What's it like being a hostess?
January 12, 2009 5:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be a restaurant hostess. I'm scared!

So I'm out of school, working silly jobs while scratching away at an acting career. I've never wanted to work in restaurants--something about it (mostly a fear of embarrassing myself) has always been unappealing to me. But after a few months of labouring at minimum wage cafe type jobs, I'm started to understand why the actress/server cliche exists--it's the only way to make decent money on an actors schedule!

So I got a hostess job (gotta break in somehow), and start wednesday. But I'm really nervous, totally inexperienced--and this thread hasn't made me feel any better.

I guess I'm asking: What's it like being a hostess? What do you DO? What are your tips to make it more manageable? Am I going to get eaten alive?

*sigh* I hate being the 'new girl'. Reassurance is welcome!
posted by stray to Work & Money (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I guess I should add that it's a relatively upscale place, and that I've read the wikiHow on the subject.
posted by stray at 5:16 PM on January 12, 2009

Very good answers in this thread.

As long as you're patient, friendly, and willing to roll with the punches, you will be fine. Anyone who has to deal with the general public has to deal with their share of jerks - don't take anything personally. When I was a hostess in an upscale DC restaurant, the actual duties were easy-peasy; being friendly to rude assholes and look-at-me VIPs was the hard part.
posted by peachfuzz at 5:25 PM on January 12, 2009

You sound genuine and maybe a bit shy. Both these qualities are more endearing to most people than a cool efficiency. You`ll be fine.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:25 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you can handle working in a cafe, you can handle being a hostess: you'll still have to deal with the occasional asshole customer, but on the bright side, you'll probably have less coffee spilled on yourself at the end of the day. (In college, I was a barista and a friend was a hostess, when we compared notes it didn't seem too terribly different.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:30 PM on January 12, 2009

Oh, one general note - fit the tone place you're working at; from management's perspective, you're the patron's first impression of the place, the first part of the dining experience. If it's obnoxiously chi-chi, it won't behoove you to be bubbly and chipper. If it's more classic fine dining, they'll want you to be calm and serene and sophisticated. Some places will put more emphasis on attractiveness, some places won't think that's appropriate. Take cues from the servers.
posted by peachfuzz at 5:31 PM on January 12, 2009

Since you're an aspiring actress, maybe you could look at it as a role. Try to imagine what kind of person would make the best restaurant hostess and then be that person (incorporating your own real-life personality into it, of course). Stay "in character" until it becomes second-nature (and most importantly, until it becomes comfortable) to you.
posted by amyms at 5:35 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Like any new job, you're apprehensive because you're new and it's something you've never done. And like any new job, the first few days will be rough, but soon you'll fall into a pattern where you're comfortable. You'll develop confidence, learn about the industry, meet tons of new people, and get to rub elbows with the well-to-do.

Remember: most jobs really aren't that hard. It's just a matter of following a pattern for 95% of the time, and knowing how to handle the 5% of exceptions.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 5:36 PM on January 12, 2009

You're going to be great! I was never a hostess, but I was a waitress for about 10 years, so, I've known quite a few hostesses.

Think of yourself as the first part of a wonderful dining experience. Act like it is your restaurant, like you are proud and happy to greet your new guests, welcome them and bring them to their table.

I'm not sure what your relationship will be with the food servers and the sections, but you may have to make decisions that could be perceived as affecting their earnings (you always give so-and-so the big parties, etc). If there is a fair and established system in place, this shouldn't be an issue.

I think one of the best thing about being a hostess is that ... you don't have to develop a relationship with your customers. You can just smile and give them a great first impression, and then drop off that their table. Then, as long as they have a nice time, you can warmly say goodbye to them on their way out...

Things may get kind hectic when the restaurant gets busy. Be confident, cool, on top of it.

I seem to remember us food servers didn't think so highly of the hostesses - it was a high turnover job, and there was always a new girl starting, who would get stressed out and cry. You sound like you're interested in waiting tables eventually, so I know are made of tougher material than that;)

You'll be on your feet alot, which you may find tiring or energizing. I enjoyed waiting tables, because I enjoyed being active.

