Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
Mar 16, 2011 10:31 AM

Hiring "SERVERS", the posting said. But where do you find the good ones- in this generation?


Where has all the 'personality' and hard working servers gone?
Seems it wasn't until the recession hit, that servers started getting friendly.
Not to mention, where have all the good ones gone? Are they out there any more?
I used to chat with my patrons and knew how to juggle a room full of others wanting the same attention. It was like a dance, and I loved every minute of it.
I made a lot of money. it was a gratifying job.
It seems now, only once in a while, you'll get that real personality behind the uniform, the ones that laugh and smile, share stories; not the "I have to be here' attitude, or texting their friend in the back of the kitchen.
Servers? Have your really found the right one?

  1. I used to hire people differently. I looked for the "best qualified" or those that had the best resumes, or could handle the interview better than others, etc....not anymore.

    I have learned to only hire people that NEED the job. It makes all the difference. Note: of course, they need to be qualified too.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sedimental

      Your right, if they NEED a job, they have a different attitude. As long as it isn't desperate, because then you may have someone that has no clue about the restaurant business and that there is real work to do. But that you can enjoy it as well.
      Eat Life!

    2. I think the answer to some of your questions can be found in the topic headers on the board "not about food". Things like:
      "Tipping Practice Questions- On Tax and on Discounted Meals" Hint they are not asking how to tip More..
      "Tipping at the bar vs tipping at the table"
      "Should we rethink tipping?"
      "servers commenting on how much we ate - rude?"
      ""How is everything" and how to reply" That one is now locked
      "Servers - Personal Life Chat" Didn't like ones with good stories
      Maybe the customer is now different, personality, names and chatting are not seeming to be wanted nor tipped, just my food, now, right and leave me alone.

      IMHO, I think you are right, an OK place with OK food can be a wonderful experience because of a great server.

      43 Replies
      1. re: Quine

        Yeah, t just seems that most 'servers' these days are working for what? Tips?
        I realize customers can be difficult, but its that great server that knows how to get around that, is completely into using their section as a business and treats it like they are one of the owners too.
        Eat Life!

        1. re: Quine

          "Maybe the customer is now different, personality, names and chatting are not seeming to be wanted nor tipped, just my food, now, right and leave me alone."

          That's certainly me - and always has been. What you describe is excellent, indeed perfect, service. Take order, bring food - get tip (assuming it's the cultural norm to tip in that country). I do not need (and do not want) chatty servers or ones who ask me if everything is OK (assume it is unless I say otherwise). Perfect service is all but invisible. Luckily most places I go to, here or overseas, work to this high level of service.

          1. re: Harters

            *Grin* Actually Harters, I was thinking of you. But I do know there are cultural differences. Us folks here in America do like to get a whole bit more chatty and many sorta expect it on some level. I know, if I was suddenly to receive the perfect service as you described, I would feel as if there was something that I did wrong (start looking at things I might have stepped into, forgot to put on, etc.).
            I know that you would abhor Hooter type places (tho' great food sometimes).

            There is also the excellent or indeed, perfect customer. I am sure that on your part, you are clear, articulate, respectful. You would not be demanding, disagreeable nor bullying to look or feel impressive or powerful..

            1. re: Quine

              I think it's personal preference as to if you want a chatty server. I'm American, and certainly agree with Harters that I do not need or want a chatty server. I'm certainly not rude or dismissive of the server and if they get chatty I'm certainly not going to cut them off, but I'm also not going to attempt to engage them. Much like I'm not looking to be chatty with other people who I interact with throughout the day (i.e. sales person at clothing store, insurance claims agent, florist, the guys who work at my neighborhood liquor store). Exchanging pleasantries is well and good, as are discussing relevant things (i.e. what is in this dish? have you tried this new beer?) but I'm not looking to get schmoozed or hear details about someone's day. I think it's more than possible to be polite (both customer and employee) without being chatty.

            2. re: Harters

              I could not agree with you more. "Seen, but not heard" After taking my order, service should flow seamlessly, place food plates, fill glasses, remove empties, don't interrupt until it's tme to offer coffee and dessert. AMy conversation and social interaction is for my dining companion(s), not the restaurant staff.

