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Fat Guy

Servers who don't write down the order

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I'm really ambivalent about the practice of not writing the order down. But I have to confess, this morning at the diner a server totally blew me away. Party of five with an extremely idiosyncratic and difficult order. Not a single error.

But I wonder, even if you have that kind of capacity, why not write it down anyway?

I wonder if anyone has assembled data on whether the memorization trick improves gratuities.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Someone who doesn't write down the order can pay fully attention to the customer without appearing to not be listening or taking awkward breaks. It lets the customer proceed at their pace without interruption. I think it enhances the service, when it works.

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Back when I was F&B manager at a hotel I had a restaurant manager who insisted that all the servers NOT write orders. I told him it would not works as some could but others would not be able to. And a nightmare it was

We had one guy, Dan, who could remember everything a table of 8 wanted and never get it wrong. He could also mutiply two four digit numbers in in his head in a snap. That guy was a freak.

If I go someplace and a server does it well I know how hard it is. If, however, they want to write up orders I think nothing less of them for it.

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I don't really mind either way, as long as they get my order right, but we go to the same restaurant every Sunday, and our waitress writes out EVERYTHING the 5-10 (depending on the week) of us want IN LONGHAND. It takes forever, and we're always having to stop and wait for her to finish writing something. It's so annoying to me. She's been a waitress forever, and the majority of our group gets the same thing every week. I know other waitresses at the same place use shorthand or don't write down at all, so there must be some way of the kitchen finding out what we want without filling in 3-4 tickets for each table (seriously).


"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

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I hate this practice. I have had things go wrong many times - once the server even argued with me, insisting that I didn't order X, I ordered Y, and that she remembered it clearly!

I can't remember what X and Y were, but I know that I would never have ordered Y.

Never went back to that restaurant, either.

I think it's just mean for managers to expect servers to have total recall.

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Some of my earliest dining memories are of being taken by my grandfather to a restaurant near his office, where all the waiters were men who looked (to me) to be about 100; I was always fascinated by the way they'd remember everything we ordered, including my usually bizarre selection of ice cream flavours and toppings (I don't know whether I knew yet, about it being usual to write down orders).

I think this is the sort of thing that impresses if it works, and maddens if it doesn't, and would probably affect my tip accordingly


Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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I have never actually had a server get my order wrong doing it this way, but it makes me so nervous that I actually feel very uncomfortable. I get really worried they will mess things up!

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I don't know about improving tips by not writing down the order, but screwing it up will have a certain negative effect.

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It was/is quite common in Los Angeles where most aspiring actors work as waiters. They seem pretty good at remembering their lines. Le St. Germain used to be either in the same building as Providence or nearby. They had a complex menu that changed daily and it was recited from memory also.

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I have never actually had a server get my order wrong doing it this way, but it makes me so nervous that I actually feel very uncomfortable. I get really worried they will mess things up!

If I'm taking your order without writing it down, you should be nervous! I tried this for a while at the bar, and I'm terrible at it. I had to keep going back to 'confirm' in a friendly, "please don't see through my ineptitude" sort of way. After one blown $24 entrée and a glare from the kitchen staff that resulted, I ate my pride and got out the little flip notebook.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I'm guessing this is self correcting. Screw up memorized orders a few times and management will likely insist on written checks.

Mary Mac's Tea Room in Atlanta takes a different approach providing customers with a segmented guest check and a sharp pencil.

MaryMacs-Menu.jpg


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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As for me. I'm working as the F&B Manager in a hotel that has 2 restaurants and 2 bars. I insist that my service staff writes everything down. Even the special request. Reason being the staff might get distracted while walking to the POS. A guest might me calling them asking for something and later they will confuse with the orders. Even if the guest orders one ite, they have to write it down.

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Both the language aspects and the safety (chain of errors) aspects of this fascinate me...a person with a good aural memory might find it easiest to simply walk to the serving hatch and repeat the order, and distracting to write at the same time (much harder to take down music dictation than it is to just walk to a keyboard and reproduce it, for example). But you'd have to be willing to spend your own time practicing it, instead of practicing on your customers!

What gets me is the number of errors that fast-food or family restaurants can come up with, even if they are keying it straight into a cash-register or portable order recorder. Trouble is, they parrot back the order items faster than they can key them in (trying to sound faster and more efficient, maybe?), instead of using the call-back as a "done that" check. I know how embarrassed my students are when they mess up at their jobs (because they tell me about it in English class!), and I can imagine how much OJT waitstaff and counter staff receive, so I try to be patient when I'm on the receiving end.

