Thursday, May 26, 2005

With Large Parties...

I'll define large parties as a party of 8 or more. If the server can add gratuity to your check due to the number of people you have, you're a large party.

Large parties are generally harder to seat, especially in small, one-dinningroom restaurants. Usually, more than one table is required to accommodate large parties, which can be inconveniante during busy nights like weekends. It is especially bothersome to the hostesses when you simply walk in with your large party during a busy time without have called ahead to warn them.

Two weeks in a row, on a Friday or Saturday night, around 8 (which is usually the middle of the wait), a party of 20 or 25 came in and wanted to know how long it would be. *Deep, calming breath* Now, already the wait is about a half an hour for regular sized parties (anywhere from 1-7 people) waiting for one table each, a party of 20 or 25 requires between 4 to 6 tables depending on what combination of the different sizes used (for example, 2 six tops and 2 four tops will hold 20, or you could do 5 four tops, or for the 25 you could do 3 six tops or 2 six tops and 3 four tops, etc.). I didn't even have to look at the rest of the dinningroom to make a quote for parties that size.
"It's going to be at least an hour." I said.
And this happened two weeks in a row! I doubt it was the same party though, although people in my area seem to be dumb enough to make that mistake twice. The first week, the party had sent two people ahead to either put a name on the list or get a table for the rest of them. After I told these two people how long it was going to be, at the least, they went out into our little entryway and talked to the rest of their party on a cell phone. I came so close to going out there and saying to them, "Look folks, I know you're not going to stay here, and I don't blame you a bit, but wherever you do choose to go, call ahead first because you are going to get the same wait, or longer, that I just gave you with a party that size and no warning."

The second week this happened, I believe it was a birthday party and it was a bunch of teenagers that must have just decided on a whim, "Hey, it's Saturday night, let's all go out and eat", giving little thought to the size of their party and thinking that our restaurant would have been able to seat them right away. I don't know about other restaurants, but we always have five or six tables that we keep open for large parties who come in on impulse and give us no warning whatsoever. Not.

What do I mean by warning? I mean call ahead and tell the restaurant that you're coming! Especially with parties in the double digits, calling ahead on a busy night does a lot of good. Some restaurants will even take advanced reservations for large parties (like 20 or 25). If you call even the day before and say, "Hey, I've got a party of 15 and we'll be coming in around 7 o'clock tomorrow" that's great! Now the hostesses know that a larger party is coming in and they'll be able to do their best to have something set up when you get there. Isn't that better for everyone? You get to eat with ALL of your friends or family at your favorite restaurant and the hostesses can prepare and don't have to deal with 15 angry and hungry people. Not all places take reservations, but that does not mean that warnings are not appreciated or welcomed! If the hostesses know large parties are coming in, it's less crap they have to catch about the wait being too long, the restaurant makes lots of money, and everybody's happy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Hostesses Are There For A Reason

A server who is "sat" frequently, or even "double sat" (two tables at once, oh no!), is less likely to deliver the same quality of service as a server who is sat steadily with plenty of time in between each table. The kitchen can get backed up if the hostesses seat one table after another, over and over again. Eventually, the dishwasher will have to clean the great rush of dishes and will quite possibly become backed up as well. Bussers will stand around for a half an hour with nothing to do, then, all of a sudden, all the tables get up at once and they are overwhelmed with dirty tables they need to clean. Bartenders are running their own little restaurant off in the bar, but they do have to make drinks for those sitting in the restaurant who order them. Margaritas, beers, martini's, pinia coladas, etc., all need to be made in the bar. Usually, bars are seat-yourself and the hostesses have nothing to do with the seating, so there is no regulation of tables coming in and out. Each position in a restaurant is somehow connected to every other position whether in action, lack of action, or interaction. It cannot be stressed enough as to how important teamwork is in a restaurant.

Many people know that the purpose of a hostess is to take them to their table, but I doubt many actually know why hostesses go to certain tables. I doubt many people know why it seems the hostess sat them right next to the only other guests in the entire restaurant. But that's why I'm here, right? To explain this mystery...

