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Restaurant-LiveIamA Lead Waiter at a 4-AAA-Diamond, Michelin-Rated Restaurant. I make over $110k a year. AMA!

Mar 1st 2017 by WaiterBuddy • 27 Questions • 101 Points

My short bio: I've been in the restaurant industry for about a decade with five years in fine dining. Graduated from college in a STEM field, but starting salaries couldn't match what I was doing in the restaurant, so I decided to stay a while.

A few years went by and I kept climbing diagonally within the industry and ended up in a high end restaurant with a huge staff and high-end clientele.

I have worked most positions within the front of the house in a restaurant, ranging from food runner, bartender, to manager, hosting, and waiting tables.

It's a unique industry, with really unique people. You end up working with some very driven people and some very lazy people.

Nonetheless, I'm open to any questions about the industry or the fine-dining in general.

My Proof: Provided to the Mods.

Q:

Craziest customer experience?

A:

I've had a lot of great moments with guests. Some people really do want personal relationships with their waitstaff and get to know us quite well once they become regulars.

But the craziest people are the professional sports teams when they are all together. They can swear up a storm, throw food and break things if they feel like it, and some treat their girlfriends/wives like trash.


Q:

Is your hourly rate still below minimum wage and that $110k comes mostly from tips? Or do they pay you a decent wage right off the bat and the tips are just the icing on top?

A:

Our hourly rate is minimum wage for all front of the house staff. Everything else is tips. Which seems scary initially, but when restaurants are slow, the reduce the number of staff onboard and increase it when it's busy so it stays pretty consistent.


Q:

Should we dress up to get treated better at fine dining establishments? Do you look down on non-foodies or ppl that don't know wines? How can we get the best service possible while leaving a good impression?

A:

Call ahead and get an idea of the dress code. It varies drastically by the location. We live in an interesting era where dressing up isn't as formal as it used to be. And our wealthier clients seen to wear just whatever they want, so it's tough to judge anyone.

We actually love people who aren't familiar with food and wine because it gives us an opportunity to share food and wine philosophy with you. The people who ask questions end up forming a bond with the waitstaff and if you trust our suggestions, we will definitely do our best to ensure everything is perfect.


Q:

The people who ask questions end up forming a bond with the waitstaff and if you trust our suggestions, we will definitely do our best to ensure everything is perfect.

Never thought of it this way! I always thought the waitstaff found us uneducated or just threw our random things to answer our questions. But I will for sure go with whatever the wait staff recommends next time around with extra enthusiasm :) THANK YOU for the tip.

A:

It is a pleasure and you are very welcome.

Waiters are trained to carry an air of confidence with them, which may come off as intimidating at times to some people. However, we are trained to adjust our level of speech and knowledge to match that of the guests.

We try to focus on the discussion, rather than just a question and answer session. It is very important to us that our guests from all walks of life leave our restaurant feeling that their money was well spent.


Q:

In a situation like thst, why not just grab the somm?

A:

You most certainly can and most of the time we will. But we are trained to deal with selling our products so we share the knowledge we have prior to getting the somm. And if the guest orders it prior to the point where we need them, that's what's coming out.

For higher end wines, the somm always delivers it to the table and strikes up a short conversation before service if it permits.


Q:

Whats the backup plan if the economy tanks?

A:

Good question. I have saved a large portion of my income over the years and have made investments betting on that happening. Personally, I'll be fine as I have picked up knowledge in other fields in my spare time.

For some of my co-workers... I'm not sure. But I can say that during the last recession, our restaurant didn't get hit at all in sales. People who still had money to spend, wanted to spend it. And people continued to celebrate special occasions.


Q:

Do you have a fit bit? How many steps a day do you walk in your normal day?

A:

Just pulled it up on my phone since I stopped wearing my fitbit at work. Looks like it ranged from 12,000 to 15,000 steps a day.


Q:

How long have you been at your restaurant, and have you noticed any changes in quality over time? Has it improved, gone downhill, or had a shift in style?

A:

Quality and standards remain the same. Dishes change with the season, but the Chef is always working towards the absolute best. In truth, some dishes are absolute hits with everyone. And some dishes resonate with some and not others. So we change our menu frequently based on the feedback we receive and then again throughout the season.


Q:

Any plans to open your own restaurant?

A:

Never. To some its a passion to run and own a restaurant, but I have my true passions elsewhere.

I truly do love service though and could see myself in that sort of role in the future outside the industry.


Q:

Have you ever had a moment where you told someone you were a waiter for a living, and they may have made a judgment until they found where?

A:

Yes. In fact, my parents struggled with it, until they visited the restaurant themselves.

It's a weird thing. Because I don't have a salary despite a consistent pay. There are benefits to the gig. The great food, being able to take multiple unpaid vacations a year, visiting vineyards and getting comped for being in the industry, etc. But it's a different world. For one, I'm at work when everyone else is at home and I have my AMA during the day when most people should be at work.


Q:

What be some advice for someone applying as to be a waiter with no prior experience?

A:

Sure, there's a couple of ways to go about it. You can start as a busser or food runner and move diagonally through the industry to nicer and nicer restaurants. Or work your way up from the bottom.

You need to have an outgoing skill set that maintains a large focus on the guest. Restaurants are very keen on telling you that "everything else, we can teach you," and you just need to bring your personality. From there, learn the ways of the business you're in and dedicate yourself.