It's a service job, for a people person. So, focus on making great impressions, being organized and cool and collected, and friendly and warm. You'll get the hang of it within a week or two, and by a month, you should be comfortable and having fun... ! Good luck!!!!!
posted by Locochona at 5:44 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

The restaurant I was lead hostess for did a tip pool - a percentage of all server tips that is split between bus and host staff. Bar tips were excluded from our pool. Some states have ruled that tip pools are illegal. You should look up how this works in your state, because it can mean that you make a higher hourly wage than almost anyone else on the floor (manager excepted, of course) but get no tips.

• Arrive an hour or two before any other floor staff to dust my area, water plants, refill restroom supplies, check lightbulbs and candles and replace if necessary, and anything else the night's manager needed done of that nature.
• Make sure any reservations in the book for that night were complete (name, time, number in party) and checked off as confirmed. Call any unconfirmed parties to verify, noting any "fuzzies", in case we needed to juggle tables.
• Confirm the next day's reservations.
• Put up reservation signs on tables.
• Confirm which servers would be on the floor and at what times, so that we knew what the table distribution would look like. Not all establishments follow this rule, but we liked to evenly space people throughout the restaurant both for patron comfort and server fairness. We had a few layout cheat sheets to slip under a piece of Plexiglass for however many servers were on the floor, and we'd use a set of grease pencils to mark which tables were taken, which servers were in action, and any issues or other things we needed to remember on the Plexiglass. This was invaluable, but not all nice establishments allow this. Ours was hidden under a classy top piece on our podium, so we got away with it.
• Set up the outside ambiance - we had torches and signs and chairs that had to be situated.
• Answer phones, give directions, take new reservations (making sure they fit into what we'd already agreed to, of course), answer questions about the restaurant.
• Greet anyone who entered the door as if they were Famous (yes, big "F").
• Walk them to their server or table, depending on how your restaurant prefers (we did to table, allowing the server a moment to finish at other tables as guests became situated - knowing the basics of server table etiquette would be a good idea if this is the case where you'll be).
• Quell rumblings from guests until a manager can get involved...and be the one to involve the manager, quickly and appropriately.
• Keep track of server breaks, who's doing sidework in preparation for shiftend, and if anyone is going home early (when business is slow, it's typical for servers to shuffle out).
• Truly know how long it will take before a guest is seated, if they need to wait, and show them to the bar or other waiting seating if they're interested.
• Never reveal gossip.

...and all restaurants handle this somewhat differently. I did a lot compared to some and less compared to others.

The most important thing for a hostess is to always be professional. Don't let even the meanest guest or server cause your eye to bat or sneer to form. In fact, be more genuinely friendly the meaner they get, and you can turn most of them to your side.
posted by batmonkey at 5:49 PM on January 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

I should have added: in order to know how long it will really take to seat guests, you have to know how the kitchen is doing, so you'll need to keep your ears and eyes open to what's going on there...best to form a relationship with the kitchen folks at the end of the line, the bar people, and, at minimum, your top servers.
posted by batmonkey at 5:51 PM on January 12, 2009

I was a hostess for about a year between high school and college. As a natural introvert, it wasn't my ideal job. The job itself doesn't require much more than people skills and the ability to multi-task, but the people you work worth can make it easier or harder for you. Some things I remember:

1. Some customers will be jerks. On purpose. If you work at a restaurant where there can be long waits, prepare to hear the question, "How much longer until we get a table?" a few thousand times per night. Hopefully if there are waits, your restaurant will have pagers. We used to have to call customers by name, and one jerky customer insisted that his name was "Wang" so I would have to walk around the restaurant yelling "WANG!" when his table was ready.

2. People in pretty much every other role at the restaurant will give you crap at some time or another. The manager will be upset because you're not seating people fast enough. The waitstaff will be upset because you're seating people too fast. The customers will get upset because they have to wait for a table, or they don't like the table you've selected for them. Try not to take it personally.

