Host Hacks: Taking Reservations

Host Hacks: Taking Reservations

The restaurant host can be one of the most under-appreciated and difficult jobs in the industry. Between juggling information, keeping a multitude of personalities happy, and running each group on a schedule, a good host has a ton to do, and it all depends on a precarious balance that the host has to keep in play.

Being a good host can be learned, though; with some experience, and the help of these host hacks and tips, a host can seamlessly move to up the career ladder. Start today with these tips from the host stand. First up are pro-tips for taking reservations:

Be friendly and accessible

This is the restaurant industry’s golden rule, always: treat people how you would want to be treated. And whether you’re taking reservations remotely or in-person, this is the first step to excelling in your position.

Smile at the diner-to-be (even if you’re on the phone), and start the conversations by asking how can you help. You never want the guest to have to ask to make a reservation. Even if your guest is hoping to dine at an inconvenient time, or has asked for a reservation last-minute, you should be accommodating and patient.

Remember, you are the restaurant’s first impression, so you want to make it a good one!

Be knowledgeable about guests

Aside from asking guests when they’d like to dine and how many are in their party, you’ll want to get some background information as well. Not only will it impress guests but also be very helpful to the servers and kitchen staff. Some items ask about when taking reservations:

  • Dietary restrictions (vegan, gluten-free, peanut allergies?)
  • Table preference
  • Size of the group
  • Contact details
  • Time and date of reservation

An important note about the final point above, be sure to very nicely suggest an alternate time if the requested time is unavailable; you could easily lose business by letting this opportunity pass!

Be organized

With so much going on, you’ll definitely want to have an organization system in place so you can balance the many guests, servers and tables without losing your cool. This way, when last-minute guests do come in, you’ll be able to adjust for them easily.

Be sure to have a chart of all the servers on duty and keep track of their tables and guests throughout the night so that you don’t seat walk-ins in a busy section. This information will also be useful if a table is not turning over; you’ll know how to reorganize and where to seat the next round of diners.

Your restaurant should have a digital reservation system, but if they don’t, be sure to make note of all reservations on a physical form somewhere; the brain isn’t made to remember too many various details by itself!

Always know when someone arrives

With in-person reservations and guests alike, you need to always be accessible, and on top of your game. One key element, which can seem very small, is to acknowledge each person as they enter the restaurant, especially someone without an existing reservation.

Be sure that each person feels special, and that their reason for entering is addressed quickly and thoughtfully.

Not only will you make people happy right at the start of their dining experience, but you’ll cut down on walk-outs by being present and engaged with everyone.

These quick tips on success at the host stand will help you to stand out and improve the experience for diners, too. You’ll find that you can go far when you follow these hacks on taking reservations and be sure to check back for more host hacks coming in the next few weeks.

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How To Answer 5 Of The Most Common Interview Questions

How To Answer 5 Of The Most Common Interview Questions

To even have a chance at getting a restaurant or hospitality job, acing the interview is a must, and that requires at least some preparation. While you can’t anticipate answers to every question asked, there are some interview questions that nearly every restaurant and hospitality job seeker will face. These are also some of the most difficult questions to answer, and that’s why planning strong responses can drastically increase your chances of nailing the interview and ultimately landing the job.

What is your biggest strength?

A good place to start when planning your answer to this question is by asking yourself: in which aspect of the job am I most confident and which do I enjoy the most? The skill or responsibility that answers both questions makes for a great response because it’s genuine.

A general rule of thumb that applies to this question in particular is that the interview is not the time to be modest. A manager can only have as much confidence in an applicant as the applicant has in his or herself.

Selling oneself by emphasizing strengths as strongly as possible is key here.

Remember, though, that while embellishment is to be expected and perhaps even recommended in situations where experience is lacking, telling outright lies is ill-advised. Not only will getting caught cause others to question your moral compass, but it will likely land you in a position for which you are unprepared.

What is your biggest weakness?

Do not answer this question without careful thought; the person asking is a potential employer, not a therapist. Plus, a wise candidate will turn this into yet another opportunity to highlight his or her strengths.

A good example would be something like taking on more shifts than desired in a past position because it describes a person who will work to the point of exhaustion in order to avoid letting down his or her team. A good quality in the end.

Again, be as genuine as possible when answering this question because chances are your interviewer has heard it all, or said it all. So, if you’re lying your pants off, it will most definitely show. PRO-TIP: if you can’t think of anything, ask a coworker what they think you could work on and take it from there.

What is your favorite part of the job?

