If you’re anything like me as a server, your apron is your LIFE. It’s where you keep (almost) everything you need to get you through a shift. In this article we’re going to talk about the 5 essentials to keep in your apron: your server book, a cash bank, a wine key, a lighter, and writing utensils.
I always look forward to washing and re-organizing my apron at the start of a work week. I know, what a nerd!! There’s something satisfying about taking my dirty apron and dumping it out on the floor, old tickets and straw wrappers scattered everywhere. Once I’ve washed and ironed my apron, I start piecing it back together with everything I will need. The 5 items I have found essential to keep in my apron at all times as a server are; my server book, a cash bank, wine key/bottle opener combo, a lighter, and an array of writing utensils.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these and why they can be lifesavers during busy shifts!
Your server book is the heart of your apron. It is what will keep you the most organized during your shift.
Quick note here, some restaurants have switched to handheld POS systems, which in my experience with them replace the need for a server book, especially if you are using the paperless payment system with guests. If you have the room in your apron for both your handheld and a small server book for a backup, do that! The worst is when your handheld freezes and you can’t write an order down because you don't have paper in your apron.
Anyway, for those of us still kickin it old school without handheld POS tablets, your server book is crucial. It’s where you will write down orders, store receipts, and hold cash throughout the shift. If your managers don’t provide you with one, order one online that you like. Make sure to check with your manager before buying one with glitter unicorns on it though, that might not meet your uniform guidelines!
Here are some links to a few of my favorite server books/wallets:
Your server book should have a place for a guest check pad. Yes, regular paper will work fine too, but I always feel more organized using guest check pads. They’re made for writing orders down, and sized to fit in most server books perfectly.
You might also want to keep some menu notes in your server book. Some chefs will provide you with an allergy matrix with modification rules, so you can refer to it quickly when you’re busy. If you work in a venue with an extensive wine program, maybe you keep some notes about new wines you are trying to sell. Think about questions guests have that might trip you up, and try to prepare yourself as well as you can.
Keeping a cash bank on you during a serving shift is always a good idea. Even if you are allowed to get change from a bartender or manager, having to interrupt them during a busy service isn’t ideal for anyone involved. Do yourself a favor and keep anywhere from $50-$100 in small bills so that you can easily make change throughout the shift.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of venues went “cashless” in order to protect their staff from having to touch a bunch of dirty money. I worked in a restaurant that did this, and I still tried to carry a cash bank on me. There were a lot of customers who paid with a card but then wanted to tip me in cash, and needed change to do so. The few times I didn’t have the cash bank on me I ended up not getting tipped because no one else in the venue was able to make change. Look out for yourself and be prepared, your guests will notice and you’ll come out ahead.
Okay, so this one really can come down to personal preference, because everyone likes using a different kind of bottle opener. It also can vary depending on the type of restaurant you work in. If you work in a brewery and don’t even sell wine, maybe you will go for a straightforward bottle opener, like this one.
If you do work somewhere that you will need to open wine bottles, you want to go with what is called a wine key. This style opener is what most managers will approve of, and what customers are used to seeing service staff use. Wine keys can be super basic, or function as a multi-tool as well. But before buying that $50 wine key, keep in mind that they tend to go missing if you’re not careful.
Here are a few of my favorite wine keys, from most basic to most advanced:
I never realized how often I would need a lighter as a waitress until I realized I had gone through a 12-pack of lighters in about 6 months. Birthday candles, specialty cocktails, candles on tables, heat lamps, guests asking to borrow one for their smoke break. Having a lighter on you will really come in handy!
Just a quick note that like all of the essential apron items, the point of making sure you have a lighter on you is so that you can work as efficiently as possible during your shift. This isn’t for your boss, it’s for you. So that you can be the best server you can be, and make the most money possible. If you're taking a food order and the candle on the guests’ table goes out, watch their expressions as you take your lighter out of your apron and relight it mid-order. Smooth and seamless service is our goal, and these tools are the only way we get there.
I know you’re wondering why I don’t just say pens. Of course, pens are the number 1 writing tool that you need to keep in your apron! But there is also a need to keep a sharpie and a dry erase marker in your apron at all times. Let’s look at each of these:
I always use black ink ‘clickable” pens that have a clip so that they can stay organized in my apron. I stay away from any colors because it’s hard for people (and myself) to read, and because it makes my apron look messy in my opinion. Your restaurant probably provides pens for you to use, but if they don’t or if you would just rather have your own, here is a link to my favorite pens: PaperMate Ballpoint Click Pens
Sharpies, or any brand permanent marker, will come in handy when you’re labeling to-go boxes or other things around the restaurant that pens won’t work for.
Dry erase markers come in handy if you have a whiteboard for any type of sidework duties or cut-orders. Although there is probably a marker around somewhere, being able to have one in your apron again saves you time and energy.
You’re ready to go! Make sure your apron is clean and pressed, add your essentials, and get ready for a great shift!
Here are a few other items I like to keep in my apron if I have the room: