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Waitstaff that rely on memory, no pen and pad


Kent Wang
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At Gaido's, a very old (founded 1911), conservative, high-end seafood restaurant in my hometown of Galveston, Texas, all waitstaff are required to rely only on their memory for orders, even with large parties. Is this stipulation common at other restaurants? Being able to memorize orders is somewhat impressive but surely it is not worth the hassle that the inevitable mistakes, however few, will occur.

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It always makes me nervous when a server doesn't write the order down. You just know something is going to go wrong. Then they walk away, turn around, come back to your table, and say: "so.. you wanted this and this and this, right?" :wacko:

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this procedure annoys me to no end. I would rather have the order right and written down than have a staff person try to impress me with their amazing memory. I've worked in restaurants long enough to know that NO SERVER has a memeory that good for ALL of their tables.

I also know how confusing things can get in the heat of the moment. JUST WRITE IT DOWN! :biggrin:

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In many parts of Europe one will still find a great many waiters who are trained or train themselves to take orders without committing them to written form. The system used, consciously or unconsciously, relies on building a series of mnemonics, associating dishes with the order at which people sit at a table.

As a person with some interest not only in the culinary world but in psychology, I am familiar with this process and it is fascinating to note that in nearly all cases once the order has been set in full on the table that the waiter/waitress in question immediately forgets completely about just who ordered what. In fact, in many cases, even should they want to recall the orders, they cannot. This phenomenon of what seems like phenomenal memory has something akin to memorizing the words of an even horrendously long nonsense song or poem or a list of items assigned to be memorized (e.g. the list of prepositions in the English language...... about, above, across, after, along, around, among, et, etc...). Memorize all but the last line or the last few words and all is well....you can rattle the whole thing off easily. Commit that last bit to memory and the moment you have recited the list aloud for the first time you will forget nearly all of the list.

Me, I love when it happens in a restaurant, that partly because I consider it "a cut but classy act" and partly because it adds a bit of positive tension to see just how well it goes when the food actually arrives at the table.

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I'm all for having the waiters write the order down. However, I draw the line at watching them recite the specials off a piece of paper. C'mon guys, it's just a couple of dishes. One has to question how "special" you think they are if you can't even remember them.

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In many parts of Europe one will still find a great many waiters who are trained or train themselves to take orders without committing them to written form.  The system used, consciously or unconsciously, relies on building a series of mnemonics, associating dishes with the order at which people sit at a table. 

[. . .]

Me, I love when it happens in a restaurant, that partly because I consider it "a cut but classy act" and partly because it adds a bit of positive tension to see just how well it goes when the food actually arrives at the table.

It still happens here, but more and more rarely, in situations such as private corporate dining rooms or private clubs occassionally, where the overall "goal" of the theatre of the meal is to provide the person at table with a sense of being made a "part of the family" so to speak, a sense of being "known" even when they might not have ever met anyone there before.

It is a bit of finesse, a reaching towards a time or place (perhaps imaginary? :wink: ) where people "did" know each other and trust each other - it is a trick of sorts that can be used to create a heightened intimacy among the diners, for it is personal - a personal touch - an additional touch of "being well cared for".

It is quickly going out of style, even in the situations above. Computerized systems are valued for providing accurate service with all the controls that go along with that - all the way down the line to finally inventory controls, which are so very neccesary in operations of places that serve food.

And of course there is the matter of staff training. Most people do not approach the job of being a waiter, waitress, or "server" (blech) as if it were going to be their vocation - as more used to in past times. Turnover, lack of desire to commit to this sort of training all have had their effect on hammering away towards the end of this thing.

The computerized dupe, or even the piece of paper and the pencil - finally they may be more "accurate", more "in control", more scientific.

But boy does it lack in the fine human drama of being looked in the eye, being focused on, and knowing that for that brief moment - something that one has said is being "memorized" by another person.

For whatever reason.

It is wonderful.

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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One of our Chinese restaurants had a waitress who did that (the others didn't). She never missed even with large parties.

When I was young I worked in a busy family restaurant where the chef couln't read. All orders were called in by waitstaff and I learned to get the orders out correctly. Once they were out they were forgotten unless there was something unusual about them.

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When I first waited tables, I found it counterproductive to write down orders for tables of 4 or fewer guests. Usually 5 or beyond, I'd write it down just to be safe. The second restaurant I waited in REQUIRED servers to write orders (in specific code) on tickets that physically went back to the kitchen and stayed with the order until it left the kitchen.

I don't really care if the server writes my order or not, as long as they get it right. :wink:

Bridget Avila

My Blog

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[...]I don't really care if the server writes my order or not, as long as they get it right.  :wink:

My sentiments exactly. It also doesn't bother me to tell the waiter/waitress who ordered what, as long as they bring out the stuff we ordered. Some people are really hard to please. :laugh:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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If a waiter doesn't need to write it down, but gets it right - great. It annoys me that so often they write it down and get it wrong.

I could never work in a restaurant that required me to memorize guests orders. When I used to wait tables I couldn't even remember drink orders taken as I handed out the menus. In a place without a liquour license and only a selection of soft drinks and juices how many options could there have been??

As for places that require staff to not write orders - I don't know of any in myarea.

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I like when a server takes my order without using a pen and paper...

It gives me more of a feeling that I am being hosted. When the pen and paper comes out it feels like 'order taking'/business rather then the fantasy we all want to experience when we go out to dine.

I have rarely seen a pen and paper in a michelin star restaurant...

...in my limited experience in France I do not remember seeing a chit in the kitchen. The chef held all the chits and verbalized the food orders to the cooks.