Each server, generally, has what is called a "section". A section is the same, set, number of tables that the server will wait on for the duration of the shift. Not difficult to understand? Good, I'll keep going. A "rotation" is basically a list of all the servers that are on the clock and serving tables, starting with who came in first and ending with the last to come in. Still following? Great. Many, many times, more likely than not actually, the servers who come in at the sime time (or close to it) have sections that are right next to each other. For example, the first four servers to come on the clock (let's say around 3) have the left side of the restaurant divided up between them. The servers who come in later, say around 5, have the right side of the restaurant divided up between them. The hostesses will seat guests in the sections that have servers on the clock so the guests will be served. There is always, however, one or two people who will like the look of a closed section better than where the hostess takes them (usually a booth or something similar). In this case, the hostess should let them sit at their table of preference and find a server to serve them because, as you may remember, the section the guests are now sitting does not have a server on the clock and ready to go. Most people don't know that there is a reason for the hostesses sitting them at the table that she did, but now you know. The rotation allows for each server to have a turn at getting "sat" and it gives (usually) enough time in between tables for servers to keep from getting "weeded".

Another one of the several things that bug me when guests do it, is when they seat themselves. Now come on people! You don't take your own orders, you don't cook your own food, you don't carry your own food out to your table, and you certain don't clean up after yourselves (although I think sometimes people need to be forced to so they wouldn't make such a mess in public...another time, sorry!), so DON'T SEAT YOURSELVES IF A HOSTESS IS EMPLOYED. Seating you is what they get paid for! Trust me, it's enough to make a hostess feel invisible and useless if a guest is the one leading the way to a table (unless it's a seat-yourself section like most bars).

Two older ladies came in once while I was working and they barely said two words to me. Now, I'm a friendly person, and I like to talk to my guests, it makes their experience better and it makes me enjoy my job that much more. These two ladies, whether they meant to or not, showed very little respect to me. I don't ask for much from people, just that they let me do my job. They came in (on the wrong side so I couldn't get to the door in time to open it for them) and I asked if it would be just the two of them, for smoking or non, etc. Only the one lady answered me, and in such a low tone that I could barely hear. The other lady, when she saw that I was getting two menus for them, turned around and headed off to her table of choice, with me trying to keep up. I was, of course, smiling and friendly, though in my mind I was furious because it really does tick me off when people think that they can just ignore me and sit wherever they please. "I'm not a decoration!" I'm always repeating when I vent about people who seat themselves. "I don't just stand here because it looks good, I actually have a job to do!' Not only did these ladies seat themselves, they sat themselves at a six-top table (and believe me there were plenty of other open, smaller tables available, it was just after the restaurant opened that they came in), and then, about ten or fifteen minutes later, they decided that they didn't like that table and helped themselves to another, six top, table.

Not only does it help the employees to let the hostess seat you, it benefits you as well. Suppose that a guest comes in through a side door of the restaurant and spots a booth he likes the look of and sits down. Well, if the restaurant just opened, that section might have a server who is not even at the restaurant yet. Because he came in the side door, the hostess probably did not notice that he came in and sat himself, so because she doesn't know he's even there, she doesn't go find a server who is on the clock to go take care of him. He'll probably wait five or ten minutes or so before coming up to the hostess and asking where his server is because he's been waiting ten minutes and nobody has even said hi! The hostess will probably be surprised and wonder where he came from (not aloud if she's smart), but she'll ask him where he's sitting and promise to go get a server after he points out his ill-gotten booth. Now, the guest is already not very happy because he had to wait ten minutes before someone came to get a drink order, the hostess isn't happy because the servers might be yelling at her (because they always seem to think they know better than the hostesses) for either sitting someone in a closed section or for letting the guy slip by and sit himself, and the server who will wait on him isn't going to be happy because he's not happy and they know a not-so-good tip is probably coming. Even the manager might not end up happy because now he has to go talk to this not-very-happy guest who's trying to get a free meal out of the whole thing.

