In this article: 3 tips to help waitstaff succeed during a busy Valentines Day service.
It's that time of the year again - Valentine's Day is here!
For all of us working in the restaurant industry, we know this as one of our busiest nights of the year, and we brace ourselves as if we are going into battle.
Pre-fixe menus, champagne bottles, overbooked reservations and long wait times are part of the typical VDay madness. If you are new to the industry, the first few years of working this holiday can be overwhelming and nerve-racking, and you'll most likely gather a few war stories to share later on.
In an effort to make this crazy day a little less painful for the less experienced servers and bartenders here, I'm sharing a few tips that can help take a Valentines Day service from chaos to controlled. The key is to remember that for the most part, you'll be serving couples. Understanding their expectations and how to go above and beyond them in a few simple ways can really change the entire experience for everyone.
This is really a great tip for starting out any shift, but when you know that you're going to be extra busy and won't have any time to waste, getting your ducks in a row is a necessity!
Set yourself up for success by making sure you are prepared both physically and mentally:
Make sure to take a nap or sleep in if possible, eat a good meal, and give yourself plenty of time to get ready for work. Maybe put a little extra makeup on or put some product in your hair. For some reason, getting in the weeds doesn’t seem to happen as often when you feel good and look good!
Another crucial way to prepare is to take the time to reset and clean your apron. Wash and iron it, and then fill it with everything you will need: Server book with paper and a cash bank, lots of black pens, a lighter, a wine key/bottle opener, wobble wedges, and maybe an extra hair tie or chapstick. Check in with your managers to see if there is anything else they would recommend keeping in your apron based on the needs of your specific restaurant!
You also want to physically prepare the restaurant for a busy service. Overstock your stations, have as many extra backups as you can, and make sure everything is as clean and organized as possible before opening. You don't want to have to spend time searching in dry storage for printer paper in the middle of service, so think ahead as much as possible.
Make sure to mentally prepare yourself for a busy night. Do you know the specials? Are there rules or new procedures you need to follow? Did you check the 86’ items list? Most likely your managers will have a lengthy pre-shift before a busy night like Valentines Day. Make sure you pay attention, ask questions if you need clarification, and take notes to keep handy.
The idea behind prepping is to feel extremely confident throughout the shift. Whatever you need to do to feel clear, confident and ready to make some money…well, make sure you do it!
Whether you are working at Nobu or Olive Garden, the clientele that you are going to be serving on Valentine's Day will have one thing in common: Most of them will be couples!
Having a section full of 2-tops may seem easier than handling large parties, but remember that on Valentine's Day each of your tables is expecting their experience to be the best they’ve ever had.
When you greet a couple, be sure to welcome them warmly and acknowledge the holiday. Make each interaction personal, being careful to not dump too much information on them because you’re so busy. Before speaking to customers, take a deep breath and be aware that you need to present as calmly as possible, to not give them the feeling of being rushed themselves. Let the conversation flow naturally, listening to them and making mental notes of what you think they might need or want.
If they are a new couple, you might feel their discomfort or awkwardness at first. Dating is hard and Valentines day carries a lot of pressure for some! Instead of feeding off of their energy, try to break the ice by being warm, helpful, and not too stuffy. Once people are comfortable in their environment things always flow more smoothly; and they will appreciate you for being more than just their server.
One last note on clientele: Seasonal Diners
Seasonal diners are people who go out to eat on holidays and don't go out to eat regularly, so they are less accustomed to the norms that come with dining out. Have patience and impress them by helping them! Instead of getting frustrated, explain things in a friendly manner so they feel more comfortable. You won’t win all of these battles, but you may be impressed at how often the dynamic shifts when your attitude does.
Like it or not, when you are on the floor, you are on stage. Again, this can be helpful to remember during any shift, but I have found that on a holiday like Valentine’s Day, giving your guests the idea that you are really going above and beyond is crucial.
I’m not saying that you should start singing and dancing mid-shift, or even that you should be “acting” at all. All I mean by “performing” is that you are putting your all into making sure you hit your marks for each table throughout the shift. Of course some days this is easier said than done, so be gentle with yourself if turning it “on” is a challenge for you.
Holiday diners love a server who makes them feel extra special. Your goal should be to make every table feel like they are the only ones in your section. Do this and even your grumpiest customers will find a reason to smile (and give you a generous tip!)
Remember that Valentine's Day is all about showing the love. Although it can be stressful at times, reminding your customers, coworkers and yourself that we are all here to celebrate love can help take the pressure off.
I hope that these tips and tricks can give you an extra boost of confidence to go crush it this Valentines Day. Practice makes perfect, and before you know it you will be looking forward to busy holidays because you know exactly how to handle them.