Serve me right
It’s summer, the students are waiting tables – and Jan gives them some tips
We can tell it’s August because there are ‘Staff needed’ signs in cafes, bars and shops. Dozens of reluctant students are being propelled through the doors of the Seaview Café or the Olde Gifte Shoppe, by a parent, determined that the holidays should be spent on gainful employment, rather than social media, surf or skateboards. Let me just warn them that being a good waiter/waitress is an extremely underrated skill and much harder than it looks.
Years ago, I was – briefly – a waitress. Briefly? Oh, alright. For 20 minutes. I hung all the diners’ coats on one side of a coat stand and shouted ‘Timber!’, when it fell onto the hors d’oeuvres. Apparently, that’s not clever or funny. And I haven’t improved with time. Unwisely, I volunteered to serve drinks at our Village Hall Royal Wedding Event in May but queues formed, as I was riveted to the screen, instead of filling glasses. “You’ll just have to wait a minute! Meghan’s going up the aisle!”
I may never win a Miss Helpful badge but when I see really good customer service in action, I realise how rare it is and how much it lifts everyone’s spirits. The Lowestoft to Ipswich train was late (no change there) and I stomped on, moodily, finding one empty seat. The woman next to me asked the guard: “Has my husband paid for me?” The guard responded, deadpan: “Forgive me, madam, I don’t think I know your husband. But wait, I suspect he’s the gentleman waving his wallet, over there?”
The next 30 minutes passed entertainingly, with Stuart, the guard, requesting: “Could
I see your Young Person’s Railcard, sir?” to a pensioner with a walking frame, adding: “And I see you have a Recycled Teenager concession…” One regular commuter told Stuart he hadn’t seen him lately. The response? “True love has taken me elsewhere, these last couple of weeks, towards Diss . . .”
Everybody was smiling, as we pulled into Ipswich, something I’ve never seen before, and there were lots of ‘After yous’. “It’s called the Stuart effect,” one passenger told me.
Recently, I was in The Swan Hotel in Southwold, with a friend who was in the middle of invasive medical treatment.
“Just a small ham sandwich,” she requested. Two minutes later, the hapless young waitress was back. “I’m afraid the chef can’t make a sandwich.” “And he calls himself a chef?” I snapped. It was teatime, but my friend couldn’t eat the full afternoon tea, I explained. No luck.
I went to the desk and asked for the manager. Receptionist Sam said: “Perhaps I can help?” I told her what happened and off she went to the kitchen, returning five minutes later with a perfect ham sandwich. I suspect she made it herself, although it wasn’t her job. But she knew, instinctively, about good customer service. I hope she will, very soon, be general manager. The chef is no longer working there.
So, all you sons and daughters, slouching down from uni or college, slightly resenting having to wait tables, just remember – your attitude can make or ruin someone’s day. Please do as I say, not as I did. Here’s what not to say.
1.‘Hey guys, what can I get you?’ Service without the ghastly mateyness, please. And I am not a guy.
2.‘There you go!’ is an unacceptable announcement, when placing food on the table.
3. If we are talking about Tuscany, do not butt in and say ‘Oh, my parents have a place there’ and join in the conversation. Today, you are the waiter, not a friend. Go and get the starters.
4. If you ask ‘Is everything alright?’, look as if you care.
Finally, I’m leaving you a big tip. The customer is always right, even when they send back the steak tartare and say it’s not properly cooked. N
‘I may never win a Miss Helpful badge but when I see really good customer service in action, I realise how rare it is and how much it lifts everyone’s spirits.’
ABOVE: Jan, the failed waitress, at the Village Hall Royal Wedding Event.