10 common mistakes waiters make

September 24, 2019 • 14 minutes

Mercedes Diaz
Mercedes Diaz
Independent content creator for business and foodservice niches. She provides content aimed to build relationships between customers and companies.

The most important thing in a restaurant—besides the kitchen—is the quality of service. Young waiters often don’t try to learn the subtleties of the profession. Instead, they make the same mistakes and pick-up bad habits. We collected the most highly-undesirable mistakes waiters frequently make to remind new restaurant owners of the difficulties they will face when managing their front-of-house staff.

Unfortunately, only a few servers are professionals. In most cases, you will have to train a waiter from scratch or help them overcome bad habits they learned from another restaurant.

According to the US National Restaurant Association, in recent years the restaurant employee turnover rate was as high as 74,9%. Giving staff quality training from the start can help lower this rate.

One of the hardest challenges restaurant management faces is motivating employees to perform well, consistently. Your main task as a good restaurant manager is to explain to them that working in a cafe or a restaurant requires special attention to detail and is not limited to the «accept order → bring food → give a check → get tips» scheme.

When waiters make common mistakes, your staff reduces the quality of service and the size of their tips. Explain that excellent service, attention to detail, and avoiding obvious mistakes will help them earn better tips and be a better team member.

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1. Not being able to recommend meals

It is obvious but also one of the most common mistakes waiters make. Servers are recommending dishes they have never tried themselves. However, this is not only the waiters' fault. You know how to make a restaurant menu, but do your employees know how to? Share your menu crafting methods with them to create an in-depth understanding of your menu items.

As a manager or owner, you should make sure that your waiters are familiar with all the dishes on the menu.

If you don't want to spend money or time to address this, don't be surprised when your waiters can’t help guests sufficiently. Expect to hear silence or stuttering when your guests ask if the specialty foie gras from the chef is worth trying.

This problem also includes guessing. If a waiter tries to explain what the dish tastes like based on the menu description, they may sincerely believe that they’re close to the truth. But, problems arise when the guest tries the food and realizes it tastes nothing like the waiter's description.

2. Getting orders wrong

The «getting orders wrong» mistake is a classic. The waiter may have too much confidence in their ability to remember orders or read a scribbled out note. Then the senior staff may make it seem as if it’s impolite to write down an order clearly. It is not impolite and is much better than delivering the wrong food to the table. Finally, it can come down to kitchen errors. People make mistakes, and it’s not always on the waiter, but the waiter shouldn’t let that food make it to the table.

Thankfully, technology like point of sale system for cafe has significantly changed the order taking process. Now, your employees can work with a restaurant POS system allowing them to input and double-check orders before leaving the table. When you arm your staff with tools that make it more difficult to mix-up an order you’ll likely see a substantial drop in customer complaints.

3. Not bringing the order on time

Delayed orders are a quite common problem. When a large group comes in, and everyone orders something different, the goal is to serve everything at once. Kitchens should strive to make sure that all the dishes for a table are ready at once, but servers have their part in this too. There are many restaurant communication mistakes that result in delays with orders.

Waiters should always communicate to guests when there is a delay on their order, regardless of whose fault it is.

Guests come to restaurants to enjoy a delicious meal and chat in a cozy atmosphere. They don’t want to wait as their soup gets cold or worry about when their friend will finally get their order. The waiter should understand this and adjust service so that no one is sitting with an empty plate.

Waiter serves food for customers

4. Being overly friendly or in-the-way

There are a few tell-tale signs of an over-friendly server. Rushing guests, pushing expensive menu items, and urging guests to order drinks first are signs of an «in-the-way» waiter.

Common table-waiting mistakes include rushing guests by taking dirty dishes from a guest as soon as they finish. Servers should find the delicate balance between removing dishes as soon as the customer finishes and leaving them on the table for too long.

Obsessive advertising of expensive menu items often comes with overly-friendly serving staff. Even if the guest doesn’t resist the charisma of the waiter and agrees to try the dish, the feeling that they were pressured will remain. They may have felt too uncomfortable to refuse, and there is a high probability that the guest won’t visit again.

«Would you like to order something to drink first?» Offering to bring the drinks without showing the menu is among the common waiters’ mistakes. If a guest is visiting for the first time, they need the opportunity to look over the menu to understand the pricing structure of your restaurant. When regular customers visit, they will order what they want without being asked.

5. Not «reading» tables well

Waiters that treat every table exactly the same will have a hard time seeing success in service. Groups come in for different reasons, and everyone has different expectations for their experience. The young couple probably doesn’t want a waiter that bothers them too frequently. However, a group of friends might want a little more attention.

The foundation of the common waitress mistakes here involves not understanding the table dynamic and inadequate training. Even the most outgoing people can have trouble picking up on social cues.

Understanding the table can help employees know who to address first and how to interact with the group in a polite and engaging manner.

Help your waiters by training them properly on body language, eye contact, and even patterns in alcohol beverage orders. Experienced waiters are pros at reading tables, this skill only comes with practice and frequent feedback.

To read a table well:

  • Survey the group for varying levels of eye-contact.

  • Pick up on body language (leaning forward is inviting, while crossed arms is a closed-off sign).