Doesn't that seem a bit unreasonable to you? The guest seats himself where he pleases, which causes servers to yell at the hostess, the hostess to get angry, the manager has to buy the guests food because he's not happy, and the guest gets a free meal for all the trouble he's caused. Oh! And can any of the employees tell him what he's done? No. Can the employees ask him never to do it again? They can ask as nicely as possible, though not usually, but that doesn't mean he'll actually listen next time. Heck, he just got a free meal for it, why whouldn't he do it again? Don't you just want to smack some people?

Hostesses also run the waitlist. Imagine if you will, a restaurant without hostesses. At first, that might be great, you can sit wherever you want. If you want a booth, you can take a booth. If you want a table, you can take a table. If you don't like that table, you can just move to a booth that you'd rather have. Now, picture that hostess-less restaurant filling up. All the tables are full, but guests keep coming in the door. Now what? There's no one to tell them how long it will be before the next table gets up, there's no one to take the names of the people who are first in line. The more aggressive people will be better at getting tables than the non-aggressive, who will end up either waiting a long time or giving up and leaving (or even both). Wouldn't it just be easier, and more fair, if the restaurant would just hire somebody to assign tables to people?...

Oh, wait, yeah, they do! They're called THE HOSTESSES.

The Wait List - An Overview

At a glance, one might think that the waitlist is a relatively simple thing to manage, and when I think about it, I guess it is. That does not mean, however, that it is without stress and frustration. Some hostesses are better than others at "running the board", those with more experience tend to have smoother shifts. Servers love having hostesses up front who know what they're doing, the kitchen loves it too, whether they'll admit to it or not. Hostesses are just one of many crucial parts that will make or break the shift, they are only one part that helps the restaurant as a whole run more smoothly. Nearly every part of the restaurant is affected by the hostesses choices at some point during the shift (See "Hostesses Are There For A Reason" for details).

Most people think, understandably, that when there are no tables left for people to sit at, you take the names of peole that come in, and when tables become available, you go down the list and everyone has their turn for an open table. Essentially, that's what the waitlist is, but there is more to it than that. Hostesses need to take into account the size of one's party. A party of two, for example, is more likely to be sat down before a party of six because of the different sized tables and when they become available. "Two tops" are more common tables than "six tops" because they are smaller and easier to put more than one together. Even if a party of six comes in before the party of two, if a "two top" gets up and is bussed before a "six top" opens up, the party of two will get sat first. While this may not seem fair to the party of six, it is unreasonable to make everyone behind the party of six wait longer because the party of six cannot yet be accomadated, especially if there are "two tops" open and ready to seat parties of two. In cases like this, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. The object is to make as few people wait for as short a time as possible.

Another thing that the hostesses need to take in consideration, though not as often as party size, is where the guests are going to be most comfortable: a table or a booth. Most people prefer booths, I am one of them, and given the chance, most people would rather sit at a booth rather than a table. There are people who prefer tables over booths, whether it is their own personal comfort or their actual physical size hinders them from fitting into a booth. Generally, hostesses should ask a guest which they would prefer, but when a wait starts, usually the assumption is made that the guest will simply take whatever he or she can get. Generally, that's true. Some smart restaurant-goers, however, will notify the hostess when putting their name on the list that they do have a preference. Some not-so-smart restaurant-goers seem to assume that the hostesses will read their minds and automatically know what they want. Boy are they shocked when they reach a table and they would rather have a booth! Some people, if there is an open booth waiting to be sat, will ask, "Can't we sit over there?", and the hostess with either take them there if no previous plans were made for that booth, or reply that the booth is for someone who either requested a booth, or even a larger party. If you have been the latter before, please remember this: it is an inconveniance to you and the hostesses to move to another table because you have not specified your preferences. Please, please, please, if you really truely care about where you're going to be sitting, tell the hostesses when you put your name down. It will make it easier on everyone if your desires are known.