3. Make friends with the waitstaff. Learn to communicate with them and find out their working preferences. Some like to have a full set of tables to make the most money possible during their shift. Others like a break between when a table leaves and when you seat a new one. If you get to know their preferences, there's less of a chance they will get angry at you.

4. Eat before your shift. This may vary by restaurant, but we were never given breaks and we were forbidden to eat at the hostess stand where customers could see us. There were many nights I would take a trip through the kitchen to inhale a dinner role as my only "break".

5. Over-estimate wait times. If you think it will be 10 minutes before a table is available, tell them 15-20. That way they'll be pleasantly surprised when they get a table early, or at the very least you're covered if your guess was a little bit off.

I'm sure someone will walk you through the ropes on your first day. It will take you a little while to get up to speed, but you'll get there. Don't worry, if an extreme introvert like me could survive hostessing, I'm sure you can do it too! :)
posted by geeky at 5:56 PM on January 12, 2009

Think of this as your first acting job. You have a role to play, but it's improv.

Annnnd... action!
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:38 PM on January 12, 2009

You're going to be fine!

I've hosted and worked in restaurants and bars for about eight years.

The tip pool and individual responsibility varies greatly from place to place: this should all be covered in your training.

Try to make allies/friends with managers and servers and bartenders as much as possible...I've had many people show me the ropes and that always helped tremendously.

One thing that always helps me when customers are irrationally rude or impatient is to consider that you're not doing they're taxes or anything close to that stressful- sometimes the heat is high, but at the end of the day customers are waiting to eat food, not for you to perform heart surgery, don't let them convince you the situation is high stakes, stay happy and kind and it is more difficult for a customer (or server or manager) to be angry with you.

Watch Waiting...full of cliches that are incredibly accurate. Careful of dating coworkers...restaurants are often full of young, energetic, attractive individuals who tend to gravitate toward one another and end up in highly dramatic relationships...again...watch Waiting.

Don't forget to have fun...that's what everyone else is there to do, so you might as well. Be able to laugh at the ridiculousness...

And yeah, what everyone else said about this being your first "role".

Wear comfy shoes.

You'll be great!
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 11:12 PM on January 12, 2009

I think the trickiest thing about the job is when you have a wait and you're trying to estimate how long it is. Ask around at the restaurant until someone gives you some good rules of thumb. If it's a small place, rules of thumb don't work as well. You'll have to develop a sense for the rhythm of the place and an eye for details like "that table just got their check" and "they're folding their napkin so they're probably ready for their check." I try to get better at this by noting in the margin what I told people. The advice about overestimating the wait is good.
posted by salvia at 12:44 AM on January 13, 2009

Since you're an aspiring actress, maybe you could look at it as a role.

Best advice you'll get in this thread.

The story goes that George Segal used to prepare for talk-show appearances by acting like someone who enjoyed making talk-show appearances.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:40 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Over-estimate wait times. If you think it will be 10 minutes before a table is available, tell them 15-20. That way they'll be pleasantly surprised when they get a table early, or at the very least you're covered if your guess was a little bit off.

Don't do this. This can inadvertently encourage people to leave who otherwise might have stayed. It also encourages people to drink at the bar before dinner rather than at the table, which will piss off the wait staff.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 6:41 AM on January 13, 2009

Keep in mind that hostesses wield quite a bit of power in a restaurant. With practice you'll get to know your clientele and will be able to predict their [tipping] behavior. You can reward and punish servers easily, so don't let them intimidate you.

Also, smile. A multitude of sins will be forgiven for one genuine smile.
posted by workerant at 7:36 AM on January 13, 2009

If management tells you to space out seatings of people by X minutes, listen to them. If everyone gets sat at the same time, and all orders enter the kitchen at the same time, it creates massive slow-down in the kitchen.

Remember: its better for people to wait at the door for 10-20 minutes than at their table for 1-1.5 hours.
posted by ijoyner at 10:57 AM on January 13, 2009

Response by poster: Everything is going well, and i'm doing more expo work than hostessing-which is good, as it means more tips!
Thanks yall.
posted by stray at 1:55 PM on February 12, 2009

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