Before I put down roots and stopped living out of a suitcase, I spent four years working on four different cruise ships around the world. It was an amazing time and allowed me to see more than 80 different countries while being paid to wake up in a new city every morning.
For the first two years I worked as a waiter in an 800 seater restaurant that provided 5 Star service to every guest. This included tableside fish filleting, flambe desserts and meat carving. It was service done the classic way and I learned methods of service that were completely alien to a young know-it-all from Cork.
One thing that was drilled into us again and again until we got it right was that the art of service is all about the guest not knowing it’s even taking place.
In other words, a guest never asks for their water glass to be refilled, never has to request a condiment with their meal, never has to ask for assistance and never is left under any impression other than that they are being taken care of royally.
And how does this happen? It happens when the waiter observes and doesn’t question, approaches when he is needed and always anticipates what the guest might need next.
It is astoundingly simple, yet is adopted by few waiters I have come across since leaving the high seas.
Take a 7pm dinner seating as an example. A guest orders roast beef which is placed in front of her. You can immediately tell from the guest’s expression if this is to their liking and tweak your service accordingly. Have you ensured their water glass is full, they have sufficient bread, horesradish as a condiment available, the correct cutlery, a napkin. A simple glance will answer this for you so that the guest doesn’t have to ask.
Read the guest’s body language, observe their eating and drinking speed and you won’t need to interrupt them mid conversation because you didn’t observe sufficiently to get the answer. A good waiter is in the background watching every movement of the guest, anticipating the next thing that he will be needed for and be in a position to provide before the guest opens their mouth.
With up to 28 guests arriving to my section of the restaurant at the same time all expecting this standard of service, I learned very quickly how clever observation saved me from running around liek a headless chicken.
Yet so often, service like this is not taught, even in the finest establishments. A recent visit to a high end bar with table service was the very opposite of what I describe here with interruptions every five minutes checking if everything was ok, bringing the check, asking if it was ready to be picked up, the list goes on. All for 2 Mojitos!
So here’s my message to all of you waiting staff out there. Because I’ve been there and know what it takes and how easy or difficult you can make life for yourself and for me, BACK OFF and LEAVE ME ALONE when it’s clear I am deep in conversation.
Observe, approach ONLY when necessary and give me excellent, invisible service. I dare you.