Ending up in fine dining will be a completely different atmosphere from chain restaurants. We definitely have a lot of young food runners that have a ways to go in their journey but their pay isn't bad and it's a great place to start.

The food runners at our restaurant make about $40-45k a year and are usually waiters from other restaurants.


Q:

How much do the cooks make?

A:

Not nearly as much as they should. I've never asked them personally.


Q:

Former waiter here, do you memorize their orders or do you still write them down?

A:

Depends on the number of guests and the complexity of the order. Up to 4-6 guests, memorize, unless modifiers are starting to happen, to which point I will pull my pen and pad out.

We live in a day where gluten, nightshades, fungus, and very specific types of seafood can be a problem. And when it comes to safety, we must take very step necessary.


Q:

I don't know how some waiters/waitresses can memorize a 10 person tables order with extra stuff included.

As soon as people want extra or exclude certain items I pull my pen and pad out right away

A:

I use the same memorization techniques that I use for dishes to start. I associate dishes with either images or rhymes.

From "This Old Man"

One, Thumb (Seat one has <insert dish> stuck to his thumb)

Two, Shoe (Seat two has <insert dish> under their shoe)

Three, Tree (Seat three is eating <insert dish> in a tree)

And so forth. I use the same for memorizing components of dishes as well.


Q:

Would giving a tip directly to the person you want to tip be more beneficial than tipping with the tab or either way he/she has to share the tip amount?

A:

We share a percentage of our total sales to various departments. This separates the tip associated to the service to the waiter.

We tip out about 8% of our sales. So if a guest tips the waiter 20%, we keep 12%. If the guest tips the waiter 10%, we keep 2%. The rest of the team is essentially doing the same job, so they shouldn't be punished if we mess up. And if we do an outstanding job, we aren't required to share the above and beyond, although we usually do.


Q:

Do you like sandwiches? If so, which one is your favorite?

A:

I like to Sweet Onion Teriyaki Sandwich at Subway, but I think I learned yesterday that it's only 50% chicken. Forgot to look into that until now.

Other than that, my wife has been doing a fantastic job at turkey, cheese, and spinach sandwiches recently.


Q:

Do the people or person that own this establishment filthy rich?

A:

They do very well.


Q:

What is the biggest tip you have received?

A:

$4000 before tipout.


Q:

I always wanted to be a waiter at a fine dining restaurant, just because I love the environment and the concept so much, and would love talking about the food and serving the diners. Unfortunately I don't have server experience due to being at university and working 2 other jobs, and most restaurants that actually care about their food would only hire waiters who have years of experience. My question to you is do you think it's possible for people without server experience to get hired at high end restaurants like the one you work for, and if so what's the key to landing the job?

A:

Yes, if you have related experience via customer service and are willing to work up. We have full time polishers who do nothing but polish silverware and glassware. If you want to move up from the lower ranks, it is certainly possible to start there.

However, it's better to find a chain restaurant that can get you to waiter quicker and then do some diagonal hops through the industry.


Q:

What's your favorite thing on the menu? Do you actually get to try the things?

A:

We try most dishes during training at some point and we try all new dishes as they become part of the menu. The desserts are probably my favorite dishes as they are very elegantly designed and well balanced. I love souffl├ęs to no end!


Q:

[deleted]

A:

There's only a handful. So maybe a time a guest had too much to drink and threw up on the wall in the room? I suppose that isn't necessarily rude.

There was one guest who ordered one thing, thinking it is something else, and they completely flipped out despite me attempting to fix the entire meal. He ended up peeling out of parking lot and almost hit a guest.


Q:

Do you see waiting as a long term career considering the money or do you have ambitions to move into something else?

A:

I spend my extra time training for new opportunities. Although financially fantastic, we have time during the day to study new areas of the labor market. I definitely work with many lifers, I just don't happen to be one of them.


Q:

What is the most debauched behavior you've seen from the back of the house, while the clientele was completely unaware?

A:

We don't really have an issue like that in fine dining. We have crazy standards and with so many staff, everything is visible. I've head horror stories at lower end restaurants. But you can trust most fine dining establishments.


Q:

Does the staff get mad if a customer, who comes from a country where tipping is not common, doesn't do it? To you, which is more important - waiters not taking it seriously or customers knowing they should do it?

A:

Different waiters react differently to it. I've already factored it happening at least a few years in my mind mentally, so it doesn't bother me. I don't gawk at tips and generally just accept the situation regardless what it is because there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it.

Some servers go completely ballistic over it, which shows poor form and showmanship and overall reflects poorly on them to management. This is a well known financial risk within this industry.

The guest's enjoyment needs to be the number one priority. Regardless of the tip. Always.


Q:

What's the best vegetarian (no meat, no fish) dish you've known?

A:

Vegetarian dishes are complicated because unless the restaurant specializes in it, we don't see it often enough. That being said, in the restaurants I've worked in, roasted seasonal heirloom vegetables or a truffle risotto are fantastic dishes.


Q:

Have you cleared your mind from everything but fine dining, and breathing?

A:

Absolutely not! Fine dining is special to me. It's rooted in many centuries of tradition and unique protocols. But it isn't all I do. I'm quite active in my community and run a side IT business during the day. Working at nights has allowed me a lot of freedom to obtain certifications and other pursuits.


Q:

What was your first signature dish?

A:

I'm a waiter so I only serve someone else's signature dishes unfortunately.