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A Guide to the Finer Points of the Hostess and Cashier

Aug 17, 2007
Of all the restaurant careers, perhaps the position of a hostess is the most demanding. You have to be sharp on your people skills, appear immaculate, be good on the phone, communicate well with the restaurant staff, and of course do it all while being on your feet for the whole shift. You are typically the first and last person the customer meets, so it's your impression that is most crucial in presenting the personality of your company.

Being a hostess is great for a friendly person. The job requires a personable, outgoing demeanor and the best of manners. The basics of your duties include greeting the customers with a warm smile, asking the number in their party and then seating them at the appropriate table. If there was a wait, you have to diplomatically ask them to have a seat in the lobby and give them an estimate as to how long they will be waiting for their table. As the customers leaves, you would wish them a good afternoon or night and thank them for coming in.

The same applies to answering the phone. You get to field the questions the caller will have, answering the same questions about hours and locations and what special is on what night and perhaps handling reservations. You will discover that your conversational skills will greatly improve from this experience. You will become a master of small talk.

The tricky part of being a hostess comes when the restaurant gets busy. On any given Friday night, there could be 75 people waiting in the lobby and outside. Determining what section and server each table would be assigned takes a little strategic thinking. One suggestion would be to create a rotation so that no server receives more tables than they can handle, or else you'll be backing up the kitchen, thus increasing wait time and decreasing customer satisfaction.

Whatever the system, be sure it's one that your waitstaff agrees will be the best solution for everybody. Hopefully, the rest of the staff recognizes the need to co-operate as a team. As the hostess you'll be in a key position relative to the staff, ensuring that the operation of the restaurant runs smoothly.

Under a high-pressure circumstance, you have to keep your cool. Some people are just rude or irritable by nature, but you have to deal with them and not blow your cool. If your establishment is a particularly popular one, you'll have a real crowd on your hands on weekend nights and holidays. So this also isn't the career choice for the bashful. A hostess is just a little bit of a performer, and a gift for skillfully handling a large group will be a real plus.

Herein, a small catalog of dealing with some customers who will need some extra special attention:

Families with small children Hopefully, the children are well disciplined. If you must keep them waiting, offer whatever resources you have to keep the kids amused. Many family restaurants keep activity sheets and little crayon packs or balloons or other small, cheap toys. By no means should you let the parents coerce you into being a free baby-sitter while they duck out for some reason. Your establishment should have a policy regarding unattended minors.

The elderly You'll need some extra time and patience to deal with the well-aged senior. If they have a mobility problem, make sure they have a seat if they have to wait for a table and offer some assistance in helping them get to a table and get seated. Sometimes, you may be dealing with somebody a little hard of hearing, near-sighted, or forgetful. Use as much discretion as you can while doing your best to help the guest have the most pleasant experience.

The intoxicated Try to keep things moving along briskly. You may need to remind the guest that as the hostess, you're "in charge" and will not tolerate offensive behavior that annoys the other patrons. Do have a keen sense of when you're in "over your head", and know when to ask for help from the manager. Remember that "intoxicated" also covers illicit substances other than alcohol, and people under the influence of some psychedelics and narcotics will exhibit highly volatile and unpredictable behavior.

"Difficult" people An important thing to remember when dealing with somebody who is rude or hostile is "Be nice; everyone's fighting a battle, even if you can't see it." You don't know the personal life of the customer - who knows what they're going through? At the same time, try to keep personal boundaries here - a hostile customer will do their best to draw you down to their level, and you just have to put on your happy face and play by your professional script. After the encounter is over, you might want to ask if you can be relieved for a break to take a couple minutes to pull yourself together. You're only human, after all. Fortunately, the other witnesses to an incident will usually be understanding of your situation.

The dishonest In the restaurant trade, this is known as "dine and dash". If you get a patron who runs out the door without paying, you are not expected to go after them. Just quickly notify either security (if you work someplace like a casino, mall, or amusement park) or the manager. in fact, your manager is usually the best person to tell. Leave it in their hands. You may be called on later to give some identifying information to authorities. Note race, height/weight, hair/eye color, and clothing, and their vehicle if they have one. That's the most anybody reasonable should expect of you.
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