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How To Be A Good Waiter / Waitress

Firsthand Tips From a Miami Server
February 16, 2009 By Gus in Miami: Food & Restaurant News  | 26 Comments


Are you moving to Miami with dreams of living the vacation life? What, you have never heard of the vacation life, you say? Let me explain, the vacation life is where you sleep in late, go to the gym, and hang out on the beach, waiting for your restaurant to open. Although there is not much job security, the lifestyle does wonders for your psyche and tan.

People often ask me, “how difficult is it to get a waiter job with no experience?” The answer is, not very difficult in South Beach. With so many restaurants nearby, someone is always hiring, but most places will want you to have some experience.

Here are 25 things every good waiter or waitress should know:

1) Do you know the difference between a Gibson and a Gimlet?
Severs must have a basic understanding of the bar. They must know the ingredients in popular drinks, how they are made, and what they are garnished with. Two cocktails that often get confused are the Gibson and the Gimlet. Although the names are similar, the cocktails are very different. A Gibson is gin martini, garnished with an onion. A Gimlet is made with vodka and lime juice and garnished with a lime. With both drinks, it is the waiter’s responsibility to ask the customer if they want it served up or on the rocks.

2) What is the garnish for a Dirty Martini?
A Dirty Martini is garnished with an olive. The cocktail is made by adding olive juice to the mix. Side note: Traditionally, a martini, it is made with gin, but most people order vodka martinis, so, it is the waiter’s responsibility to ask the customer if they want the martini made with gin, or vodka.

3) Can you name 5 brands of vodka, gin, and scotch.
Vodka: Stoli, Absolut, Belvedier, Gray Goose, Ketel One
Gin: Tanqueray, Boodles, Bombay, Beefeater, Gordon’s
Scotch: Johnny Walker, Makers Mark, Dewer’s, Macallan, Glenfiddich

4) When a Spanish-speaking customer asks for “whiskey” what do they usually want?
Scotch. A good way to find out for sure, is by suggesting a recognizable brand like Black Label.

5) Can you suggest 3 good bottles of Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Merlot from your wine list?
Since popular wines are always changing, I’m not going to list any here.  If you want to learn about wine, buy a copy of Wine Spectator magazine and do your homework.

6) What type of wine is paired with pork?
Most everyone knows, white wine is served with fish and chicken, and red wine is served with beef. But what does a waiter suggest when a customer orders pork? Either. White wine, or a light red wine, like Pinot Noir can be served with pork.

7) Can you open a bottle of wine in 30 seconds?
If not, you need to learn how. Every good waiter / waitress must be able to open a bottle of wine fast and confidently.  You can practice at home with an empty bottle. If you need more help, here is a video that shows how to do it.

8) Do you know the difference between a Magnum and a Jeroboam?
A Magnum is a large wine bottle, which holds the same as two normal bottles of wine. A Jeroboam is a large bottle of wine, which holds four regular wine bottles.

9) Where is Champagne made?
This is a trick question. Most people think Champagne refers to all types of sparkling wine, but this is not correct. For sparkling wine to be called “Champagne” it must be produced in the province of Champagne, France. Sparkling wine made anywhere else cannot legally use the name, Champagne.

10) When opening a bottle of wine, is it customary to sniff the cork?
No, there is no reason for anyone to sniff the cork. If you want to smell the wine, smell it directly from the glass.

11) What do flat, sparkling, and tap refer to?
Water. Flat and sparkling come in bottles that customers pay for. Tap, or iced refer to water that is free.

12) What is a cordial?
A cordial, or liqueur is an alcoholic beverage that has been flavored with fruit, nuts, spices, cream, and sugar. Cordials are typically quite sweet; and served after dinner, with coffee and dessert. Popular cordials include: Grand Mariner, Frangelico, Kahlua, and Baily’s.

13) Tawny and Ruby refer to what?
Tawny and Ruby refer to Port wine. Ruby Port is aged for a few years in stainless steel barrels. It has a dark red color and is generally sweet and fruity. Tawny Port is aged much longer in typically wooden barrels. During the aging, Tawny loses it’s red color and turns brown.

