How can I be of service?
November 8, 2008 3:57 PM   Subscribe

HostingFilter: (no not the geeky kind...) I just got a job as a host in a franchised restaurant. I know food and wine, but I don't know 'people' or restaurants. As a customer, what would you like to see more (or less!) of when you're being greeted and seated? Any helpful tips from service veterans?

Please note that I will not be serving food or drinks. I'm just the bubbly door-girl.
posted by sunshinesky to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
All I can say is as SOON as possible acknowledge that I am there, even if you can't take care of me immediately. If you are on the phone with someone making reservations, look up and smile and maybe give the just-one-second index finger, etc. If you are just about to walk a party to their table turn and let who ever just came in that you see them and will be right with them. And always put customers before ANY personal convo with other staff.
posted by beccaj at 4:17 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding beccaj. Specifically, if you are working with other hosts, please don't cluster with them at the podium. Many chain restaurants in my area seem have a gaggle of young women as hosts, and their body language as they stand together and ignore the customers drives me fucking crazy.
posted by cabingirl at 4:49 PM on November 8, 2008

My main criteria is that you not sneer at my condescendingly when I ask for a table for one. And after the first time I tell you that I'd prefer to sit in the dining room, my preference would be that you not continue to try to convince me to sit in the lounge.

My only other criteria is that wait times be given as accurately as possible, though I know it's hard. Telling me 5 times that it will be just a few minutes until it's been 20 minutes is much more annoying than telling me once that it's going to be at least 45 minutes and possibly more.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:06 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Restaurant veteran here....

1) Genuine friendliness
2) Pace yourself to the guest. Don't speed 5 feet ahead of them to lead them to a table, leaving them wandering behind you. Walk at their pace and make small talk.
3) Don't chew gum, eat etc at the host stand.

4) If your restaurant has both tables and booths, show subtle awareness of their needs. I sat elderly folk neat the front of the restaurant (less walking) when possible no matter what the rotation happened to be. Heavy set guests would often have trouble sitting in some of our (way too tight) booths, so I'd head for a table first or ask which they'd prefer. There is NOTHING more embarassing than trying to seat a guest and discovering they don't fit in your booth! Families with high chair needs got sat out of high traffic paths (safety of the kids).

5) If you're running over on the wait, don't hide. Acknowledge it. People are going to notice.
I used to bring out some free bar chips or snacks into the lobby when needed in that case.
6) Be super friendly with the kids. Say hi, ask their name. Bonus points for remembering their name and saying goodbye to them by name.
7) Smile when you answer the phone. It really does come through.
8) Open doors if you have time.
9) Be aware of fair seating to the servers. Stick to rotation, but don't give one person all the families, all the one tops, all the drunks, etc.
10) If you seat a huge wave of people, warn the kitchen they're about to get smacked.
11) Try to stagger a little so the above doesn't happen.
12) If you must triple seat a server, if you can, take a drink order or ask someone to help them out for a minute. That one minbute reprieve makes everything smoother.
13) Make sure the restroom stays clean.
posted by mazienh at 5:14 PM on November 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

The ONLY time it's appropriate to say "Hi guys!" is when you're talking to a duo or group of men who are about 30 or under.
posted by tristeza at 5:24 PM on November 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

If I furtively whisper to you about someone's birthday in my party about to be seated, do not exclaim, "Oh my GOSH, do you want a cake or something?!"
posted by rachaelfaith at 6:00 PM on November 8, 2008

Best answer: There's a lot of great advice in here already. A few things I might mention:
  • Be patient with complete jerks. Yes, you will have to deal with them at some point. No, it doesn't have to ruin your day. This not only includes customers, but also the stress-frazzled server who just can't believe you'd sit them with 6 Canadian social workers 5 minutes before they got cut and for fucks sake didn't you hear me say I had a date tonight during the shift meeting?
  • Resist the urge to roll your eyes at said jerks, people who decide they want to sit somewhere else, people who just up and move without asking/telling, etc.
  • If you want to get into serving eventually (which most hosts naturally do), do proactive things that signal to the manager that you'd be a good server. This means bus tables, PRE-BUS tables (clear plates when the guests are done, not just when they're gone), smile a lot, be extremely friendly, etc. If you REALLY want to get fast-tracked to serving, talk to the guests about food and drink items as you're leading them to the tables. This will be the difference between you being a host for 2 weeks or 6 months.
  • Ask your manager if they want you to do menu counts periodically (this goes along with the above point nicely). All that means is you go count how many menus are in front of seated guests and report it to the manager and kitchen staff-- you're basically giving them a heads up on how many meals they'll be cooking in the next 5-10 minutes.
  • Resist the temptation to be a complete smartass to people, no matter how hard it gets. Trust me on this one- if somebody asks for "a quiet table" in a huge busy restaurant and you inform them that, "this one hasn't said a thing all day," when you bring them to the next table in rotation, your manager is NOT going to be happy with you.
  • Be organized and stay calm. Being at the front can be stressful when the rush hits because you have so many people demanding your attention. This is where communication comes in- you'll be working with up to 2 other hosts during these times so it's important to delegate reponsibility and work as a team. Early on the more experienced hosts will be giving you your responsibilities, but you'll pick it up soon enough. On a 3-person team you'll usually have one person on the door (greeting, taking names), one person running (bringing people to tables), and one person on the floor (grabbing menus, helping get tables reset, etc).
  • Don't be afraid to ask servers for help. Regardless of how much shit they may give you, servers understand that good hosts make them good money. If you absolutely can't leave the door but need a table ran, ask a nearby server to do it for you. Smart servers understand that the door helps them when they help the door. Some servers are dicks to the hosts, but I was always super nice and helpful for them, and they in turn were more likely to give me good tables (regulars, special occasions) and steer me away from bad tables.
  • Go extremely out of your way to open the door for people with disabilities, the elderly, parents with kids, etc. Not only is it just a nice thing to do, it also makes you look good.
  • Patience, calm, and more patience are your 3 biggest assets. Usually a typical evening hosting shift looks like this: "Jeez, this is so boring, I wonder if it's going to be busy tonight, when do I get to go home?" *an hour later* "OMGHOLYFUCKBALLS THIS IS CRAZY EVERYTHING IS GOING TO SHIT I'M LOSING MY MIND AAAAAAAAHHHH" *an hour later* "That wasn't so bad, jeez, this is so boring, when do I get to go home?" So really it's just boredom punctuated by insanity. If you want to do well at it just learn to master the insanity and really the job is cake, the hard part at that point becomes dealing with the boredom. Not to tell you what to do with your job or anything, but you should really consider working on getting a server spot ASAP because that's where you'll actually make money. You'll find that the host stand is really the boot camp where the management figures out who can hack it as a server and who can't, or they stack it with young, cute, cheap labor. If that describes you, do a good job until you're old enough to serve booze in your state and let the management know a few months ahead of time that you'd like to start serving when that time comes, at that point you'll be a shoo-in.