It is a nice touch and builds the mystic of the experience. Less business, more hospitality!

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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Funnily enough, I notice that the worst order errors are at take-out places where people are tapping your order into the cash-register as you speak it. How *can* they get it wrong? I can only think that Japanese high-schoolers are so used to dozing through class and studying from workbooks at night that they've permanently disabled their auditory processing capabilities :laugh: .

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So someone has a near fatal allergic reaction to an ingredient included in her dish. Said customer swears that she told the waiter about her allergy. Waiter said she did not. Waiter did not write down order. What happens then?

Shelley: Would you like some pie?

Gordon: MASSIVE, MASSIVE QUANTITIES AND A GLASS OF WATER, SWEETHEART. MY SOCKS ARE ON FIRE.

Twin Peaks

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Whether servers write down my order or not doesn't matter to me. I am not impressed by memorization, although sometimes I wonder how many really good servers the restaurant passed over in the hiring process because they needed to write things down.

One thing I really appreciate, however, is the server coming to the table with all the dishes and not having to ask who ordered what. I enjoy not having to raise my hand in the middle of a restaurant to claim my food.

Tammy Olson aka "TPO"

The Practical Pantry

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[...]I don't really care if the server writes my order or not, as long as they get it right.  :wink:

My sentiments exactly. It also doesn't bother me to tell the waiter/waitress who ordered what, as long as they bring out the stuff we ordered. Some people are really hard to please. :laugh:

Yep. As a tipping customer, I want to order once and for the server to get it right without having to ask again -- including when the dishes are brought to the table.

I also don't care if the specials are read from a card. When they've been "recited from memory" I've found what arrived on my plate not to be entirely what was recited.

But this brings up one huge problem I had with a local restaurant, and I don't mind saying the name. Pane Vino Dolce had a practice (maybe they still do, but I'm never going back to confirm) of not printing a wine list. When I asked about wine, the server replied, "Oh, we talk to you about the wine." Apparently each server has the list memorized. Okaaaaayyyyy. So they describe a couple of bottles. I have to ask if they have any of this or any of that. I have to ask the price (which now I don't trust). Then I see a table with a bottle not mentioned -- "I didn't know you had that wine." "You didn't ask." "You don't get a tip."

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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[...]I don't really care if the server writes my order or not, as long as they get it right.  :wink:

My sentiments exactly. It also doesn't bother me to tell the waiter/waitress who ordered what, as long as they bring out the stuff we ordered. Some people are really hard to please. :laugh:

Yep. As a tipping customer, I want to order once and for the server to get it right without having to ask again -- including when the dishes are brought to the table.

I also don't care if the specials are read from a card. When they've been "recited from memory" I've found what arrived on my plate not to be entirely what was recited.

But this brings up one huge problem I had with a local restaurant, and I don't mind saying the name. Pane Vino Dolce had a practice (maybe they still do, but I'm never going back to confirm) of not printing a wine list. When I asked about wine, the server replied, "Oh, we talk to you about the wine." Apparently each server has the list memorized. Okaaaaayyyyy. So they describe a couple of bottles. I have to ask if they have any of this or any of that. I have to ask the price (which now I don't trust). Then I see a table with a bottle not mentioned -- "I didn't know you had that wine." "You didn't ask." "You don't get a tip."

I also do not really care as long as the person gets the order right.

I would ask--what is the point in having waiters memorize orders?--as Daniel notes above--there may be a need for a waiter to remember what was ordered.

as for specials--beyond one or two--these should be printed out (or on a blackboard etc) with prices. (too often both the waiter and the customer suffer from the silly practice of memorized specials that often run several hundred words with descriptions etc).

RE: Your anecdote about Pane Vino--what a bizarre way to encourage staff and customer to engage over wine selection.

Not is the same league but still annoying are places that do not print vintages on their lists. I also abhor it when I carefully peruse a wine list--make a selection and then am told (often after the wait staff has spent several minutes searching for my wine) that they are out.

If a restaurant is making an effort to provide good wine service then they ought to make sure wait staff are informed about inventory--perhaps if the wait staff didn't have to memorize specials etc....

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So someone has a near fatal allergic reaction to an ingredient included in her dish. Said customer swears that she told the waiter about her allergy. Waiter said she did not. Waiter did not write down order. What happens then?

What happens if the waiter's written order is checked - once the unfortunate diner has expired due to superfluous peanut product - and there is no mention of the diner's allergy?...down this path madness lies!...

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I get a little nervous when waitstaff don't write down the order, but will give them the benefit of the doubt. However, I just hate it when they crouch down beside the table - I just can't stand it! I often make special requests, and many times these requests get forgotten either way, written down or not.

I don't understand people who get upset when a server sets the wrong meal down in front of them. As long as they bring all the meals to the table is it really such a problem to switch plates? Of course, I don't dine in high end places (mainly because there are none here :hmmm:), so I am not expecting the highest level of service.

Actually I rarely eat out except for quick lunches or when friends invite us, usually to someplace like TGI Fridays :wacko: , so I really don't expect much from the service. If you have low expectations you are disappointed less often. :raz:

I once had an experience with a table of 10 where the server did not write down any of the orders. He did not mess up one thing including drinks, special requests, and placement of the food. He got a big tip - it really was amazing to witness.

When I was a waitress in college, we were required to write everything down. I once had an incident where even though I wrote everything down at the time the order was taken, the customers complained that their orders were wrong (and that the food was cold, etc., etc.). I was in tears by the end of the meal because they were hateful. Of course they got their meal comped when they complained to the manager, but she understood that they were freeloaders. She said if they came back not to serve them.

Edited by Darcie B (log)
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