14) What do Spanish-speaking people often call coffee?
Most people in Miami call coffee “espresso” or “cafecito.” If someone ask you for a coffee, you should ask them if they want “American” or “espresso” In many restaurants, it is the servers responsibility to also make the coffee. If you are unsure about how to make a proper espresso, here are some easy instructions how to do it.

15) What is an espresso garnished with?
An espresso is always garnished with a lemon peel.

16) What is a 2-top?
A 2-top refers to a table with two people. A 4-top is a table with four persons.

17) When you’re co-worker says, “I’m in the weeds” or “I’m weeded” what should you do?
Help them, if you can. “I’m in the weeds” is restaurant slang for “I’m way too busy and going under, fast.” I’ve only heard phrase used in Miami. Every restaurant has their own slang terms. When you are starting out at a restaurant, learn the slang. Other restaurant-related slang terms include “on the fly,” which means, do it fast, and “86,” which means an item from the menu that the kitchen is out of.

18) Can you carry 3 plates in 2 hands?
This is another skill you can practice at home. The secret is, to point your pinkie finger straight up, so you can balance the second plate on your pinkie and forearm. For hot plates, use a towel as a layer between your hand and the plate. For more instruction, here is a PDF that shows how it’s done.

19) What side of the guest do you serve from?
Serving etiquette calls for customers to be served from the left and cleared from the right. The reason being, to avoid knocking over a glass. However, work around your customers’ needs, and try to never ask a guest to hand you a plate, or glass.

20) When a customer asks for a steak prepared “blue” what do they mean?
Whenever a customer orders a steak, it is the waiter’s responsibility to ask them how they want it prepared. If the customer says “blue,” it means, they want the steak cooked extra, extra rare.

21) What is a good excuse to say to a customer when you forgot to order their meal?
Blame it on the kitchen. You can say something like, the Chef dropped your plate, or the kitchen gave your food to the wrong table.

22) Can you sing “Happy Birthday” with gusto?
If you choose a career in the restaurant industry, be prepared to sing “Happy Birthday” a few times, every night. I understand that singing to a group of strangers can feel embarrassing. The best thing to do, is put a big smile on and just go for it. Singing Tip: start the song off in a low key.

23) When is it OK to argue with a customer?
Never.  If you encounter an angry customer, get your manager involved. Good servers enjoy making people happy. If you’re in a bad mood when you come to work, check your attitude at the door.

24) What are the tools of the trade?
Here is my best tip for how to look like a star on your first day of work…show up with all your tools: a wine opener, lighter, pens, table crumber, mini-flashlight.

25) What does T.I.P.S stand for?
To Insure Prompt Service. Before you complain that a customer left you a bad tip, ask yourself if you really deserved a good one.

Have you worked in a restaurant?
What did I miss? Please share your comments below. 

Related Categories: Restaurants, Jobs Miami: Food & Restaurant News,

Gus Moore heads up Miami Beach 411 as site administrator. You can reach him at 1-305-754-2206.

See more articles by Gus.

See more articles by Gus

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26 Comments on

"How To Be A Good Waiter / Waitress"

South Ocean says:

Re: #10
It is customary to sniff a wine cork - especially if the cork is a ‘real’ cork - to ensure that the bottle hasn’t been ‘corked,’ spoiled by an interaction of a wine ingredient and the cork itself.  The characteristics of a ‘corked’ wine are a wet dog/moldy newspaper/damp basement smell that tends to overpower the aroma/taste of the wine itself.

If the smell is there, even without tasting the wine, it is grounds for returning the wine. 

Many higher-end wines are now using ‘corks’ made of artificial materials, or even screw tops, both of which eliminate the possibility of the wine being ‘corked.’

Posted on 02/16/2009 at 8:42 AM

Gus says:

Hi, South Ocean. Thanks for commenting.

I was more so speaking to a server smelling the cork, as opposed to the customer. I’ve had a few occasions where a server opened a bottle of wine at our table, and then smelled the cork, and it seemed amateurish.

You’re definitely right about wine getting ‘corked,’ though.

But if a customer returned a bottle of wine, only after smelling the cork, I may have to break #23 and argue with the guest. wink

Posted on 02/16/2009 at 9:10 AM

brian says:

“insure”? incorrect - in this context the correct word would be “ensure”....

