A dining room runs like a football team, every staff member has a position and plays a very specific role. It is only by having several positions with different areas of focus that you can ensure service is smooth.
For the first installment– let’s start with the foundation of the front of house staff: the bussing crew.
The Busser Job Description:
Bussers, sometimes referred to as Server Assitants, are the most entry-level dining room position. These guys generally do all the grunt work that the servers are too fancy to do. Bussers stock bathrooms, level tables, clear plates, fill water glasses, reset tables, sweep the floors, restock glasses and silverware in service stations throughout the shift. Bussers take care of bread service or chips/ salsa service if there is any. They are also the most frequent recipients of “additional duties as assigned by management.”
Additional duties can be anything from wiping down the walls in the hallway by the restrooms, counting all the silverware at the end of service, taking out recycling, watering the flowering plants on the patio, washing candleholders, refilling salt shakers, cleaning the staff locker rooms, replacing table legs and generally polishing anything that the night cleaning crew does not handle.
How it works:
Bussing is a minimum wage position. In some states it is permitted to pay bussers less than minimum wage to compensate for the fact that they are tipped employees. Bussers earn most of their wages by the tip-outs they get from servers. If, as a busser, you work closely with a server, reset the tables in her section quickly and thoroughly so her tables turn faster, you refill her guests’ water glasses religiously, ensure that the service station in her section is stocked with fresh silverware throughout the shift, then that server is going to hand over a nice amount of cash. The general principle is that the better the guests’ experience is, the more they will tip, so by supporting the servers well, everyone makes more tips. Server tip outs to bussers are typically from 10% – 15% of the server’s total tips for the night.
Lay left, raise right:
One thing to keep in mind as a guest– bussers cannot ring anything in to the point of sale system at most restaurants. Nothing is going to leave the kitchen or the bar without a ticket from the point of sale system, so if you would like another manhattan, it is usually best to order this from your server, rather than the busser who is clearing your table. You will generally get the items you request faster by asking the server.
A hot button issue is clearing your table– the classic rule is that food items are laid on your table from the guest’s left hand side, from the staff’s left hand. Since the majority of guests are right-handed, this cuts down on the possibility that a guest will bump hot plates and send soup splattering all over the table. Also, in services where guests serve themselves from trays, serving from the guests’ left allows him to more easily use his dominant hand to wrangle tongs or spoons. Beverages should be delivered to the guest’s right hand side from the staff’s right hand, and all items are cleared from the guests’ right side with the staff’s right hand, unless it is awkward to do so. The rule is “lay left– raise right.” I’ve seen several vitriolic Yelp reviews where people are screaming “Why can’t people remember to clear from the left?!?!?!“, so I thought this bore a mention…
So, when a busser is clearing your table, you can help speed this process by making sure you aren’t gesturing wildly with your right hand when he comes to take your plate. Also, it usually is not helpful to stack plates on your table (unless you are trying to make a point that someone should clear this), as a wayward butter knife or a wily fork hiding in the middle of a stack of plates can make it unsafe for him to carry.
High-volume, fast-casual chain restaurants like Houston’s and P.F. Chang’s have ushered in a modern style of dining room service that relies on a team-wait environment where Servers have smaller stations (3-5 tables each), and the servers bus their own tables and do all the necessary sidework. This has a lot of benefits, as the servers get to keep more of their own tips, and it cuts down on overhead for the restaurant, as every staff member that is on the clock is actively selling food and beverage. In states like California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, where the minimum wage for tipped staff is the same, the bussing staff is usually the first to be sent home on a slower shift, or to be excised from the dining room staff entirely.