posted by baphomet at 9:29 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

4) If your restaurant has both tables and booths, show subtle awareness of their needs. I sat elderly folk neat the front of the restaurant (less walking) when possible no matter what the rotation happened to be.

Not to derail or anything, but this gave me a chuckle because we were instructed to do the same thing, which caused the afternoon servers to dread pulling the section closest to the door-- they called it the "geezer motel" or something-- since working that section meant you'd be swimming in septuagenarians all day, who are perceived as spending/tipping less, camping more, and being needier.
posted by baphomet at 9:33 PM on November 8, 2008

Best answer: I worked as a hostess during my freshman year in college. Here are some aspects of the job that others have failed to mention so far:
  • Bribes. Depending on how popular/exclusive your restaurant is, once every few days you will have gentlemen discreetly slipping you $20-$50 once they accost you. There seems to be a consensus amongst us hosting folks that whenever this happens, you are expected to smile, seat the party as quickly as possible (as in, theirs is the first name on the list now) and split the bribe with your fellow hosts, if any. If any other parties complain, just tell them that the customer had a prior reservation.
  • Creepy regulars. As a young bubbly girl who is paid to be nice to everyone who enters the restaurant, you will inevitably end up as the current love object of several creepy dudes. In addition to the seemingly endless supply of older men asking you to come sit down and share a couple of drinks with them (they are harmless, just say you can't, you're working and you chances are that you will never see them again), there might be guys who turn into borderline stalkers, quizzing waiters about when your next shift is or where you live. Don't try to deal with them yourself, as that is most certainly not part of your job, but immediately talk to your managers if you have any concerns about them.
  • Leaving work. Never be embarrassed to ask someone to walk you to your car/bus stop after dark, especially if you have to deal with the above-mentioned "regulars".
  • Pretty shoes. As a hostess, you will be expected to dress much more nicely than anyone else in the restaurant. This is great if you enjoy dressing up for work, but it usually means that you will have to stand for hours and hours on high heels. Read these post to help with that problem, but in my experience you get used to it pretty quickly.
  • Racism. It's not really something I should have to write about, but depending on the area where you will be working, you will have to deal with a lot of stereotypes than baphomet's "geezer motel" mentioned above. For example, I've had most of the servers working a weekend night come up to me and ask me not to sit any Hispanics, Asians, or African-Americans in their sections. The best way to reply to that is to just announce that you are following whatever rotation schedule your boss handed you that day, but be warned that certain waiters can hold a grudge against you if they don't get the tips they expect, especially people with small amounts of power like floor managers who can deny you the shifts you want. (Yeah, "classy", the restaurant where I worked, but this was a real problem that was also true in another place where I was a waitress/bartender, and you as a hostess have to be comfortable with making these sorts of decisions.)
  • Conflicts, like the one described above or anything else. Remember, finding and training new hostesses is much easier than finding qualified servers. In a way, you control how much the servers will be making in tips that night, so most people will be very, very nice to you: expect tons of hugs and friendliness like you've never encountered before from your waiters. But in my experiences, restaurant staff write their own little soap operas every day, so sometimes a waiter might go out of his way to be a jerk to you (Did you seat a Hispanic couple at his table when he explicitly asked you not to? Yeah, like that.): just remember that you are easily replaced, but servers... not so much, and take it in stride.
    Other than that, enjoy your job! Hosting is likely to be more fun than any other job you'll ever have!

  • posted by halogen at 10:32 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

    I'm sorry, the last sentence I wrote is not what I meant to say. I'm a biochemist now. My job is certainly fun, just not in the sneak-the-cocktails-the-bartender-gives-you-in-to-go-cups, take-up-smoking-just-so-you-can-have-smoking-breaks, make-friends-with-the-kitchen-staff-and-go-home-with-giant-boxes-of-paella kind of way.

    Who am I kidding. Biochemistry's not fun.
    posted by halogen at 10:38 PM on November 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

    Resist the urge to one-night stand bartenders, waiters or god-forbid.....shift managers. Hang out and drink with them...yes. Sleep with!

    Not sure if you were looking for this type of advice or not. I am speaking from unfortunate authority!
    posted by beachhead2 at 2:10 PM on November 9, 2008

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