Waiters and Waitresses: there's HOPE!
Updated: Jun 10
As our country is recovering from the corona crisis, restaurants are opening again, and the staff is busy cleaning and disinfecting the floor, the tables, the chairs, the door knobs, the glass door, the condiment tray, the restrooms, etc.
It feels like a new start, and indeed it is, and I can only hope that the management will keep the high standards of hygiene in their respective establishment. I hope that the measures and the attention to cleanliness will stay for the long run. Too many restaurants, eateries, fast-food places, etc. were very casual about cleanliness and somehow were able to get away with dirty booths and dirty restrooms.
When I had my restaurant, I enforced some strict rules about sanitation, and customers often complimented me on this important issue. Because the place was immaculate, customers felt comfortable and knew that the food too was clean.
I remember having a brand-new refrigerator delivered in the kitchen and being asked by the service man, “Do you cook in this kitchen? How do you keep it so clean?!” He could not believe that it was the kitchen of the restaurant from which I served lunch and dinner six days a week, year-round. He told me several stomach-turning stories about the filth in some kitchens, stories that I will never forget and which I will refrain from ever diffusing.
I personally like to take a look at the kitchen and the restroom first when I go to a restaurant. A clean kitchen does not necessarily mean that the food is good (neither does a fancy place, by the way!), but it certainly means that the food is prepared in a sanitarily safe environment. As for the bathroom, if it is dirty, that means the management does not care and there is no pride. No excuse for that.
So, this is to say, I am glad to see the hospitality industry finally follow the rules, most of which should be basic, daily rules, not just “covid-related” rules.
Since we are pressing the “reset” button, why not start training our servers all across the country?
I just came back from a four-day quick road trip, stayed in several hotels, and had a meal at several restaurants. I can assure you that some servers acted as though they had no experience in safe food handling. When you are in the food business, you should have a basic training, apply it, and be COMPELLED to apply it. Supervisors should be in charge of making sure that the standard protocol is followed.
Some servers seem quite confused, disoriented, and inefficient during this post-virus recovery because “suddenly”, “today”, they have to apply the rules… Why “today”? Those should not be new to them… but they appear to be.
I would not say that servers in America do not take their job seriously, but I will say that servers in America, generally speaking, do not take their job as seriously as in France, for example.
If you tell them that being a waiter or a waitress in France is a career, they laugh or shrug. They truly do not understand the difference, and they sincerely do not understand the importance of being as professional as a French server in a Parisian café, or a bistro. They just cannot grasp the concept.
I understand, because it is considered an ephemeral job in America, it is not a serious job… You can be a student one morning and be part of the restaurant shift the same night working on the floor without training. And it shows! From the time your lovely waitress greets you to the time you leave, you will have noticed one mistake after the other. Yet, you are generous and you tip her decently, rewarding her best efforts.
In the meantime, the owner or the manager knows the gaps and the weaknesses of the staff but does not act because of the high turnover rate in the business, and it is not worth spending any time training a waiter knowing that he will be gone next week or next month. So, move on, Mr. Manager! Go with the flow rather than run a tight ship… Mr. Manager is frustrated, but what can he do? It is an ongoing struggle which makes it extremely difficult. Instead of consistency in excellence, the consistency is in mediocrity.
I have been there, believe me, and it is ultimately disheartening. That is why I just finished putting together a course for servers and restaurateurs. For both? Yes, for both.
When I developed the course, it was mostly to teach current and future waiters and waitresses, to understand and know the trade, and it does just that! From preparing for the shift to dressing the table, taking the order, delivering the food, presenting the check to saying good-bye, it does not miss a single step. Also, I realize that it is a powerful tool which will allow restaurant owners and managers to save some time and indeed reach consistency in excellence by making it mandatory for each and every single new employee to watch the one-hour course and answer the quiz. That is a tool that I wished I had during my restaurant years.
Sadly, I hear that some restaurants will never come back after the corona virus… I hear that some restaurants will change the format and reduce the staff. This all means that servers are going to struggle and find it difficult to get their position back or find a new place to wait on tables. There will be tremendous competition, and we all know what competition means: the best candidates win.
There will have to be a change of mind regarding the job description of a server. Let’s hope the applicants finally look up to the job, take it seriously, and become as professional as… French waiters and waitresses. The more they know about the job, the more their proficiency will increase, and so will their confidence and their tips!
So, the covid-19 should be the kick-off to a much-needed effort toward better, cleaner, brighter eateries with better standards in sanitation and better service in general. I believe the acceptable level of cleanliness had sunk too far, and this is a good excuse to raise the bar. Cheers!