Show Some Respect for Servers


Well, we have done an excellent job of raising the respect for cooks and chefs in America.  I can still remember when I was first starting to cook how people would ask me what I am really going to do with my life – certainly not be a cook!  Now, whenever I mention to a new acquaintance that I have spent my career as a chef and culinary educator, they perk up and get excited!  Thanks to everyone for doing such a great job with culinary public relations.  Thanks to cookbook authors, thanks to the Food Network, thanks to culinary schools, thanks to home kitchen designers, thanks to thousands of great restaurants all over the country.  Job well done.

Now, as I have previously stated, in the long run it is all about service.  Great food and interest in cooking brings customers in initially, but it is real service that keeps them coming back.  Great food sets the stage for profitable restaurants, but it is really the art of up-selling that puts more pennies on the bottom line.  Chefs can hide behind those swinging doors, but the server must face that guest day in and day out.  Where are the books on restaurant service, where is the tribute to great service on the Food Network, where is the public relations that should surround this difficult, yet potentially rewarding career choice.  Yes, I did say career choice even though today that is rarely the case.

Strike up a conversation with a cook and they will likely talk about their dream of becoming a chef and opening their own restaurant some day.  Strike up a conversation with most servers and they will talk about any long-term career choice except the restaurant business.  I have seen many frustrated college graduates who are waiting tables simply because there is nothing available in their career choice.  How frustrating is that?  Invest the time, energy and money in a college degree only to wind up in a service position.  Of course, this weight on their shoulders oftentimes shows up when they interact with guests or those in the back of the house who are there by choice.

Why is it that people look down on service positions?  This is not the case in other countries where many choose this career track early on.  Service is a noble job, one that can make or break the experience of a guest.

If a server is content and focused he/she can make very good living as a professional waiter.  Chances are they would be hard put to find a more lucrative career.  So, it is time for us to begin to develop pride in service.  One approach is to invest in educating our service staff.  Build on their wine knowledge, teach them about food, invest in their continuing education, involve them in decision making, build that relationship with the kitchen crew so that there is a level of mutual respect.

Maybe it’s time for culinary schools to develop degree programs for professional servers to include sommelier training, some cooking skills, psychology, acting classes, languages, classes in culture and cuisine, etc.. After all, it is all about service.

Waiters of the world – what are your thoughts?

6 responses to “Show Some Respect for Servers”

  1. Well, I can say from experience that one obstacle to service staff getting their proper respect is the ego and attitude they often get from the kitchen…the “great divide” that exists at the pass is rarely a place where FOH and BOH staff work together effectively….countless times I have seen Chefs and Cooks give servers attitude when they ask for a dish modification – when all the server is doing is conveying the wish of the guest (aka delivering “service”)…if Chefs modeled respect for what takes place table side I’m sure the restaurant’s culture would shift…instead it’s too often the cliched crap about “whiny servers,” overpaid FOH staff, etc which only perpetuates the issues…all too often the attitude is “the Chef is the shit” and everyone else is just shit….good luck with that one….and lastly the idea that “up selling” is a good tactic in this economy is a bit short sighted….you’d be better off trying to build a lifelong guest rather than trying to jack up the check by a couple dollars….it is the “service industry” after all – not the “sales industry.”. One more thing – the idea that servers should take acting lessons is ridiculous….don’t you want genuinely passionate, interested staff working FOH?? Giving them lessons on acting won’t help your cause – it will only help them get their movie job that much quicker…

    1. Michael McMillen Avatar
      Michael McMillen

      Acting lessons are definitely far fetched. However, if your a server, you are in sales. You are expected to up sell wine, cocktails, desserts appetizers. A good servers can up sell 2-3 additional items per ticket, gross them an additional 20 to 30 percent in tips for the night. Suggestive selling really does work, and sometimes just asking can get you to the sale.

  2. Scott Schuyler Avatar
    Scott Schuyler

    Love it Chef!

  3. Michael McMillen Avatar
    Michael McMillen

    Chef ,

    Servers are the tip of the sword as far as gaining return clientele. Wait staff need to have a positive attitude, and a craving to anticipate their customers desires. This becomes nearly impossible without a mutual respect and communication between the back and front of the house. In working for 5 diamond resorts, as well as, the Mirror Lake Inn, it was common place for the back of the house to bark at the servers. One individual was often heard swearing by patrons in the dining room. Management turned a deaf ear to it and ignored complaints by the wait staff. By the time I left most of the experienced staff followed creating a significant gap between food quality and service. This type of culture does not help a property thrive. Customer perception drives repeat business. Especially in our culture. When a customer feels like they have got a lot of bang for their buck, they are sure to return, and to tell their friends about their experience. The grease behind a well functioning front and back to the house is communication and respect. Pride and personalities often clash here because it is not only a science but an art. A humbling exercise I would suggest to remedy this situation is to have a front of the house and back of the house person switch responsibilities for a day.

    I was given the opportunity while working at Twin Farms to educate myself in wine pairing and further my knowledge of food. The guest service staff would meet prior to the meals and study what chef had prepared for the night, as well as the wine pairing. We would educate ourselves on all aspects of the meal, wine, and its history so we can speak knowledgeable about everything. Having pride in what we were doing motivated us to become better at what were providing the guests, so you see how it becomes a double edged sword.

  4. Michael McMillen Avatar
    Michael McMillen

    Wow Chef!

    Nice picture! Equal opportunity employment there for wait staff. nudge nudge 😉 wink.

  5. I’m currently in a cooking job where I do everything, wait on customers, cook, clean etc etc so I have a better appreciation of having to deal with the public. However, now that I have worked a glyph where minimal tips (maybe $20 a night plus my $10.50/he wage) it is really disparaging to see a server walk out with $200 cash every night abd realize your $800 paycheck you got yesterday is gone and you won’t see any money for two weeks. I definitekyvthibk they get paid enough to deal with it. This is if they’re good at it indeed

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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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