              Unfortunately, in America, no class distinctions makes service personnel feel that they have entree to interact freely with the dining patron. There are restaurants that we no longer patronize because the staff is overly familiar, interrupts too often and spoils our evening out.
              (This standard does not apply to coffee shops, dining solo at the bar, etc. where more casual standards apply).

              If I wanted to spend the evening interacting with the server, he/she'd be my guest at the table and someone else would be serving us. Years ago, My wife, parents and I got up and walked out of a restaurant, when a server sat down at our table (uninvited) to take our order.

              "My name is XXXX and I'll be your server this evening" is not something that interests me. I'll be happy to read your name on your badge. Most offensive is when a server has checked the reservation list and addresses me by first name.

              1. re: bagelman01

                "Class distinctions"? Are you insinuating that someone who waits tables is somehow of a lower class? I don't know if you're aware, but waiting tables can be an extremely lucrative career (as can most tip-based industries, if one is good at his or her job.) Or, do you not mean class in an economic basis but rather in a cultural way? This would imply that waitstaff are somehow less cultured or educated than those who are on the receiving end of the service. It may surprise you to learn that some people *choose* to wait tables because they enjoy it, not because it's the only job they can get.
                How could someone calling you by name be offensive to you? A server is not a small child who should only speak when spoken to. Would it make you more comfortable if he or she stared at the floor when you speak to them as well? You don't have to care about your waiters name, but acting offended when he or she offers it reeks of entitlement, superiority and a basic lack of human respect.

                Edited to add that I hope your attitude doesn't peek through in your actual interactions with waiters. It never ceases to amaze me how people can be so rude to those who are preparing and handling their food behind closed doors.

                  1. re: CarmenR

                    >>"Are you insinuating that someone who waits tables is somehow of a lower class?"<<

                    I think the preceding post goes well beyond insinuation. Servers are by definition of the servant class, and should know not to converse with their betters as equals. Similarly, a shopkeeper who's a millionaire is still a merchant, not a gentleman.

                    It truly does ruin an evening when one's social inferiors are overly familiar. It's almost like they expect to be treated as human beings. The nerve. Oh, for the good old days when those of lower social, ethnic, and religious groups knew their places. Off with their heads!!!

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      And, of course, they should always leave the room walking backwards so we would never have to see their backs!

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        I always enjoy it when my servers enter the room on their knees, balancing plates on their heads. If direct eye contact is made, the meal is ruined and so is their tip, which wasn't going to be much anyway. The mode of exit should be much the same, only backwards, still avoiding eye contact with the likes of me and mine.
                        That being said, I worked as a server in college while my low class impoverished self was struggling through a double major. It's a wonder I could find my way to the car and drive it to school, much less make it all the way into a classroom without completely spazzing out. And actually serving a plate? It's just a wonder and a tribute to the power of large motorskills.
                        I think (really, no jest) that servers who treat their jobs as an end, and not the means to it, are better servers who understand that the nature of service work is not to be pathetic and servile, but to be correct, prompt, and efficient. Friendly doesn't hurt either. It is an art, and it is not easy.

                      2. re: CarmenR

                        I believe bagelman01 was replying to me knowing that I am British - and working to an assumption that socio-economic class distinctions are more pronounced in the UK than America. I do not know if this is true nor do I know if this is what accounts for the different type of service I generally experience in America to the general type of service I experience in the UK and the other European countries I visit. But that there is difference in service style between America and Europe, I have absolutely no doubt.

                        1. re: Harters

                          I believe what bagelman is referring to is a lack of interpersonal boundaries.

                          Because I teach, students will tell me details of their personal lives to explain why they need an extension or exception. However, they don't just stop at "I have some legal stuff to take care of" or "my grandmother passed away". They proceed to tell me about the conditions of their parole and how they feel about their parole officer, the details of the fight they had with their siblings that resulted in their parents calling the police, how horrible it was to find grandma lying on the floor after her colon ruptured.

                          Some of my students just don't seem to understand the concept of boundaries, and I think that's what bagelman is referring to with respect to some servers.

                          I'm also not a fan of being referred to by my first name just because it's there on the reservation, unless I introduce myself that way. It's like when I used to use the Club Card at Safeway, and the cashier would then refer to me by the name they had on record. I don't know the cashier and they don't know me, so it's not necessary (and frankly, Big Brother-ish) to refer to me that way - "thank you" and "have a good day" are quite sufficient.