A typical waitlist (the physical pieces of paper) consists of many rows and columns. Usually, the columns are for things like the name of the party, the pager number, and the number of people. There are also columns for the time the guest puts the name in and the time the guest actually gets sat, as well as the "wait quote" (which is how long the hostess told you it was probably going to be). Some people try to complain about how long they've been waiting already, saying that they've been waiting a half an hour, when really it's only been about twenty minutes. I quoted a family once about 25-30 minute wait, to the husband. He either rounded down and told his wife it would be twenty minutes or he got the numbers mixed up or something. His wife came up about twenty minutes into the wait to ask how much longer it was going to be until they got sat. I told her how many names they still had ahead of theirs (I never estimate "how much longer" because there are too many variables and is rarely accurate to the guest's satisfaction) and she said, "So that twenty minute quote of yours isn't really right is it?"
I looked at her name again and looked at the column for "wait quote" and replied, "No mam, I quoted your husband 25-30 minutes."
"Well, he told me twenty." She sort of snapped.
(People get snappy when they're hungry and have to wait, imagine that. That's still no reason to throw manners out the window. Remember that please, restaurant employees catch so much crap because people are hungry and think that gives them a right to be rude.)
"I'm sorry mam, I told him about 25-30."
She was then done with me and went back over to her husband. And who says writing things down is a waste of time?
Whether she thought she might finagle her way into a table without waiting as much, or whether she honestly thought it would be twenty minutes, she was sat when it was her turn and within plenty of time of what I had told them.

I understand what it's like to be on a wait as a guest, I do go out to eat when I'm not working (although I do know the best hours to go when a restaurant is less likely to be ON a wait...), one of the several things that peeves me about guests is when they come up and ask how much longer it will be until it's their turn, more than once! Just about everyone wears a watch, usually when someone doesn't have a watch, they have a cell phone, if they don't have a cell phone, there's probably someone standing right next to them who does. What's my point? When you put your name on the list, see what time it is, remember how long the hostess tells you it's going to be, and then you don't have to ask "How much longer?". You can look at the time and do the math yourself and get the same better ballpark figure that the hostess will give you. Chances are, the hostess will look at your name, the time you checked in, the current time, and do the math in her head. Example, a party of two comes in at 7pm and are told it's going to be about 30 minutes. If one of the party comes up 17 minutes later and asks "How much longer", chances are, the hostess is going to see when they came in and say, "Around 13 mintues". If it's a long wait, and you ask more than once, you are only going to annoy the hostesses and you will not learn anything from them that you didn't already know.

Anything more I have to rable about concerning waitlists will have to continue in a Part II because this has quite frankly become far too long. I apologize, thank you for your patience if you read this far!

Call Ahead Seating and Reservations...There's a Difference

Most restaurants offer either call ahead seating or reservations but did you know that there are distinct differences between the two?

I have not yet worked at a restaurant that takes reservations (with the exception of really big parties), but from my understand, there is a table waiting and ready for you at a certain time when you make a reservation. You always have to call ahead to make a reservation, otherwise you're usually out of luck.

Call Ahead Seating:
Different restaurants may do this differently, here is how I was taught. The restaurant I am currently at will only take names for CAS when the restaurant is on a wait. Bascially, no wait list, no way to do call ahead seating. We can't put your name on a list that doesn't exist! While people can get annoyed with this, for instance, if they call when they are on their way, and we are not a wait, we tell them so and do not take their names. However, by the time they reach the restaurant (and this happens frequently on busy nights), there are no tables left and the restaurant is now on a wait.

The second mistaken thought about call ahead seating is that if you call ahead, you will have a table waiting for you when you arrive, not true! That is reservatons. Call ahead seating simply puts your name on the wait list, just as if you had sent one person in your party ahead of the rest to put the name in to reduce the in-restaurant wait time. With larger parties, however, such as 8 or more, if an estimated arrival time is given, the hostesses (or hosts, where I am, there are only hostesses, so that is what I'll be using) will do their best to have something set up when you arrive, especially if more than one table is required. Nothing is ever garaunteed with call ahead seating either, unless you specify smoking or non-smoking (for the restaurants that still have smoking sections) or a table or a booth, usually those can be garaunteed.

I will have posts following this on how wait-lists work, etc. But right now, it's 2:30 in the morning, and I'm tired. Also, this post was merely to explain the difference between call ahead seating and reservations, because it would be a quick post. I hope it was insightful.