At least with a written order, you can find out where the errors are happening - when the order is recorded, when the kitchen staff read the order, or when the server collects the order for distribution? It's not that other industries don't have errors - while each error is an aberration, the fact that errors occur is normal unless there are specific steps taken to prevent/remedy them - it's just that people won't figure out how to prevent them if everybody thinks a wrong order is no big deal.

Which it isn't, compared to a plane crash!

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The waiter at Chartier in Paris write your order on the the paper table cloth and walk back to a cashier and will tell the cashier the whole order which he has memorized. I've been there with a bunch of friends and we were just amazed!

I once watched a documentary about the Chartier waiters. Might not be the best food in the city, but I love this old establishment.


My blog about food in Japan

Foodie Topography

www.foodietopography.com

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Q: If the waitress memorizes the whole order, how does she communicate to the kitchen?

If you're at a Waffle House, they just walk to one of the order marks on the floor on each side of the cook and call it out. :raz:


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I'm not a parlor trick. You are not there to watch me do magic.

You do not come to my restaurant to be impressed by me. You come

for the food and come back (typically) because the service

complimented your food experience.

Servers only memorize when

it is inconvenient(in the weeds),ill-prepared, or showing off.

True professionals write the order and often take notes that typically contain more

information about the service aspect than

the order (special occasions, likes, pairing options, speed, gifts, etc).

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Someone who doesn't write down the order can pay fully attention to the customer without appearing to not be listening or taking awkward breaks. It lets the customer proceed at their pace without interruption. I think it enhances the service, when it works.

I absolutely agree on this one. And maybe that will show how skilled the server is. But I think this is difficult to pull off at first, maybe there are just some servers who loves their job so much that they put their self in the position of the customers and in that way, they provide such a wonderful service just like memorizing the orders that you take. And I admit I applaud those servers who can pull this thing. :)

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In typical authentic argentinian "parrilladas", servers typically won't write anything down. I know of a couple of such establishments that forbid their servers to write anything at the table, with the exception of large parties (I forget what their definition of a "large party" was, but I believe it was 12 or more). If you are new, you are allowed to write stuff down after you left the table, but with enough training and practice, servers don't do it anymore.

I've met a few servers that are so good at the memory game that they tend to make bets with customers reluctant to believe they will remember everything. One very impressive server that I know, working at my restaurant, could even tell us what the customers ate at his tables after the service was done.

Q: If the waitress memorizes the whole order, how does she communicate to the kitchen?

There are several ways. The server can leave the table and write down the order (or type it in the software) for the kitchen. In one of the parrilladas I talk about, the kitchen was supposed to memorize the order as well. The grill-master there was so good that he even helped new forgetful servers (he knew the cuts and the specific doneness of every order he received).

In general, if the restaurant is willing to train their servers, I think it's great that they memorize. I don't think it's a terrible thing if they go back to the table to double check before going to the kitchen. But if the personnel turnover is high, the servers better be writing it down. Nothing worst than a screwed-up order


Follow me @chefcgarcia

Fábula, my restaurant in Santiago, Chile

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I don't care for this practice. Many years ago when I was in my 20s, I worked at an Italian restuarant that was under the impression that this was an upscale way of doing business. We were to take the order at the table and then transcribe it in the galley and hand it over to the kitchen. I was pretty good at it since I have a good memory, but some of the other servers were just awful and many mistakes were made. The owners were stubborn bastards and dug in their heels that we were going to keep using their system even though it was obviously flawed.

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When I lived in the Valley, and would occasionally go with friends to the Original Pantry, some of the waiters would not write orders and I don't recall ever having any problems with orders.

Most the waiters, all men back then, looked like senior citizens but were pretty fast on their feet.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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Disclaimer: My only experience in the food/restaurant industry was slinging burgers and coffee in the local small-town diner when I was a teen. Some stuff I wrote down; other stuff I didn't; some stuff, I just brought to the table because I knew what they were going to ordeer.

That said, I remember well a big group of us going to the late lamented Berghof in Chicago -- must have been 15 or more of us -- and having a waiter who wrote nothing down. We made book on how many errors there'd be.

There were none. Be assured that young man got a significant premium over the large-group gratuity already added to the check.

It doesn't bother me at all when a waiter writes something down. Nor does it bother me when they don't. I just remember that occasion because it was such a large group, and because of the conversation about it.


Don't ask. Eat it.

www.kayatthekeyboard.wordpress.com

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I owned a successful restaurant for several years and writing the order was always done for the sake of the cooks. They had to organize them by when they came in and by table. I'd really hate to expect two or three cooks to keep all that in their heads.

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