                          1. re: dump123456789

                            I certainly hope that is what he meant. If so, I completely agree. I dislike it when servers (or other strangers) use my first name, tell me too much information, try to get personal without my permission, assume things about me, call me an "endearment" or decide that THEY would like to chat.

                            Being good at your job in any customer service job means paying attention to your customer and taking your cues from them....not hoping for the other way around. I get increasingly annoyed when the grocery checker or wait staff wants to carry on a full conversation with me after I have given polite (but obvious) cues that I don't feel like chatting. Then THEY border on being rude, IMO.

                            1. re: sedimental

                              thank you for understanding the gist of my post. Not everyone I come in contact with is part of my poersonal circle of friends or family and I do not choose to discuss personal things with what are really strangers. Just because you serve me dinner at a restaurant once a month (or week) doesn't mean that we discuss personal things.

                            2. re: dump123456789

                              I've oft thought of changing my first name, which is a nickname they decided to give me from birth.
                              When someone addresses me using my legal first name, it sort of jars me, even after many decades.

                              1. re: dump123456789

                                You should give them a lesson about boundaries so they will understand the concept. After all, you are a teacher. My solution seems much more reasonable than just complaining about your student's shortcoming's on a website.

                                1. re: Robinez

                                  I already did. And I have it to do it every single quarter, since apparently their parents have completely abdicated that responsibility.

                              2. re: Harters

                                Yes, the reply was specifically to you being British. The USA is a classless society by definition and law. We have no nobility, and no family traditions of going into service or trade.

                                Having lived in the UK and a number of former British colonies, I became very aware of those in service and the lack of personal interaction with those being served.

                              3. re: CarmenR

                                The reply was specific to Harters who is in the UK. We don't have class distinctions in the USA and I worked as a waiter while in college, as well as bartender, pizza delivery, and kitchen and deli help. My late father also worked his way through college as a waiter in the 1930s.................

                                1. re: bagelman01

                                  I agree that delving into the personal lives of complete strangers is not exactly what I'm looking for from the people serving me dinner but I do like it when they're cordial. To that end, I find it remarkable that you would be offended by someone addressing you by name. Oh well, sounds like if Sir is preferable, just imagine how much better Your Royal Highness would be.

                                  1. re: mtr

                                    Well, for me, I don't like it when any stranger reads my first name off my credit receipt or reservation (or gets it in some other way) because I didn't give my name to them...and I don't wear a name it feels intrusive to me. It feels in-genuinely personal, or falsely intimate....or, just "icky" to me.... so does calling me "honey" or "sweetie" etc.
                                    If I strike up a conversation with a stranger (wait staff), and we both "like" each other or share a commonality- then we introduce ourselves- that is very different. It needs to be two sided, not one-sided. I also don't like to call a wait staff person by their first name (like on their name tag at a diner) for the same reason. I usually just say "ms" or "sir". It has to do with personal preferences-nothing to do with being arrogant.

                                    1. re: mtr

                                      No, if the server checked the resevation list and addressed me as Mr. Bagelman that would be fine, but addressing me as "Joe" is not acceptable. Use of my first name is for my friends, neighbors, relatives and those I have either been introduced to by first name or invited to call me by first name. It is not appropriate for any non-friend to assume that they have permission to call me by first name. that said I am in my late 50s and think a 20 something server addressing me by first name without my persmission or invitation to do so is way out of line.

                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                        Wow, I am almost out of my 50's and never took offense at someone using my first name. Different stroke for different folks I guess.

                                        It is sorta weird tho when I do hear people use my first name in only that I gave myself a nickname while on my 20's and only my family and work calls me by it now.

                                        1. re: Quine

                                          My late father only used his nickname (except on legal documents). Growing up, if the phone rang, and we answered and someone asked for him by his given name we knew it was a fundraiser who bought a list, not anyone who knew dad.

                                      2. re: mtr

                                        So, if one prefers being called "sir" or "Mr Smith" by servers, to being called "John", then that means they're complete snobs who'd actually prefer to be called "Your Royal Highness" ?