  • Identify the dynamics of the table, ask if this table is a group of coworkers, a couple, or a family.

6. Paying more attention to certain guests

Another common mistake is giving more attention to certain guests than others. Guests sitting nearby shouldn’t think that they’re not treated as well as their server’s regular diners. Especially if the visitors' outward appearance is visually different.

Half of diners complain about slow service, and it happens so often because waiters tend to give attention to guests that fit in their comfort zone.

You should not strive to hire different types of waiters who specializes in mothers with children and a separate pro for communicating with young people. Your waiters should communicate well with everyone. Advice for the waiters who want to develop their communication skills is to embrace groups that are far outside of their comfort zone.

7. Not going the extra mile for their tables

The waiter should not just serve the customer what they ordered. They should do everything possible to make them feel comfortable and welcome. A bad restaurant waiter fails to remember these easy opportunities to go the extra mile:

  • Offering pencils and a coloring book to a child.

  • Bringing water for the dog of the guest on a hot day.

  • Helping guests with laptops find a table next to a power outlet.

  • Offering a large group the opportunity to sit at a larger table when it becomes available.

  • Reminding guests that dishes contain ingredients which were mentioned as allergies earlier.

  • Asking how guests prefer their steak cooked.

  • Offering specialty drinks at appropriate times, such as coffee with dessert.

Undesirable qualities of a waiter often focus on outright unacceptable behavior. Waiters should not lose track of their guests. It is better for them to check on the table often and pass by frequently.

Another unacceptable practice is to pretend that something is not their problem. Saying «I'll call your waiter» and leaving guests with a table covered in dirty dishes is not okay. What should a waitress say? Something similar to, «Of course, I’ll be right back with that.» Waiters shouldn’t ignore guests just because they sat at a table that is not in their section.

8. Making guests wait for their check

New waiters may believe that the people are chatting and not want to rush them. While other waiters may have forgotten to check-in on the table.

Waiting for a check can cause more customer frustration than waiting for a table or for food. Your waiters should always be aware of when guests are sending the «ready-to-go» signals.

Unfortunately, many waiters will take years to develop the skill for dropping off the check at the right time. To help your waiters learn, teach them to watch drink levels, identify if guests are done ordering, and to always inform guests that they can take their time. Waiter customer service is something that can substantially impact your entire business.

A waitress takes an order

9. Getting too relaxed before closing

Most waiter problems arise before closing, during the last hour of service. The staff want to go home, but your location stays open until the last guest finishes their meal. During this time, waiters should be attentive.

The waiter should not complain about guests who come in shortly before closing. A waiter should never respond rudely or negatively, or, even more importantly, to refuse to accept the order.

The main thing is to avoid looking as if waiters are too occupied with closing duties or worried about getting home. Make sure they don’t:

  • Turn off the music.

  • Turn off any lights in the dining room.

  • Put chairs up on tables, even for cleaning purposes.

  • Clean sauces or table-items around guests.

  • Restock items at tables which have guests.

It is best just to wait until the guests leave or politely remind them that the restaurant closes in 10 minutes, and, meanwhile, offer to call them a taxi and box their leftovers.

10. Not checking that everything is satisfactory

Waiters are key points of contact, and they can get more useful and honest feedback from guests than any survey. Don’t wait for Yelp! reviews because most guests won’t speak up in your restaurant, but will post about a bad experience online.

Train your staff to ask tables that haven’t clearly had an outstanding experience. Your waiters need to understand that a simple question can avoid a terrible review or outright confrontation.

Online reviews are more likely to be inaccurate. Not because it’s not a face-to-face confrontation but because they are emotionally charged and subjective. Talking to a guest about their bad experience before they get out the door will scale-down the situation. Not caring is possibly at the top of the undesirable qualities of a waiter list.

Explain your staff the do's and don'ts for waiters

There are a few clear dos and don’ts when it comes to delivering mistake-free service. Usually, all of them are described in the server checklists. Of course, every situation or table is a little different but there are times when everyone deserves the same treatment.

Instruct your employees not to make any of these waiter’s mistakes:

  • Try to get guests to «come out of their shell.»

  • Point out if one person in the group isn’t drinking or eating.

  • Tell guests that they are overwhelmed.

  • Offer something without management authorization (free drinks, etc.).

  • Assume that any particular person is paying.

  • Comment on the bill in any way.

Let them know they can take these opportunities to make a huge impact with guests by:

  • Wearing a watch and keeping track of how long ago they put in orders or checked on tables.

  • Apologize when they need to excuse themselves from interacting with a table.

  • Go the extra mile every time the opportunity is available.

  • Let guests know that they can take their time ordering or paying the check.

  • Bring back any change not assuming the change is a tip.

  • Maintain a pleasant demeanor when guests want to split the check.

Understand waiter and waitress’ problems that come with the job

There are unavoidable complications that come with working as a waiter or waitress, and as a restaurant owner, you need to understand these elements. Common problems often include working early and late hours, changing menus, the guest’s response to changes, splitting bills, and even just customers who’ve had a bad day.

Making waiters pay for mistakes won’t undo the damage of a guest’s bad experience. While you expect your employees to avoid beginner’s waiter mistakes, you should also have some compassion when they’re overcoming some negative aspects of the job.

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