When answering this question, take the opportunity to illustrate to the interviewer that you know the ins and outs of the job and the industry culture. An easy way to do this is by using the jargon and slang that you would typically here around the workplace.

This question also provides an opportunity to express what it is about working in a restaurant or service establishment that makes it where you want to be, rather than where you have to be. Whether it’s getting to work with all types of people, facing a different challenge every day or something that’s unique to you, it’s worth sharing.

Go a step further by relating your answer to the business for which you’re interviewing.

For example, if you’re interviewing for server position and your favorite part of the job is giving customers recommendations, add that this job in particular is exciting because of the variety of dishes on the menu. This shows motivation and dedication.

What is your least favorite?

While this is not the time to air grievances, either about past employers or the industry itself, a successful candidate must not fall into the trap of saying that there is nothing that he or she does not like about the job.

While this would be ideal if true, in a perfect world, it is simply not possible and will sound as disingenuous as it is. Answering with an aspect of the job that everyone universally dislikes is a better move. It will ring true and serve the additional purpose of making you relatable to the interviewer.

One possibility? Griping about bad tips. Just be sure to express the understanding that it comes with the territory and be sure to mention that you wouldn’t let it affect your performance.

Why would you make a good addition to the team?

Working in the restaurant and hospitality business is always a team effort, no matter how you slice it because, in the end, all that matters is the experience of the customer or guest. Making this experience a positive one depends not only on your performance but also on the performance of your coworkers.

That said, being a good addition to a team ultimately means that you’re doing what you can to support it.

With this in mind, a winning answer doesn’t have to be overly complicated, it just has to emphasize the fact that you’re willing to be helpful. A wise way to express this is by stressing your readiness to help co-workers without no need of extra incentives; that it’s part of the job to do whatever you can to help the team.


Planning is just half of the battle, though; you also need practice…

Have a friend or family member conduct a mock interview that includes the above questions in the days leading up to the real interview. This will help to work out any kinks in responses and to avoid awkward pauses or excessive use of filler words. Plus, it will boost your confidence, giving you a leg up on the competition!

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The Best Cities for Restaurant Jobs May Surprise You

The Best Cities for Restaurant Jobs May Surprise You

When it comes to finding jobs in the restaurant industry, the grass is always greener in the next city over. However, the places you think of as restaurant meccas may not be the ones you want to pack up and move to.

We’ve compiled a list of cities that we think are the best places for various career paths, factoring in the local restaurant scene, job market, rent, regional economy, state minimum wage for tipped workers, and the average resident’s spending habits. The results included some unexpected winners…

Best city for Servers: Seattle, WA.

Minimum wage for tipped workers in Washington is a staggering $9.47. That’s more than you would earn in California or New York, and, unlike both cities, in Seattle you might find a decent apartment for under $1000 a month! Seattle also has a vibrant restaurant and bar scene; it’s famous for its seafood, but every kind of cuisine is represented.

Best city for Bartenders: Las Vegas, NV.

This one is probably less of a surprise. Minimum wage in Nevada is above average – $7.25 for those who claim health benefits, $8.25 for those who don’t- and in the tourist haven of Las Vegas, you can expect generous tips.

The median amount a Bartender takes home $22 an hour in Sin City.

That goes pretty far in a town where a fair-sized one-bedroom apartment might cost $700 a month. Between its thriving bar scene and its famous casinos, Las Vegas always needs Bartenders, so landing a job, at least, isn’t much of a gamble.

Best city for Cooks and Chefs: Boston, MA.

Minimum wage is only $3.00 in Massachusetts, but the job market favors Chefs and Cooks in the foodie hub of Boston. The median cook can expect to take home $14.40 an hour. In Boston, as in most cities, Cooks make less than a dollar an hour in tips.

Boston’s rent, more than that of most cities, varies wildly by neighborhood, but generally stays under $1000 for a one-bedroom apartment.

Best city to find your first restaurant job: Austin, TX.

It’s true that Texas’ minimum wage is a measly $2.80. However, with unemployment at 3%, Austin’s job market couldn’t be much tighter, driving wages up along with beginning workers’ prospects.

In fact, Austin’s restaurant industry is the fastest-growing in the city.

The city is known for Tex-Mex and southern barbecue, but fine dining and international cuisines are on the rise. Best of all, rent is fairly low, usually around $800 or $900 for a one-bedroom apartment.

Best city to start a restaurant: Buffalo, NY.