                                        Sorry, but some of us were raised to call strangers "sir" (or "ma'am") by default - as in "Excuse me, sir, I think you dropped this" when addressing people in the post office, library or supermarket, even if we're not employees there. And no, I'm not from the south, and I'm not an old fart.

                                        1. re: dump123456789

                                          I.m not from the south and only a middle aged fart, but I aplaud the way you were raised.

                                          1. re: dump123456789

                                            As referenced before, I am an old fart, and ALWAYS refer to people who I do not know as Sir or ma'am and only use their first name when they give me leave by their introduction to use it.

                                            And again, if anyone uses my first name by whatever means they got it, I am never offended. Weird huh?
                                            I have even taken QA "dings" because my work wants me to call customers by their first name and I *still* will say Sir or ma'am.

                                            1. re: Quine

                                              Quine - the use of sir and ma'am is one of the great politnesses of American English. We dont use it in the UK nor, I think, generally in other major English speaking countries such as Australia. It means that whilst I have words to address a stranger in, say, French or Spanish, I do not have them in my own language.

                                              1. re: Harters

                                                This is one of the wonders of the US classless society. Any male can be addressed as sir and any female may be referred to as a lady. Just a polite means of address or reference, not an honor bestowed by the monarch,

                                                I certainly agree that the romance languages have better means to separate the stranger from the familiar (close family, not simply friend). ET TU BRUTE?

                                                1. re: bagelman01

                                                  No, I didnt quite mean the stranger/familiar thing but the words that one would use to address a stranger - - madame, senora, mevrouw, etc - in the same way as ma'am would be used in American English. We dont have that level of courtesy in English English

                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                    At one time you could have addressed that adult female stranger as "Mistress" but the current denotation of the word would probably bring a poor response, I imagine the male adult stranger could be called Mister.

                                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                                      I assume you mean at least one century ago and not in the US?

                                                      1. re: escondido123

                                                        Correct, as mentioned many times Harters is in the UK

                                                        1. re: bagelman01

                                                          Using dump's example above of "Excuse me, Sir, I think you dropped this", in the UK, we would say "Excuse me, I think you dropped this". It works well enough as a matter of politeness and courtesy but I have a rather fond attraction to the American use of "sir" and "ma'am".

                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                            I love to hear an American male call another "Sir." And I love to hear an American male called a female 'ma'am."

                                                            From Shenandoah Valley, VA

                                                2. re: Harters

                                                  I had this experience when we visited London last year. I called the woman working the counter in a coffee shop ma'am (I am Southern, so the drawl was also a factor), as she was a good bit older than I. She was stunned and asked me what I had said. So I will definitely agree that it is a cultural gap.

                                              2. re: dump123456789

                                                Of course simple courtesy is the way to go when dealing with strangers and you don't need to be from the south or an old fart to be polite. Having a sense of humor sometimes also helps, but apparently not always.

                                              3. re: mtr

                                                I prefer "Madame Princess of her own personal Universe."

                                                1. re: mamachef

                                                  I m Supreme Empress of the Universes, Known and Unknown, but you can call me Em for short.

                                                  1. re: Quine

                                                    I want to get mamachef a tiara and Quine a royal staff :D

                                                    1. re: TheHuntress

                                                      LOL Huntress, I know you are right in there with us. :-)

                                                      1. re: Quine

                                                        Only in my finest regalia. One doesn't get to be a knight without the shiniest of armour :D

                                    2. People who work in the customer service industry get burned out. Its not easy putting on a smile and biting your tongue in a day where everyone feels they are entitled. "the customer is always right" is the worst phrase ever invented! I know its only a matter of time before I flip out on some customer who wants to use a coupon and wants a senior discount and then complains about the size of FREE water. Its not an easy job

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: joe777cool

                                        Shy of laughing- your completely right! That is another perspective for sure. I hope you get to work with more exciting patrons, and not for all the over 60 crowd.
                                        By now I'm sure you have a great script! I know I do.
                                        Keep your head up and laugh on the inside.
                                        Eat Life- Off The Beaten Palate!

                                        1. re: ma_offthebeatenpalate

                                          My husband and I are both 60+. We tip very well, are friendly to the waitstaff, don't take or make calls on our cellphone while dining, never have used a coupon, don't expect a discount and usually order 3 courses plus wine. So don't lump us into that crowd waiters should avoid---, waiters love to see us come in.

