Determining the needs of a table is a skill that requires an attentive eye, a certain boldness of character, and a general desire to earn more than 15% on the check. It’s also a skill that can be taught; at least, that’s what restaurants are betting on when they train their waiters to provide the kind of service you’d expect at a Waffle House (they’re Zagat-rated, right?):
Called “having eyes” for a table, or “feeling” or “reading” the table by restaurant workers, it’s how the best waiters know what type of service you prefer before you tell them. From fine dining to inexpensive chains, restaurants are working to make service more individualized as the standard script (‘I’m so-and-so and I will be your server tonight”) is sounding dated.
Even chain restaurants like Denny’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, and Romano’s Macaroni Grill are focusing more on personalized service by training staff to note body language, eye contact and offhand remarks, hoping to make service feel less mechanical. Traditionally, eateries taught waiters to follow a script and push add-ons like desserts and drinks.
Waiters are trained to read a variety of table types, the better to respond to the needs of the customers. The following is but a sample of the sorts of tables a waiter might find:
Table 1: A douche at an airport Chili’s with a bluetooth, laptop, and wrinkled suit from Men’s Wearhouse (“You’re Going to Regret the Way You Look”).
Ricky Richardson, COO for Carlson Restaurants Inc. (which operates T.G.I. Friday’s), suggests that when “diners have a laptop open on the table, they might not be interested in appetizers that are best for sharing or learning a lot about the cocktail menu.”
In other words, just throw a blue margarita at the guy and try not to stare at his off-centered lapels.
Table 2: A couple that’s giving off so much hate toward one another that Emperor Palpatine’s balls would shrivel (even more!).
This table is clearly waiting to murder someone; the best strategy for a waiter is to alert the other waitstaff to bring their food promptly and with as little intrusion or flair as possible. And if someone’s crying, GTFO. Also, stand clear of whatever side of the table the knives happen to be on.
Table 3: A party of four, and one of them clearly hates the other three, which is obviously why she keeps drinking.
According to Mark Maynard-Parisi, managing partner of Blue Smoke (a couple of BBQ joints in NYC), it’s necessary with parties of four or more to “read the dynamic between the group.”
Alcohol (who is ordering more or less) is a potential point of contention. [Maynard-Parisi] reads eye contact and body language to see if a group is friendly (looking at each other) or less secure, like an uncomfortable work meeting (glancing around the room, fidgeting). “Am I approaching the table to rescue them or am I interrupting them?”
Why is Sally drinking so much? Probably because Tom and Becky, two of her dining companions, are so Goddamn annoying. Also Jim, her husband, keeps casting sideward glances at Frederique and Jacques, the two hot bartenders. In other words, do Sally a favor and don’t make a big deal over her fifth glass of cava and St. Germain. And definitely don’t tell her what Jacques and Frederique just told you about Jim.