Cocktail vs. Dining Room Serving

I have been a cocktail server for quite some time, and always prefer serving in the bar to serving in the dining area. Most people who come into the bar are easier to be personable with; because I’m such a bitch, it always works to my advantage because they enjoy my sassiness. A few drinks in them and they think I’m a genius. Getting paid money to be a bitch is quite an honor, let me tell you.

Last week I had a few tables that I was enjoying some sarcastic banter with. They all started joking amongst one another. I was quite amused (so amused that I was almost convinced I was having fun at work). To top it off, one of my regulars came in and we hadn’t seen each other in quite some time. We got to chatting like girls do. It was turning out to be a good shift.

That afternoon on my way home, I started thinking about why I do so much better in cocktail serving than I do on the floor and here’s the list I came up with.

  1. The guest and I share a passion for beer (and probably drinking in general)!
  2. It’s unpredictable, more fast-paced than the dining room and you meet some of the most entertaining and/or rude people.
  3. I make a lot more money in cocktail serving than I do dining room serving.
  4. Guests have a personality, which allows for a break away from the average table greet.
  5. Guests have a love for shit-talking to every person in sight if they have opposing opinions on sports teams; I don’t even follow sports enough to actually talk shit, but they don’t know that…
  6. It’s one step away from bartending, except I make more money because I don’t have to tip-share.
  7. I’m a team player.
  8. You get to feel entitled to being privileged enough to serve in the cocktail portion of your restaurant, giving you a sense of importance (just kidding, kind of). Who doesn’t love to feel important?

Before I was initiated into the cocktail serving club, though, I remember feeling envious of these senior servers. I would watch them longingly, wondering what they had that I didn’t. They moved from table to table receiving 20% tips, a bombardment of thanks for refilling waters and a line of people waiting to sit in their section as if they were waiting for a celebrity’s autograph. They were running nine table sections like they were born to take orders and woo guests while I was drowning in my four table one. How was that even possible?

I yearned to be those sought after servers exuding confidence, not having to write down an order or worry about table complaints for quite some time before I became one. It took a lot of guest complaints, almost getting fired and fighting with managers to finally learn the balance of just enough confidence, attitude and hospitality to finally become a regular cocktailer.

So, I thought I’d save you guys the growing pains and share with you the qualities a well-groomed cocktail server. If you are a cocktail server and find yourself still struggling at times, this could still help.

  1. Be personable, have a personality and love people.
    I rolled all these things into one because you need to have the ability to connect with people. If you can’t read what people need, how you can connect with them and what you may or may not have in common, you can’t bridge that gap between serving in cocktail and serving in dining. Serving in a bar and behind a bar allows you to connect with people more closely because they’re a little more open and a little more relaxed (usually booze-related). They chose to come sit up here for an experience, give them one. Entertain them. Connect with them. If you don’t have a passion for people, it will show.
  2. A few years of serving under your belt.
    Knowing the in-and-outs of serving are the keys to success in cocktailing. You need to know what to do, how to do it and when is an appropriate time for each action. If you aren’t familiar with serving concepts, you won’t be able to maintain the next required quality.
  3. Confidence is a must.

You’re dealing with drunk, obnoxious, needy, emotional, rowdy, raunchy people all day and night in this portion of the restaurant, you need to be confident enough to maintain your cool in all situations. Whether it is a guest complaint or someone hitting on you uncomfortably, you need to be confident enough in yourself and your ability to handle the situation or else everything falls apart. You’ll forget sides of ranch, to put in orders and to let tables know their food is table taking too long if you let the stress get to you.

  1. Know the menu, the drinks and the food.
    As you make connections with people, they will begin to trust you more. This means they will trust your recommendations. Don’t look like an idiot and know something about the food and drinks you serve. You give them a recommendation they like, they’ll come back for more. Trust will develop a friendship, developing regulars, developing bigger tips.
  2. Adaptability
    While you’ll meet a number of interesting characters, you have to prepare for all sorts of weirdos. Last week, I had an older woman invite me to stay with her in Seattle because we were bonding over how beautiful the city is. Normally, I’d feel uncomfortable over an offer from a middle-aged woman to stay with her. But with an adept understanding of women’s need to bond in lonely situations (she was out of town for her son’s soccer game, and he was off practicing) and a quick measurement of the amount of alcohol she consumed, I felt okay with the situation. Knowing how to deal with different walks of life and bond with them regardless of personal judgments is important to your success in cocktail serving.
  3. Keep up!
    Working in cocktail is more fast-paced than working in dining due to the open seating policy, so you could have no tables to 8 tables in six seconds; you have to be ready! The key is to keep your confidence up, be prepared for a rush at all times and rely on your team. There is going to be situations you can’t control; this is where your adaptability and confidence come into play. Cocktail is all about the appearance of control you give to your guests and how you maintain those relationships with each table. Keep your tables informed, keep them happy with your wit and charm and then let those tips come in no matter the mistakes. It doesn’t matter how many tables you have, as a cocktail server it’s your job to keep your cool.
  4. Be a team player.
    There is going to be times you can’t “save face” or keep it together. You can’t get all your refills, make connections and put in orders in a timely manner. If you can’t do this at times, chances are you partners in crime can’t either. Be one of those people that search the entire bar, not just your station. Because it is more fast-paced, cocktail areas will always need more attention than the dining area. A good team in the bar makes for a better bar experience altogether; and a sense of synergy amongst the team makes for an easier work environment, happier tables (happiness is contagious), and more money in your pocket. Our business is a team based one, treat it like that and you’ll thrive.

The great thing about all these facts, as I’m sure all you experienced in the business know, is this is the mentality that should be used throughout the restaurant. It can be applied in any position, BOH or FOH. It’s convenient that these philosophies can be applied anywhere, but extremely important in the bar because it’s more demanding and less forgiving.

Plus, don’t you want to be a part of the cool cocktail servers club?
It’s exclusive.
You’ll be really cool if you do these things.

TSD

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