                                          1. re: escondido123

                                            this will sound very stereotypical, and probably is, but it seems to me that 95% of elderly patrons fall into 2 groups, your best friend or your worst enemy.

                                            1. re: joe777cool

                                              The pain of you calling me "elderly" is something you may not understand until you are "elderly."

                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                you are 100% correct, I had no idea that "elderly" was a hurtful term! No disrespect was intended.

                                            2. re: escondido123

                                              Your part of the beautiful people that enjoy life. Spread it around!

                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                Thanks, escondido 123. Same here.
                                                A couple of days ago we had a lunch and the waiter told us he was going to a wine class the company was holding. We did have a great discussion about wines from around the world, even though there was probably 50+ years difference in our age.

                                                I must say, though that I'm usually asked, can I bring you something to drink, some tea?

                                          2. "It seems now, only once in a while, you'll get that real personality behind the uniform, the ones that laugh and smile, share stories;"

                                            You might think that makes a good waiter but I would hate it. I'm not really in a restaurant to have a conversation with my waiter. I don't need them to have a 'personality' and I sure don't want them sharing stories.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: melo7

                                              I suppose it just goes to show the fickleness of us consumers and how difficult being a server is. I love bantering with waitstaff, having a chat and sharing stories. For me it's not only part of a fun evening out, but I have actually developed a sincere friendship or two from this. You can't always tell what the customer wants and there is no pleasing some people, no matter how hard you try.

                                              I agree with joe777cool above that the worst phrase ever invented is "the customer is always right". In Australia service is entirely different, waitstaff are paid a living wage and we do not have a tipping culture - in some ways this is good, in other ways it's not so good. But as a plus for the server you don't have to bend over backwards to satisfy a customers feelings of entitlement and then be stiffed on a tip. I worked in hospitality for 6 months many, many years ago when no other work was available. I enjoyed it on rare occasions I would NEVER go back. It certainly takes a special person to be a server and to excell at their job.

                                              1. re: TheHuntress

                                                The best way to hire servers is to promote from within.

                                                This practice is less common than it once was.

                                                Bussers are not promoted even though the weight of plates, physical layout and customer preferences are known to them. Part of this is discrimination as immigrants often have busser positions and while many venues have made a cult of "diversity" just as many have a glass ceiling.

                                                Additionally, the wide practice of hiring for personality has grown far more prevalent here in the 21st. Century while plate skills have atrophied noticeably.

                                                As bad as the server situation is bartending is even worse as Bar Mgrs. who are behind the stick monopolize opportunities.

                                                1. re: postemotional1

                                                  Ah yes, I fondly remember Hector the busser who went from our 50's style diner to end up as a head waiter at a high end steak house. Man, I never could convince the owner to promote him. What a short-sighted bias. He busted his hump every night; dependable, reliable, family guy with no addicitions except to learn, develop and do better. He probably owns his own place now and I am no longer in the biz.

                                                2. re: TheHuntress

                                                  I'm with you Huntress. That's why my husband and I used to sit at the bar at our favorite restaurants--ok it was also the best place to get drinks! But we had a couple of places where we knew the bartender, they were interesting people, and we enjoyed spending an evening with them eating and drinking. We tried that at a few local places here and it was impossible to have a now we sit at a table.

                                                3. re: melo7

                                                  part of being an exceptional server is knowing who and when to bring out the personality, and when to keep it in check - sometimes even with a regular customer who has different needs for that particular meal.

                                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                    This is a great point, and really indicates another part of why the job can be challenging.

                                                4. I've done a fair amount of hiring (restaurants and other businesses) and I always look for personal attributes. Experience is nice, but you can teach someone skills. You (as an employer) can't easily teach attitude, work ethic, how to prioritize, communicate effectively, manners and common courtesy.
                                                  Hiring someone with the desired attributes and taking the time to train, pairing them with an experienced person and giving them the tools and feedback to develop can and does work.

                                                  Unfortunately many businesses don't feel they have the time to invest in training. Knowing they do not have a staff that can accurately read most situations the company provides "script" and that gets us to the perky, shallow silliness that defines way too many service experiences.

                                                  There are many terrific servers, both younger and older. There are just fewer places that allow them to shine.