How Your Servers Can Avoid the Weeds for Good

By Jackie Prange

Server carrying a large tray of drinks

In an ideal world, a server’s stroll from tableside to the POS terminal probably takes all of 15 seconds, even at a pleasantly slow, leisurely pace. And yet, that 15 second walk can abruptly turn into a night full of problem solving, ad hoc prioritization, table juggling and stress testing the recesses of their short-term memory.

Imagine this: After taking an appetizer and dinner order, you head towards the input terminal, but not before the table calls you back, asking for water refills. “Sure, no problem!”

Then, another table in your section requests an extra set of cutlery. “Yes, sir!” You’re on your way to quickly grab the roll up (“because it will only take two seconds and I might forget”) when you’re flagged down by your manager to run food. “Uhm, okay!” Upon dropping the food, you’re met with a complaint as the guest discovers that their order is missing a modification. “Oh dear, let me take care of that for you…”

Soon, that order of appetizers you intended to punch in is now seven minutes delayed and that water request has completely left your brain. Further complicate this with the fact that, while you were running errands, you were sat again…twice…Now, your drinks are up, there’s food in the window and another table’s appetizer plates have been sitting empty this whole time.

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Welcome to the Weeds

(Also known as: juiced, fire all day or swamped.)

The weeds are defined by Urban Dictionary as: “when someone or something, usually in the food or beverage industry, becomes overwhelmed and falls behind.” They can also be defined by that overwhelming, hamster on a wheel feeling; your legs are moving, your brain is firing on overdrive, your to-do list is growing, and yet, you’re going nowhere fast. Even the most skilled, strategic servers risk dropping the ball, their service compromised as a result of a busy night, unmanageable requests, or a poor seating strategy.

The Result of the Weeds?

The domino effect goes without saying: compromised service, decreased chance of repeat customers, lower tips, dissatisfied staff, and overall, lower revenue. Not to mention, when the front of the house is stressed, the back of house will soon feel the effects.. Soon enough, you’re all in the weeds together with no chance of escape or relief.

But when someone finds themselves in the weeds, it’s more often than not, a series of unfortunate small events. It can speak to operational problems on a restaurant-wide level. It then becomes the job of restaurant managers to see the forest through the weeds; implementing technology and operational strategies to iron out inefficiencies in the workflow.

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How Can Restaurants Combat the Weeds?

Tableside Ordering

Merely ten years ago, servers had no choice, other than to “pen and paper, paper to terminal” orders to the kitchen. As you’ve read above, this opens up servers to numerous operational vulnerabilities. Now: mobile POS’ allow servers to take orders tableside via tablet and send them instantly to the kitchen. No waiting in line at terminals. No pen and paper required. Instead, the server simply punches in the order on their iPad as the guest requests it. Not only does this cut out the middle step of translating from notepad to POS terminal, but it ensures a lag-less experience, for both the guest and the server.

Analytics and Staffing

“If only we had scheduled one more person.”Instead, you’ve got a bad case of #staffingregrets. Sometimes the weeds can be avoided with one extra pair of hands. While there’s no exact science, restaurant managers can now make more educated labor forecasts based on the information within their sales reports. Anticipating guest behavior is a no brainer, since restaurant managers can compare last year’s numbers against this year’s trends within minutes. With these sales reports and the ability to forecast data, restaurant managers can better anticipate their busy nights and equip both their front and back of house appropriately, without understaffing ever crossing their mind.

Identify Weaknesses in Workflow

Say you’re making a dessert coffee. This menu item will require you to grab booze from the bar, before adding espresso and steaming milk. Estimated time? Three uninterrupted minutes. Cappuccinos, lattes, bloody Caesars, bloody Marys, a well done steak: these are all workflow weaknesses. One or two can bring on the weeds, even on the calmest of nights, compromising the rest of the service experience. By identifying these weaknesses, you can take preemptive measures, like preparing seafood garlic towers ahead of time or investing in a high efficiency cappuccino machine to save time. Little changes like these can save a whole lot of time.

Responsibility Sharing and Communication

There’s a moment in the weeds where you’re too busy organizing your tasks in your head to verbalize them. Instead of delegating tasks, you keep them all to yourself because articulating what needs to be done would presumably eat up more valuable time. It’s times like these when responsibility sharing becomes a must. Being able to call upon a less busy host or bar staff to assist in running food and clearing tables while you focus on taking orders and the guest’s experience might save the day. Managers should make it a common practice to have less busy staff do a walk around, asking them to keep an eye out for empty water glasses and empty plates. Creating a habit of teamwork and little time savers like table clearing might be enough to keep a server’s to-do list from exceeding a manageable level.

Busy nights happen. Unforeseeable events might thwart even the best efforts to keep a well-oiled machine from becoming an untameable jungle. In the event the entire restaurant becomes swamped, this is when managers and servers need to communicate with their guests, with the kitchen, and with each other. Managing expectations or delays can be quelled with a simple, “the kitchen is a little swamped right now, but rest assured, your order is on its way and I’ll have it over to you as soon as possible.” No one wants to wind up in the weeds, but with the practices above in place, you won’t forget to deliver that extra set of cutlery.

Three server sidework checklists.
Printable Server Sidework Checklist

Keep servers on task with this free, ready-to-print server sidework checklist.

Download Now
Photo of Jackie Prange
by Jackie Prange

Jackie was a Content Marketing Specialist and Social Media strategist at TouchBistro before moving into business development role. She covered the latest food, dining, and technology trends for the restaurant industry. A lover of all things coffee, Jackie’s hobbies include breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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