So much more than a pretty face.
I sometimes come across people who are under the impression that a restaurant hostess is basically nothing other than the pretty face that greets customers with a scripted, somewhat robotic recitation, adds nothing of value to the restaurant, and if so inclined can make any of the servers’ shifts a living hell. I've definitely witnessed my share of adults treating hostesses as if they are all vapid, undereducated and unable to attain a 'higher position'. I will concede that the most recent blog I have read specifically mentions very young hostesses, but I’d like to share a different view. With training and a great atmosphere some of the young girls just may find they like working their way through high school as a hostess.
So, yes, you’ve guessed correctly. I am a hostess. Somewhat jokingly I refer to myself as a bar and dining room coordinator (hey, we have all seen titles such as ‘domestic engineer’). I work in an independently owned neighborhood bar and grill and my shifts include both lunch and dinner; sometimes both on the same day. The simple mechanics of my job are as follows: Find out what the daily special and soups are so that I can then post them on the specials board in the dining room. Greet the customers. Take customers to a table. Answer the phone; take to go orders. Keep the waiting area neat and clean. Thank customers as they are leaving. On a rare day, that is exactly what I do. Most days, and especially nights, aren’t quite like that.
Since our establishment is the type I mentioned, we have a lot of regulars. I try to remember as many as possible by name (our servers and bartenders do the same). The customers already start out on a good note when you greet them by name. There are also many who like a certain table or booth or maybe prefer tables in the bar area. They’ve shared with me if there are servers they prefer, or don’t prefer for that matter. I remember these things as well. No matter how busy it is, I still make a point to engage in some conversation with people; no matter how small or seemingly trivial it might be. Conversely, if it’s obvious that no conversation other than the dinner special is desired I know that, too. Sometimes I do that if I know it will be a few minutes longer than usual for the server to make it to the table.
When a guest walks through the door I greet them with, “Hi, how are you tonight?” A small percentage actually acknowledge me with an answer; the majority just look at me (some with absolutely no expression on their faces) and flatly say “4” or “We have 7, how long”. I remember one couple that would just look at me and say, “booth” while I was in the midst of saying hello.
I pride myself in knowing that I am a key person in helping a dining room to run smoothly and efficiently. I wish more people in the industry understood this more. I know which servers can’t be double seated and which can actually be triple seated without incident. I am quite accurate in my estimation of wait times; If I say about 20 minutes or about 35 minutes the parties are usually seated within a minute or two either way. Of course there are times when tables just don’t move and the wait is longer. I try to make a little joke and say something like, “I wish I could know exactly when tables would be ready,” or “You know how it is here…people love to linger and talk.” The way I say it goes a long way toward lowering the aggravation they are feeling. If I will need to combine a couple of tables for a larger party, I plan ahead. As I walk through the dining room I note which tables are close to finishing and if needed, hold off on seating one near it so that it is available for the larger party when I need it, I’m very good at combining tables from individual sections so that servers don’t lose out on tables taken away from theirs. (There are times when it just isn’t possible and the servers I work with are very accommodating to one another in switching a table here or there.)
Oh how wonderful it would be if the scenario were always as follows:
“OK, you’re table is ready, would you like to follow me please?” I always pull out the chairs for the guests; just a little thing I do. “We have Hand Breaded Chicken Parmesan with Angel Hair Pasta and a small Caesar Salad for the dinner special. X will be your server tonight and will be right with you. Enjoy your dinner.” 98% of the time I have a genuine smile on my face when I am greeting and seating people.
Sadly, it doesn’t always go that way. Often (but not always) someone doesn’t want the table I take him or her to. One of more of the party wants the booth the people just vacated and is dirty, or the couple doesn’t want to sit at the two top but rather the 4 top I was going to use for the next family of 4. So, do I give them the larger table or do I encourage them to stay at the two top? Often it depends upon attitude. If they’ve been polite and I have another couple or a single I can seat at the two top, I will give them the 4 top. They’re happy, feel they were heard and had good customer service from the beginning. Had I made them stay at the two top, their unfortunate waiter will bear the brunt of and dissatisfaction they had about the table they were given.
Again, knowing our customers, most enjoy a little bit of conversation about themselves and often like to ask about me. If time allows, we chat, if not, I try to make an effort to stop by at least once more before they finish. There are also many guests who don’t want that type of interaction and that is respected as well.
I am one of a few hostesses at our place who can and does take to go orders. Most of the others work only 1 shift a week so it isn’t really worth training them for it. During the day, the bartender takes most of the to go orders unless it is one of our really busy days. Then I may take as many or more. Nights are completely different. To go orders are a large part of the evening and with the bar being packed it is actually easier for me to do it. Many times there are 3 calls on hold, all waiting to place orders (while I have people walking in the door whose names need to be added to my wait list). When the waiting area is packed, the place is full and sports are on…we live in a major sports city…it can be nice and loud while I’m on the phone. I repeat the order and keep my fingers crossed I heard it correctly!
There are a lot of fun aspects to my job as well. I get to see everyone who comes in. Many are friends I have known for years and years, many are customers I have met during the years I have worked there and of course there are new people to meet every day. I can be sincerely friendly a large portion of the time and yes, I admit that there are those times that my laughter is forced or my sarcastic alter ego is trying desperately to make an appearance. I have a couple of customers who (after checking with the boss) bring me a glass of wine or an Ice Pick( if discretion is needed; no one has to know it isn’t iced tea, right?).
Yes, on the shallow side I get to wear what I want. While the rest of the staff is in uniform, I am able to wear whatever suits my mood-and the weather-that day. Casual, dressy, pretty, trendy…as long as it is appropriate.
I also truly like most of the people I work with. There are a few I rarely work with, some I work with 2 or 4 days a week and others I work with on the weekends. We all just get along and appreciate each other’s strengths. I am blessed that our servers thank me and often tell me how much I am appreciated for how I do my job and how I keep things under control. We have all seen those nights when things are chaotic so we love the ones that are not!
Liquor and food vendors come in and always want our opinions. I get to sample wines and liquors, new or potentially new food items. I am sure that in some places (corporate maybe?) the hostess doesn’t get to do that…providing she is of age of course.
I keep it clean, too. The waiting area can get all kinds of messy from kids eating their cheerios, to empty bottles and glasses from the bar, to scraps people drop, and constantly clean the glass doors; you can surely imagine how many fingerprints and such appear over the course of 7 hours.
Then there’s the dreaded….Ladies’ Room. Now, you’d think it would be simple: use commode, flush commode, make sure it doesn’t require another flush, wash hands with soap from dispenser, dry with paper towel, place used paper towel into trash can…rejoin your table. Well…..not quite. Some forget to check for the needed second flush. Some forget to actually flush at all. Hands are washed; evidenced by the puffs of stray liquid soap floating in various puddles around the countertop. They are also dried with paper towels that can’t seem to land in the conveniently located trashcan right where the ‘handwasher’ is now standing. Apparently in many societies, ‘close enough’ is as good as ‘in the basket’, so, I go in, flush toilets, pick up shreds and lengths of toilet paper, wipe off the sink, collect the random bottles and glasses that sometimes find their way into the ladies’ room, pick up the wadded paper towels from behind the trashcan and head out, grateful that I don’t have to repeat this process in the men’s room. I will spare your mind the picture of what happens when people have eaten something that doesn’t agree with them or had a few too many drinks or the kids and elderly who should not have gone unsupervised into the restroom have left.
So, you see, while there are always going to be places that hire young and untrained host staff, there are also many others that have an energetic, friendly, efficient and smart person starting each guest’s visit with the customer service that they will and should continue to receive throughout their meal.