Getting Your Start: How to Observe and Benefit from the Successful Servers Around You

Back in my musician days while opening for the likes of Richie Havens and Neil Young, I never gave much thought to restaurant service. That all changed when Steven Hayes at the Garden Restaurant in Ocean City, Md, cast a spell with stories of the Garden’s local seafood enhanced with homegrown herbs. And just as I had meticulously studied singer songwriter greats like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, when I became a waiter, I integrated Steven’s best practices and those of other super servers.

Selling. While at Paulo’s in Georgetown in Washington, DC, I wondered how fellow waiter Wayne Anderson was making twice the money I was. So I eavesdropped from a nearby table, hearing, “I recommend our Carpaccio with thin slices of sirloin accented with shavings of Locatelli Romano cheese.” Wayne never asked questions like, “Can I interest you in an appetizer?” He only suggested. That revelation paid thousands the first year.

Other Wayne methods included pulling dishes off the expeditor line and letting guests get a look and whiff of the merchandise as well as seductively carrying the dessert tray through the dining room. His teacher/student menu tour was also impressive. Moving around the table using a pen to help guests follow along, he held his patrons in rapt attention, and they bought what he told them to.

Finally, I often noticed Wayne standing in the back dining room rehearsing his shtick before the show. While some saw Wayne as an oddball, for me he was a walking treasure trove of ideas that lined my pockets with piles of cash.

Drama. Peter at J-Odette, also in Georgetown, was another fascinating waiter teacher. Not for the faint of heart, Peter slashed open a bottles of Dom Perignon with a sword. This show-stopping technique inspired others to order bottles of the bubbly. My first and last attempt was a total failure with the bottle top careening across the dining room and landing in a guest’s Minestrone. I did, however, glean that opening a bottle of wine with flair reaped big benefits.

Delighters. Next up was Thai master, Mr. Lee. He turned me on to steaming off wine labels and placing them on placards with guests’ names, date, and occasion to create a wow goodbye. He was brilliant at fine touches like offering a finger bowl of hot water and fresh lemon between courses. And Mr. Lee’s tables were Asian gardens where he tended to every knife, fork, napkin, and flower.

In the end, you too can observe, learn, and integrate the techniques of great servers everywhere. Keep on the lookout. Be sure to ask for the best server when you dine out. And remember to customize the techniques to your own style. You’ll be happy you did.


About the Author

BOB BROWN, president of Bob Brown Service Solutions,, was the #1 speaker at the 2017 National Restaurant Show. He has worked with hospitality icons such as Disney, Hilton, Morton’s of Chicago, Nordstrom, Olive Garden, and Ritz Carlton and works internationally with the prestigious seven-star Burj Al Arab in Dubai. He has appeared on the Food Network and is author of The Little Brown Book of Restaurant Success, selling over 100,000 copies worldwide. Contact Bob for keynotes, breakouts, and workshops at 571-246-2944 ©Bob Brown Service Solutions 2016.

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