are allowed the opportunity to fix it.

Observing for Feedback

Asking for feedback is crucial. However that is not the only way for a server to collect information. The server’s observation skills are very important. They are used at the very beginning of the experience when they are greeted. They are also used throughout the experience. Keen servers can realize problems before the guest says anything and sometimes as they are happening. This can run the gamut from something missing from a plate, something that does not taste well, or a guest that is uncomfortable. Strong servers are strong observers.

Asking for Feedback

This is a crucial step for servers and managers. The server and the manager function differently in asking for feedback. The server asks and checks on the guest throughout. The manager will either come during the meal or before the guest leaves. Sometimes the managers have a better chance of getting candid feedback from a guest.

Getting the right feedback is important. To do this, the server and the manager have to actually stop and take the time to get feedback. Rushing through checkbacks and table visits does not work. If you are moving so quickly that it looks like you don’t care, they will assume that you do not care. There is also an intangible quality about getting the right feedback. I have noticed some managers are able to get better feedback than others.

Thanking the Guest

More than one person should thank the guest. Ideally, the server thanks them, sincerely. Then after that the people at the door should offer a warm thank you as well. These words are crucial. Otherwise the guest can leave without feeling appreciated.


All details in the restaurant must meet protocol. This article is about specific moments that can greatly impact sales. The success at these points of the guest experience is based on the service staff member’s soft skills. Your staff should be educated on how important these moments are and trained on best practices for these moments.

Erik Bullman is a Writer and a Waiter.  He has over six years experience in Hospitality and Sales.  His blog is Writer, Salesman, Waiter.

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