Posted on 02/16/2009 at 10:13 AM

Vanlinas says:

Indeed when you are moving in a new place you should keep in mind job security…

Posted on 02/17/2009 at 9:52 AM

real estate spammer says:

Being a waiter or waitress is such a hard job, but Miami and Miami Beach have some of the best in the country in my opinion.

Posted on 02/19/2009 at 12:37 PM

Brad A Schenck says:

great article Gus this should be read by every server already working and everyone thinking about getting into the biz.

Posted on 02/19/2009 at 12:40 PM

Gus says:

Hey, real estate spammer, you’re kidding, right? Miami Beach has a reputation for having the worst customer service in the country. That’s why I wrote this article. Where are all these great waiters and waitress you speak of? If you give us a good answer, or apologize for comment spamming, I’ll put your screen name back.

Thanks, Brad.

Posted on 02/20/2009 at 9:28 AM

Brad A Schenck says:

#9 does not hold true for American Champagne I have been told by a finger lakes winery. There is an international law between EU member states and other nations but the US did not sign such a law so US wineries can still use the name champagne. Korbel for instance or Pleasant Valley Wine in the finger lakes.

Posted on 02/20/2009 at 11:28 AM

Gus says:

You’re probably right, Brad, but don’t think that will stop a snobby restaurant manager from trying to trip you up with this silly fact. Now we have a comeback, thanks to you.

Posted on 02/20/2009 at 11:55 AM

Bryan Sereny says:

If you can pull this off, the rest will fall in place: “#26 never let your customers water or other refillable drinks run dry.”

Posted on 02/27/2009 at 1:47 PM

Gus says:

Great tip, Bryan!

Customers hate servers who don’t refill the beverages.

Nice website.

You should write a “How To Be A Good Real Estate Agent” post.

Posted on 02/27/2009 at 2:36 PM

peter says:

Hi great informative website, i am thinking of working in miami as a waiter soon in the next few months   i am a british guy , does any body have an idea to the average daily t i ps one can collect more or less thanks KIND regards   PC thanks very much !!

Posted on 10/09/2009 at 10:12 AM

Gus says:

“does any body have an idea to the average daily t i ps one can collect more or less”

Hi Peter,

You can make anywhere from $80 to $200 a day. Keep in mind, at the lesser known restaurants, you may have to work a double shift (lunch and dinner) to make a decent living.

Make sure to print a short resume of the restaurants you’ve worked at, before you start your search.

If you have a little experience, it’s fairly easy to find a restaurant job in South Beach.

Please keep us posted on how it goes.

Posted on 10/09/2009 at 10:20 AM

peter says:

HI Gus, and thanks very much for your   prompt reply very helpful, if you like Internet marketing ,you will like my website just click on my name and its there   this is a genuine UK and now USA co. and is Great for the retirement fund idea in mind ha ha !!  kind regards peter

Posted on 10/10/2009 at 10:46 AM

None says:

Maker’s Mark is not a Scotch.

Posted on 11/01/2009 at 10:04 PM

James Moore says:

Makers Mark is actually a Bourbon and not a Scotch.

Posted on 11/18/2009 at 8:58 AM

Alex Scott says:

Waiting is a great way to provide for yourself and a family.  Even if you don’t know all these things you can learn to be a waitress or waiter.  All you need is the basics and a great attiude

Posted on 10/17/2011 at 5:34 PM

Alex Scott says:

Don’t touch the rim of the glass!  It amazes me how many servers do this.  This is a quick way to loose some points on a tip

Posted on 11/09/2011 at 12:21 PM

derrick says:

i read these for an inteview to work as a waiter in Dubai. i passed and i;m expecting a visa soon but i have never work as a waiter before. wonder if i will make it

Posted on 10/29/2012 at 2:00 PM

thomas says:

in a bar what does tips stand for

Posted on 12/19/2012 at 10:14 PM

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Posted on 08/05/2014 at 9:55 AM

Cody says:

Makers Mark isn’t a Scotch…

Posted on 11/17/2014 at 12:56 AM

jr says:

hi,  I have a question when i give a waiter a tip what should I tell him or her?  and does the waiter put the money in his pocket directly or what?

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