According to the National Restaurant Association's 2011 Trends Forecast, "8 out 10 restaurant operators say social media will become a more important marketing tool in the future."
Look around any restaurant. The future is right in front of us. Guests are so wired into the Web, they're actually bringing the Internet with them to dinner! How much longer will you wait to take advantage of this opportunity to engage with your guests?
It would be interesting to know what the other 20% had to say about social media. Maybe they're the ones that are actually using it now.
There is a shift taking place, and I'm not talking about the one you clock in and out of every night you wait tables.
Your guests are bringing their tablets and smartphones to dinner, turning them on, and looking for ways to integrate these devices into their dining experience. They are fact-checking your description of a wine, looking for pictures and information on ingredients, sharing their locations with friends, and writing reviews on Yelp and OpenTable, all while in the restaurant.
This represents a fundamental shift in the dining experience.
You can either fear and reject this, or adapt your skill set to accept and embrace it. Truth is, the iPad and smartphone are great tools for explaining a wine or a dish. They offer accurate, in depth descriptions, complete with pictures and video. As a food server, these devices could actually help you upsell wine, or more effectively describe an obscure dish.
The restaurant industry will find ways to integrate these devices into the guest experience. The new breed of waiters will know how to use these tools to their advantage.
If you are not involved in some sort of online community that supports and nourishes you as a member of this industry, then run to the nearest one you can find. You need to expand your circle to include fresh perspectives on how this industry functions. Do not be swayed by the particular circumstances found in your restaurant. You will be surprised to learn of all the various ways restaurants handle the same situation, and it will give you hope to know that your manager is not the only crazy one out there. Find peers that will encourage and inspire you to be a better server. You deserve it!
Ask Your Guests for Feedback
When was the last time you admitted to a table that you made a mistake, were a few steps off your game, or simply were uncertain of whether the way you described a dish or recommended a wine was effective? Ask them. Don't be afraid to show you're human. Just last week, on a very busy night, I dropped a check at a table that had asked me a second time to bring them a bottle of sparkling water. I leaned in to the table and addressed the host, saying that I was sorry if I had seemed a bit distracted when they had first arrived. He forgave me on the spot, and even smiled.
Always Be Learning
I worked with a very smart waiter once, well, at least she thought she was. I had just spent about a week creating a social network for our restaurant, on my own time, unpaid. I had taken the entire menu, and created an online, fully interactive version of it that any of my coworkers could access. This waiter approached me before our shift and said, "I would never use the site you created. I have a photographic memory, and I simply don't need something like that. Besides, when I'm not at work, this is the last place I want to be thinking about."
You will never know it all. A restaurant is a dynamic environment, with hundreds of ingredients and moving parts. Get off your high horse and embrace the fact that you are and will always be learning something new. Whether its the history of a single malt scotch, or the nuances of a grass-fed steak, there are infinite levels of information to be digested and reworked into language you can use table side. Don't be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all.
I am a server in the year 2010. All around me, every day, I hear of restaurant failures, rising unemployment, foreclosures, economic pain, and general unrest. A prolonged recession has morphed this industry into something entirely new and foreign. It has reshaped my guest's expectations, placed more pressure on my coworkers, and raised the level of tension and uncertainty in the kitchen. At the same time, I serve incredible food sourced from California's bountiful farmland. I tout the importance of local and organic agriculture, promote boutique-style wineries that embrace sustainability, and I take part in a vibrant social network for the restaurant community that ties it all together.
I find myself at the intersection of terror and hope. At one extreme, the sky seems to be falling. At the other, anything and everything is possible. I am not the same waiter I was a year or two ago, that's for certain. I've had to adapt. Looking forward, If I have any advice for my fellow servers, it would be:
Start Really Caring About Your Work
If anything, do this for yourself. I have found certain things about waiting tables that really interest me, and no matter what is said throughout the course of a shift, that passion and interest cannot be taken from me. Serving food is emotionally and physically draining. If you don't care about what you're doing, you are going to drive yourself crazy. So pick something, anything. The wine, the food, the service, whatever. Start drilling deep into that thing. Become an expert. If you can't find something about this industry that really grabs you, then maybe its time to find another line of work.