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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

The Waiter Chronicles: Tips for An Off-Day

Monday, July 23, 2007

I don't work at the restaurant again until Wednesday night. This gives me some valuable time to reflect on my first week as a waiter and to offer some insight. I made the remark to Grandpa the other night that learning to be a waiter is like learning a language; there are rules and sequences that have to be observed, yet some of the most important nuggets fall outside those rules. Call them the "irregular verbs" of waiting.

All that being said, learning to be a waiter or learning a language has to be an immersion experience. You have to learn it by being in it and by doing it, not by reading about it. That's stressful. Here are some tips for how to handle learning something completely new, ala immersion.

1. Don't think so much.
it sounds counter-intuitive, but a lot of learning is hampered by your brain. If you can stop trying to analyze the how-to and the grammar of the thing, you'll find the learning happening on its own, without you even knowing it.

2. Go, Go, Go.
The less frequently you stop, the more you learn. This isn't just about diligence, though. It's about keeping your mind and body occupied with the task at hand and disengaging your cerebral cortex a little bit (see #1).

3. There are no stupid questions.
If you're afraid to ask questions, you're DOA. "I" before "E" except when? What's in the tomato sauce? Where do I put my hands? Seriously, if you don't know something, ask somebody. This does two things: first, it builds your knowledge base (slowly but surely); second, it builds relationships. People like to be helpful. Your questions give them an opportunity to do that.

4. Don't ask so many questions or Sin Boldly.
Here's the counterbalance to #3: asking questions can become a substitute for action. Don't let a lack of certainty keep you from diving in. Especially early on, your mistakes will be generously tolerated, especially if they come from a place of boldness and not timidity. The other day the owner lambasted me for the crappy coffee I made him, saying, "If you worked for me in Italy you'd be fired." But then he laughed it off and complemented the fact that I was gutsy enough to try.

5. Sell it, baby.
People don't know you're a novice until you tell them. And as long as you're not over-hyping your knowledge and ability, they won't care when they find out. So act like a pro, not a novice. Look like you know what you're doing. That starts with the most fundamental suspension of disbelief, your own. Convince yourself that you do speak Botswanian. You won't inspire the confidence of others if you don't have confidence in yourself, even if that confidence has no basis in reality. And, especially in the service industry, it's about the confidence of others. People might sympathize with a waiter who excuses himself--"Oh, I'm new at this"--but they won't like it.

If I can do it, so can you.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:14 AM


Okay, so I appreciate your point about sinning boldly, but I'm scandalized by the particular sin -- you made a cup of coffee that was too weak?! Shame, NPH. Shame.
commented by Anonymous Point of Order, 10:26 AM  
Every espresso machine is different. My first attempt was terrible, so I made another one, which looked only slightly better. Rather than have this guy think I was wasting all his grind, I made a snap decision that I'd better go with what I had.

Wrong decision.

The good move was being bold enough to do it, but the bad move was not keeping at it until I had something presentable.

I am appropriately ashamed.
commented by Blogger Not Prince Hamlet, 10:31 AM  

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