If you’ve never been to Buffalo, you might picture it as a crumbling ex-factory town under several feet of snow. You would be right about the snow, but in recent years the former shipping hub has been going through an economic boom, beginning with its restaurants.

One in seventeen Buffalonians works in a restaurant and the city boasts no fewer than five farmers markets, but wages and property values are still relatively low. So if you want the lowest possible starting cost with the largest possible clientele, perhaps you want to learn to make beef on weck.




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BOH Hacks: Improving Front And Back Of House Teamwork

BOH Hacks: Improving Front And Back Of House Teamwork

It’s not uncommon for there to be tensions between restaurants’ front and back of house staff. From opposing personality types to the contentious fact that only the FOH gets tipped, animosities can run high and ultimately cause the quality of service to suffer. However, it doesn’t have to. Although the BOH and FOH may never be besties, the two can work as a team so that service is at its best. Here are a few ways the BOH can help to make it so.

“The BOH needs to know the reality—a team effort between FOH and BOH determines the quality of service.”
Adam Weiner, Culinary Arts Instructor

  1. Have tastings of menu items and daily specials available for the waitstaff before service, so they can answer customer questions with first-hand knowledge.
  1. Along the same lines, use a dedicated board to list the ingredients in the specials so the servers are informed in the case the case of questions and allergies. This way, the kitchen staff does not have to be bothered in these situations.
  1. Instruct the servers on the focal points of each dish so they can place the plate slightly off the focal point and turn it to the proper position. Customers will notice the extra gesture and tips will go up.

When that happens, the servers will think the BOH staff are heroes.

  1. Train FOH staff on how to proceed if a customer is unhappy with the food, whether that is notifying a manager or going straight to the chef. In this situation, Adam Weiner suggests having the chef personally talk with the customer as “doing this fosters loyal customers who bring in more new customers.”
  1. This one is specifically for Kitchen Managers and Executive Chefs – be in the kitchen so that you’re seen by the FOH. Everyone seems to work harder, faster, better and more effectively when the KM or chef is in the kitchen—even if he or she isn’t doing anything.
  1. Continuing with the tip above, take it a step further by dropping in unannounced. According to Weiner, “even when servers don’t report to the chef, they are better servers (and treat the kitchen staff better) when the chef is there or might come in at any moment.”
  1. Don’t let servers hang out in the kitchen as they will inevitably slow down the BOH and potentially get hurt or cause someone else to get hurt due to lack of training.

FOH should only be present in the kitchens their jobs require. No more, no less.

  1. Develop a discreet restaurant-wide hand signal or verbal cue for gathering staff to use in the event of conflict. This helps shield guests from embarrassing situations that might affect how they perceive your business.

The bottom line is that there needs to be an understanding between the front and back of house that personal differences come second to service, and that working as a team will only prove to help this cause. 

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There are plenty of stereotypes surrounding the role of the chef–and all too many of them are negative. Learn to create a kitchen that’s fun to work in while still maintaining the expectations of the restaurant’s customers and avoiding these chef stereotypes!

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5 Ways Mentorship is Transforming the Restaurant Industry

5 Ways Mentorship is Transforming the Restaurant Industry

Mentorship not only opens the door to opportunities that would have never before been accessible, it can also propagate change on a broader scale at the industry level. One such mentorship program is the James Beard Foundation’s Women in Culinary Leadership Program, awarded to women who are aspiring to careers in the culinary industry.

Cindy Pawlcyn, chef and owner of three restaurants in California, is one of the established restaurateurs providing mentorship and leadership training to grantees through the 2016 program. Cindy, along with Minneapolis restaurateur Kim Bartmann — of Barbette, The Third Bird, Pat’s Tap, and many more concepts — explains how they see the role of women evolving in this industry and how mentorship can help.

“There’s not that many women who stick with this business. The more mentoring they get, the more helpful it will be for them to be successful and stay with it long-term.”– Cindy Pawlcyn

Create a supportive kitchen culture

Kim started her career as a line cook in restaurants in Minneapolis. “I had a couple of bad experiences, especially being a woman in the kitchen in the ’80s,” she says. “I quit and vowed I would never work in a restaurant again.”

Eventually, Kim found her way back to the industry when she opened a coffee shop with a friend, and now she has eight restaurants. But early on she struggled to be taken seriously by some of her male colleagues, especially when she became an expeditor and had to tell everyone else what to do. She points to “the usual butt pinching” and the fact that at that time, there were almost no women in the kitchen at all.

