If you can hack it, waiting tables a good summer job

Summer will be here before you know it, and that means high school and college kids will be looking for work. With no shortage of restaurants in the Tacoma/Pierce County area, the Index presents this article on how to better your chances of getting a job as a server in a restaurant. Good luck, job-seekers!

Hoping to earn $10, $15, even $20 an hour this summer? Forget the fast food counter. Skip the strip mall stores. Read this article then head straight to the busiest restaurant you can find. Yes, work will include whining customers. Yes, you will end each shift with the smell of grease in your hair. But waiting tables can provide you with more money in fewer hours than virtually any other summer employment opportunity. And did we mention corporate recruiters and human resource directors consider waiter/waitress experience an outstanding resume credential?

We asked David Cyrelson, veteran server and the author of “Great Tips – The Ultimate How-to Manual By Servers, For Servers,” for the inside scoop on what restaurant owners and managers are looking for.

Here’s what he had to say:

The first hiring reality is that no restaurant manager will give you a job simply because you want a paycheck. The second restaurant reality is that waitresses are not hired by mail. The owner or manager will want to talk with you so have a resume but invest more time, energy, and effort in preparing yourself.

You want to be neat and clean for any type of interview, but this is especially important in a restaurant. After all, you will be serving food and dealing with customers. Be sure your hands are clean and you are dressed to impress. That does not necessarily mean a suit or your best dress. The right outfit suggests you fit in with the place. Applying for work in a diner? A short-sleeved shirt and slacks or a simple summer dress will be appropriate. If it’s one of the “goth” cafes in New York City, ripped stockings and combat boots may be a better choice.

The third and most important hiring fact is that even with no prior restaurant experience, you will get the job if you can answer the “The Three Real Interview Questions” correctly: 1) Do you understand the restaurant business? 2) Will you do what it takes to make it happen? 3) Do you fit in with our team and our image?

Understanding the business means understanding the simple construct at the heart of excellent restaurant service: Every restaurant’s goal is to make a profit and for that to happen the customers must enjoy their dining experience and tell their friends. You do not understand the business if you drop by hoping for an interview at 4:30 in the afternoon. While it may be convenient for you, it shows you are unaware of the preparation necessary for the upcoming dinner rush.

Doing what it takes to make it happen is not going to the restaurant to fill out an application or drop off a resume. Getting a job in a restaurant is no different than working there. You start by talking face to face with someone you probably don’t know. Demonstrate that you will do what it takes to succeed by finding the manager and talking to him.

Bring two pens. Bring the names and phone numbers of three people who can honestly say some good things about you. Be ready to explain how you will get to work on time, every day if you don’t have a car.

The person doing the hiring does not want to spend day after day interviewing people. Since you are his next applicant, he hopes you are “the one” and he wants you to succeed. If you are earning great tips then the customers are happy. If his customers are happy then his restaurant will be profitable. With that in mind, when you start walking toward the boss for your interview, visualize him giving you a bag full of money. Hopefully, this thought will cause you to smile.

As you walk through the restaurant smiling, remember that most employers make the decision not to hire someone within the first five minutes of the interview. The next three actions will greatly improve your chance for interview success. First, take a deep breath. Next, walk tall. Finally, pause as you approach the person conducting the interview, look right into his/her eyes, and in a clear voice introduce yourself. Use positive phrases: “Congratulations on opening your new restaurant. My name is Millie and I would like to help make your new place a great success.” Or, “Good afternoon. My name is Bill. I’ve heard great things about this place. I’ve come to join the team.” Or, “Hello. My name is Barbara. I understand you are looking for someone to take good care of your customers. I am ready, willing and able.”

When the interviewer speaks, listen carefully. Remember the ten-second rule for idiots and geniuses: “An idiot tries to answer the question in ten seconds. A genius waits ten seconds before he answers.”

Here are some standard restaurant interview questions. Just a little examination will show you they are “The Three Real Interview Questions” in disguise:

– “Tell me about yourself.”

– “Why do you want to be a waiter/waitress?”

– “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

Possible Answer: “I am the type of person who enjoys the highs and lows of dealing with people. I like the comfort of an established routine mixed with new challenges. Working here would give me all of that and I would give my all to your customers.”

More questions that could be thrown your way:

– “What kind of experience do you have?”

– “We get crowded. Can you handle a mob?”

– “You have no experience. Why should I hire you?”

Possible Answer: “I understand every restaurant’s goal is to make a profit. For that to happen I’ve got to insure every customer enjoys eating here and says good things about your place. I am ready to do everything in my power to make that happen.”

Finally, some more questions to take into consideration:

– “Describe your ideal job.”

– “Why do you want to work here?”

– “How much money do you need to make?”

Possible Answer: “I am looking for the type of job where creating happy customers is rewarded. Each table is a chance for everyone to win. The customers have a great time. The restaurant makes money. And I get the tips and satisfaction of a job well done. I want to do that as often as possible.”

Read the sample questions again. Think about how they relate to “The Three Real Interview Questions” and the goal of every restaurant. Personalize the answers provided to fit your situation or create your own answers. Answer the questions honestly but take time to choose your words carefully. How you tell a story can make a big difference on the listener. Think about what you want to say but don’t over-rehearse. You want your words to sound natural, not like lines from a script. You will only get one interview in this restaurant but if you think before you speak, one will be all you will need.

After you have answered two or three questions, look the interviewer in the eyes and say, “I would really like to work here. How am I doing?” Listen carefully to the answer. A good manager will be honest and tell you his impression of your strengths and weaknesses. If he decides not to hire you, don’t lose hope. Interviewing skills take practice and time to develop. Learn from this experience and you will be better next time. If he tells you something like, “So far so good,” be sure to smile and say, “Thank you.”

Use the interview as an opportunity to gather information and give the Decision Maker some positive ego strokes. Here are two great questions: “How did you get started in this business?” “What is your favorite thing about the restaurant business?

Once you are hired, you must quickly learn what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.