Article by The Waitress Confessions
Some servers have the amazing ability of listening to a table’s order and remembering every small detail without ever touching a paper and pen. Some can take orders of up to at least 10 people without even batting an eye. No matter how many exceptions, replacements, or changes the customers make these waiters will somehow manage to get the order rung up. Personally, that just boggles my mind.
As a server who’s afraid of forgetting the simplest little things, I am constantly writing everything down. My fear with memorizing food orders is that I’ll carelessly make a mistake and forget to order a glass of wine or order a steak well done instead of medium-well. So, with that fear deep-rooted in my system I make it a point to write down all my orders even if it’s a person dining alone.
Every waiter and waitress has their own system of taking down orders whether it is just doodling on your order sheet while memorizing every point or penning every single word the customer says. If you have a great memory and are just starting out as a waiter/waitress in training, you may want to consider the pros and cons of memorizing food orders.
The eye contact that you keep with a customer while taking their order is extremely important. Some waiters just stare at their order sheet the whole time while writing down orders which leaves the customers feeling short-changed on the “service with a smile.” Some are capable of writing without looking down too many times, which is an improvement at least, but memorizing your orders can give you complete control over your eye contact with your guests, creating a very friendly and open service for them.
If you’re planning on memorizing orders, keep in mind that you are more likely to make mistakes. The amount of times I’ve seen a server run up to the kitchen and say something around the lines of “My bad, guys. It was supposed to be the salmon, not the tuna” is staggering. It could end up happening more often than you’d probably like to admit and can develop a certain amount of hostility between you and your coworkers. Not to mention the managers will be wondering how all these mistakes are affecting their food costs.
With no pen and paper glued to your hands at every moment of service, your free hands allow you to do other things while taking drink and dessert orders. You could be tidying up your tables of any clutter, picking up empty beer glasses, or picking up menus. The ability to multitask in the restaurant business is a big bonus on your side if you are able to do many things at once. Plus, the length of the service will diminish slightly by just having the free hands to clear the table and memorize coffee orders at the same time, making it easier to turn your tables and serve more customers.
Sometimes, as you’re leaving a table to enter the order into the computer system, someone may stop you along the way preventing you from getting to the computer while the order is still fresh in your mind. Maybe a customer will have a complaint and stop you for a whole 5 minutes before giving you a chance to ring up the order. What happens then? Your mind gets completely distracted by the complaint that you stand at the computer holding your head thinking, “What did she order? What appetizer did he want? Did he want fries or rice with his steak?” Sometimes you’ll remember…sometimes you’ll just forget. Forgetting an order can be extremely embarrassing and will seem pretty unprofessional when you need to go up to the guests a second time to ask what they ordered.
Memorizing food orders can save a lot of time when it comes to ringing up your order. Instead of constantly referring to your order sheet, you’re simply punching in your orders without missing a beat to glance down at what you’ve written. This can save time on your service and once again allows for a quicker service, which means your customers are receiving their orders sooner than others therefore satisfied with the fact that they aren’t waiting longer for their food to arrive. Every second or minute saved counts for a lot in the restaurant business.
Not writing down an order can and will make your customers nervous. One night I went out to eat at a restaurant. We were a table of 6 people and the waitress just took our order by memory. I asked for a few things on the side since it was my first experience at that particular establishment and wasn’t sure about the sauces offered with my plate. I felt worried that my order may be wrong, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. When it came time to the appetizers, I received a salad instead of the soup and my steak came and turned out medium-well instead of medium-rare. In my mind, if you aren’t going to write anything down then you’d better make sure that you’ve remembered everything 100%. Sure, people make mistakes and I understand that more than anyone, but other guests may not be so forgiving. When customers see that you’re relying solely on your memory for taking orders, they have that knowledge to use against you when things go wrong and may even approach a manager about it, suggesting that you write everything down from that moment on.
When taking orders, servers know that it’s best to repeat orders back to the customers as they go along to avoid any mistakes or misunderstandings. When an order comes out wrong, your manager may ask you something around the lines of “Well, what did the customer order?” Your answer may be “She definitely said she wanted the mashed potatoes, but when the plate got there she said she asked for a baked potato.” The manager might then proceed to ask what you had written down on your order sheet in order to see if you either a) punched it in wrong or b) wrote it down wrong. When you’ve done everything by memory, the manager is then just taking your word for it and may jump to the conclusion that you’re the one who made the mistake. If you’re repeating the order back to the customer and writing it down properly, he may then assume that it’s just the customer creating a problem for nothing and will be more inclined to believe you when you say you got the order right.
Remember… Everybody makes mistakes, even if you’re the type of server to write each order down on paper. The thing to keep in mind is that you’re only human, so do the best that you can no matter which order-taking process you choose to use as a server. Think about what kind of waiter you want to be and go from there.
The Waitress has been working in the food and service industry for over 8 years having experienced the restaurant business from several different angles. Her experience is anything from hostess to waitress and expeditor to floor manager which has inspired her to share her personal advice for servers everywhere and her thoughts on the restaurant business. She uses her everyday experiences to gather ideas for her blog, ‘The Waitress Confessions.’