Cindy knew she wanted to be a chef when she was as young as 13. She took cooking classes, catered, attended trade school at night throughout high school, and eventually graduated college with a hotel and restaurant management degree. When she was 28 she opened her own restaurant, Mustards Grill, in Napa. “Everybody told me I couldn’t do it because I was a woman,” she recalls. Having to endure name calling and other discriminatory behavior, Cindy says, “some wouldn’t believe it now, what happened in those days.”

When she applied to the Culinary Institute of America, she was told they had filled their quota of women for the next three years and advised to reapply then.

Now, Cindy says the door is opening for women, but she’s still eager to see more women finding success in this business — and that’s where mentorship can help affect change.“I think it’s good for our restaurant community if everybody could have someone that they’re bringing up. When you start being more in a teaching and nurturing and developing mindset to this one person, it spreads to all the rest of them. It’s a good culture.”

Reward people who work hard and want to learn

When asked how they managed to achieve success in the environment of those early days, Cindy and Kim have similar answers: they put their heads down, worked hard, and learned as much as they possibly could.

For Kim, that meant becoming familiar with new ingredients and learning to execute the same dishes and techniques perfectly every time. “The only way you can get that skill set in a kitchen is by having a mentor, a chef, or a teacher teach you how to do it – on-the-job training,” she says. “And to be able to utilize a mentor, you have to be willing to accept the help and learn from other people’s mistakes and successes. Those are rare people in the world.”

Cindy advises not to leave a job before you’ve learned everything you can from that place. “People come in with a pre-determined, ‘I’m going to work here six months or a year and a half,’ but it doesn’t really matter how long it is. It matters how much you get out of that experience.”

Offer real-life training for a broad range of skills

Grantees under Kim will have a program tailored to their goals, but she hopes to mentor someone who wants to learn about multi-unit management, her area of expertise. As manager of eight sets of chefs and front-of-house managers, she offers a unique perspective into the business and operations of a restaurant group.

Similarly, Cindy looks forward to teaching someone how to grow food for a restaurant in Mustards’ garden. They will learn how to harvest, order and plan ahead, work all stations in the front and back of house, work with all of the managers, and build their wine experience by working with local wineries. “I think you have to take the time out of your day to put somebody under your wing, versus just having them work a station,” Cindy explains.

“You have to teach them how your mind thinks and how you make a decision. You have to say how you’re going to do this and why you’re going to do it that way.”

She sees younger team members who come on board and don’t understand what the restaurant business really is — those who just want to be a TV chef. They don’t have management skills or know how to make the business profitable or cost recipes. “You don’t learn that in school, you learn that on the job and facing real day-to-day experiences.”

Make yourself a better, stronger leader

Young chefs aren’t the only ones who benefit from a mentoring relationship; As Cindy and Kim explain, there are massive rewards for the mentors, too. Once you’re explaining your thought processes and nurturing your team, you begin to reexamine and refine your techniques, which is always healthy for the team and the business.

“When they come in and go, ‘why do we do it this way?’ You’ve got to figure out why we do it this way,” says Cindy, because “maybe there is a better way.”

Provide the knowledge and confidence to achieve goals

Kim and Cindy both have benefitted from the support of mentors throughout their careers. Kim opened her coffee shop by maxing out her single mother’s credit card. Later on, she participated in a benefit dinner and was introduced to four female leaders of the Minneapolis food and wine scene: Brenda Langton, Lynne Alpert, Pam Sherman, and Nan Bailey.

“All of the sudden I had somebody to call when I had a really difficult question or a problem that I couldn’t figure out. That can be a really powerful thing, to have that assistance.”

Working with mentors like Rich Melman and Julia Child, Cindy built the skill set and confidence she needed to succeed. Julia taught her to stand her ground, to cook good food, and to use good ingredients. Rich has advised her every time she opened a restaurant; she would call him with questions or challenges (and still does).

She learned to trust herself even when others assured her she wouldn’t succeed. “That’s important, to be able to have confidence in yourself and go out on your own,” she explains, remembering making the decision to walk away from her business partnership of 22 years. “They would mess with me and say, ‘On your own you’re not going to be very good because you don’t know how to do this and that.’ In the end, I knew how to do all that stuff.” And it was because of mentorship.

The James Beard Foundation’s Women in Culinary Leadership Program provides aspiring female chefs and restaurateurs the chance to work with some of the industry’s most influential leaders, building in-depth skills in the front and back of house. Now in its third year, the program aims to break through the glass ceiling of the culinary world. Now accepting applications through February 8th. Learn more and apply here.

This article was originally posted on Open For Business.