Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Getting out of the weeds

Being in the weeds is a state of mind. There is so much going on, so many tables asking for this or that, that you start to become confused, rushed, and unable to prioritize. I have a lot of familiarity with this predicament, and in fact I have a recurring dream where I am on roller skates and waiting tables in an active freeway, dodging in between cars to get to my customers, each of whom are sitting at a long picnic table with 100 or so of their friends. I have in this dream a feeling of helpless frustration. That is the weeded feeling.

There is a lot of sound counsel regarding weed prevention that a manager will tell you in the pre-service meetings, such as know your menu, ready your mise en place, remember to smile, and ask for help. This post is about what the manager won't tell you, from someone who has been there and back quite often.

So, you are in the weeds, now what?

One. Work Geographically. Don't run back and forth across the room, you will waste time. Take care of everything that needs to happen in one area, then move to the next area. If you work out of the weeds in this way you will find that you will become calm faster, because this is a natural way of setting priorities. Do what needs to be done in the area around you first. Then move to the next place, knowing that you won't have to return for a few minutes to the customers behind you.

Two. Don't Speed Up. Don't do it. If you rush around, you are going to knock in to people, things, food. You are going to look nervous. You are going to break stuff. Don't rush around. Rather, control the situation once you arrive. Talk loud enough so that people hear you and respond. Make recommendations rather than wait for orders. Anticipate requests. Before you leave a table, take a last look at it, to see what that table may need. Let the other people on your service team know what you will do next, so that they can do something else instead. Be confident and poised.

Three. The Wine that you have in stock tastes a lot better than the Wine that is 86'd. Seriously. Think about what a particular order is going to mean. Is there a chilled bottle? Is there a bottle upstairs? Is this a wine where the cork often crumbles and takes a long time to get out? Have this sort of conversation with yourself before you recommend the bottle to a table. Remember, if you recommend a wine to somebody and then you can't find it, that just makes you look doubly foolish to the person who was relying on you.

Four. Sing Yourself a Song. I mean it. Sing quietly to yourself as you walk around the dining room. Sing a song that you already know quite well. This will literally help you regain your rhythm, and your pacing, which is what being weeded destroys. Being terribly weeded comes with the terrifying sense that you don't know what will happen next, that you are not in control, but in fact you do know what the next word to this song is, because you have heard it a thousand times before.

Which song should you be humming? Well, it is up to every individual to answer that question for themselves, but the classic song of triumph over the weeds will surely always remain this one:

I myself am greatly partial to:

As well as:

And I guess I wouldn't be a part of my generation if I didn't also like:

But you might sing something by Eminem, DMX, or maybe Whitney Houston if you are a female or just sentimental. Basically, whatever you workout to will work out fine.

I knew a guy who used to wear an Iron Maiden concert t-shirt under his work clothes. He told me once that when things got rough on the job, he liked to remember something that he really enjoyed, to go to that spot. Wearing the t-shirt was what he did to keep that with him. That guy was a smart dude.

Five. Remember that this will end. Maybe the worst part of being weeded is that it can seem like there is no escape. Like you are never going to get out of this situation. You are trapped. This feeling can lead people to abruptly walk out of their jobs and quit. They want to escape and they don't know how. I actually advise people in the weeds to look at the time. Just look at what time it is and then think to yourself, I have 2 hours until this shift is over. In 2 hours, no more customers are coming through that door, and I will be done with this night. Two hours. I can do 2 hours. That's all it is, and then I will be through this. This trick is even more effective during lunch shifts, which are generally shorter anyway.

And those are my tips, because who has time to read through a longer list than that when they are in the weeds?


Tom Belford said...

I've never worked in service, I'm at the production end of wine, but I feel like I could take on a sea of thirsty and impatient drinkers after reading this. I never knew there could be a system to serving, just thought that you ran around like a headless chook panicking. That's why I'm, not serving.

Lousy Grapes said...

I learned each of these tricks one by one in a span of 16 years on the floor. Well done in offering a nice, concise little handbook.

CW@Bonhomie said...

Love this post, fond memories of my line cook years because as you know if you're slammed on the floor it's pretty bad in the kitchen too. The one thing I would add is that you must embrace the weeds and learn to love them. If you can shine under duress the beer tastes so damn good at the end of the night.