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WWhether you’re a waitron in a fast-food franchise or a fine-dining restaurant, the same basic guidelines can be used to put you on the path to excellence in service delivery.

To be a good waitron requires a number of core skills: ability to work with people, product knowledge, professionalism, enthusiasm, ability to multitask, keeping a cool head and passion for the job.

A waitron needs to exude a welcoming and helpful demeanour towards guests, especially foreign visitors to South Africa, and a spirit of collaboration towards colleagues. Make eye contact with customers once they are seated and introduce yourself. Use your intuition by making small talk with customers as you greet and seat them, but never overwhelm them with too much attention during the service.

Know your menu and daily specials. There’s nothing more irritating than a waitron who is clueless about specials or menu items. Make a point of recording daily specials or chef’s recommendations before each shift commences. Make useful suggestions in terms of drinks and meal accompaniments. Foreign visitors may not be familiar with ingredients used locally, so be patient and explain things to them, or offer tasters if need be.

Make a good first impression on customers by always looking presentable. Wear a clean, freshly ironed uniform to work and clean any stains immediately. Keep your hair clean, neat and tidy. Keep your nails short and clean. Shoes should be polished and clean. Don’t wear strong perfume/cologne or take smoke breaks while serving customers; strong odours are likely to put them off their food.

Always adopt an enthusiastic and energetic attitude to your work. Waiters and waitresses who hate every minute of their job are easy to spot and their negativity carries through to their service. A good waitron will take orders, bring food and drinks, check on customers, refill glasses, present dessert menus and deliver the bill timeously – while maintaining a happy disposition.

LLearn to multitask. Your shift will be much easier if you work efficiently. Remove empty dishes from tables on your way back to the kitchen and use a tray when serving several tables with condiments and drinks, rather than carrying them out individually.

When taking orders, always write them down and repeat back to your customers for final confirmation. Make notes about special details such as a well-done steak or no garlic sauce for table three, or a second bottle of wine, for example. Some people do not partake in alcohol, so always be sure to offer a jug of water for the table as is done in many overseas countries.

Look after your tables by checking back once each course has been consumed. Keep customers apprised of delays, such as a new batch of soup being prepared or a well-done steak taking longer.

Although the chef is responsible for cooking the food to order, the waitron is responsible for making sure that each dish is correct, with the correct accompaniments and mains. If an order is wrong, apologise to your customers for the additional delay and let the kitchen know. Best practice is to offer a discount, glass of wine or complimntary dessert to make amends.

If you receive a bad tip, never complain as this is unprofessional and may get you fired. Some people never tip, no matter how good the service. Culturally it is not acceptable to tip in some countries, so bear this in mind, too.

Keep busy. In any restaurant there is no excuse to stand or sit idle. There is always something to tidy, clean, prepare or attend to. Show initiative by finding something to do without having to be asked. If someone from another table asks for help, respond yourself rather than calling for the appointed waitron, and never shout for the relevant person.

Be respectful and polite to customers and make them feel comfortable, especially if they look a bit unsure of themselves. Customers can be obnoxious and rude, but your job is to be friendly and helpful in spite of this. Never gossip about customers even when you think they can't hear you.

Overall waiting tables is a physically and emotionally demanding job, often with little reward for a job well done. However, those who persevere with a positive outlook and professional approach to their work are sure to have their efforts noticed and be appropriately rewarded in the long run. 

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