Restaurants are like bee hives. Not only are successful ones full of activity, they also operate on the domino principle. One job has to be done well to ensure the next job in line can be done just as well, and so on.
In a restaurant, patrons need to be seated, orders taken, food prepared, meals delivered, tables cleaned and things washed. Every staff member must work in synchronization with the others and anticipate what has to be done next. If it sounds like a lot of work, it is, regardless of position. And those front-of-house staff with experience in the industry often enjoy it nonetheless.
It was a really good first job.
For Jenny, a busser at a fast-paced, semi-pricey chain restaurant, her routine kept her busy when others, such as the serving staff, had down time. Her main job was to clear tables of dishes, napkins, cutlery etc. after customers left. But often she helped carry meals out to tables, take bread to tables, and looked after the washing and folding napkins, re-stocking cutlery trays and putting away glasses.
"It was a really good first job," explained Jenny of her part-time job during high school. "In terms of school, it didn't interfere." Working shifts on either Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays, she also managed to put some money in her pocket earning an hourly wage plus a portion of tips. "The pay was OK for a first job," she added.
While she enjoyed the busy pace of the restaurant, and liked the people who worked there, the monotony of the duties sometimes took its toll. "The worst thing was having to clean up peoples' messes all the time," Jenny said. "It's not exciting work."
But she said often people were promoted from bussers to hosting staff and sometimes from there to work as serving or bar staff. Regular contact with serving staff, and at times customers allowed her to gain experience dealing with people in a variety of settings, which has helped her in other jobs since leaving the restaurant industry. "For me, I was really shy," Jenny explained, adding she hasn't ruled out returning to the industry. "I was working with people who were so much older and that was really good for me."
It's very stressful, but it goes in fits and starts.
For servers, however, they don't have the option of taking time to overcome that initial shyness. All shifts are built around a meal, be it breakfast, lunch or supper, explained Jessica, who has worked in the restaurant industry for over seven years. And those shifts all come with a big rush, putting servers hard at work and in direct contact with the hungry public almost immediately.
"It's very stressful, but it goes in fits and starts," Jessica said. "The initial lunch rush is an hour, and by one, it's a ghost town. The dinner rush is more stretched out. It goes in waves."
Typically each shift begins with a server being assigned a certain section, or specific tables. An hour or so before the meal rush begins, the server must ensure the section is complete with clean cutlery, napkins, glasses and the like. Then it's on to taking drink orders, serving drinks, taking meal orders, serving the meals and helping customers with whatever other needs they have.
For the starting server, the learning curve is very high, Jessica said. Most restaurants will provide some training on how to carry plates and trays of food and will also allow learners to shadow more experienced servers. Once a newcomer moves solo he/she is assigned a small section of tables and the "real" learning begins.
If you are busy, be honest, and tell them you'll be right with them. Be attentive and listen. That's very important.
"You have to learn about timing and how to order things on the computer," she said. "You have to ensure the steak comes out at the same time as the (meal) salad so the steak's not sitting there getting cold." And then there's dealing with sometimes unhappy customers. "If you are busy, be honest, and tell them you'll be right with them. Be attentive and listen. That's very important."
Unfortunately, not everything goes as planned, Jessica explained. "The worst part is the unpredictability. You never know if the restaurant is going to be (packed) and the head chef is sick or you have run out of something and weren't told."
Most often, however, the camaraderie developed among the staff makes up for the low-times, she added. "In every restaurant I've worked at, everyone sits down and eats together." Working at high-end restaurants, fast-paced affordable restaurants, and at golf courses, Jessica also enjoys the flexibility of the job. Servers are often allowed to pick up a shift here, drop a shift there, or only work for the lunch rush hour and be done a few hours later.
Servers are typically paid a wage and earn tips, but those tips have to be shared with bussing staff, greeting staff and the kitchen. The more expensive the restaurant, the more the tips and the more money you make, Jessica said. Typically supper crowds spend more money and time in the restaurant making those your most lucrative shifts, she added. Often, staff at high-end restaurants have years and years of experience, with many being "lifers" in the industry.
Her advice for those considering work as a server includes being prepared for physical exertion and burning your hands and wearing comfortable shoes. "Once you start, you've forever got your hands in it. As a student, it's unbelievably convenient. And, you can do it anywhere in the world. They may have a different wine list, but serving's still the same."