Restaurant 101: Server

Servers. Waiters. So ubiquitous that it seems silly to “define” what a server is, but here we go.

A server is a lot of things, a factotum with an incredible memory, an entertainer, a clairvoyant, an efficiency expert, a marathon walker, a dextrous tray carrier.

But more than anything, a server is a diplomat. She arrives at your table with menus and wine lists- the restaurant’s first offer. Your party tells her what sort of experience you are looking for at this table tonight. She creates a plan to make that happen seamlessly and negotiates with the chef or bartender on your behalf (if necessary). She bears rudeness with grace, and navigates wayward toddlers as she picks the smoothest paths between kitchen, bar, service station, and your table.

Servers are responsible for extensive knowledge of the menu components so they can advise which dishes will accommodate dietary restrictions or allergies. They must know how long dishes take to cook and arrange the orders into courses that make logistical sense. Servers must know how to perform basic wine service and how to carry trays of beverages. They must be able to lift everything from porcelain and glass vessels as delicate as flower petals to magnums of wine. They must anticipate your needs before you do.

Restaurant 101: What is Sidework?

So, what is Sidework? This question has come up in conversation a few times since I began this blog, so I thought I’d address it in a little more detail.

Sidework is restaurant jargon for the tasks that are required to prepare the place for public enjoyment. Think of it as… detailing. It can be anything from windexing the front doors, filling 50 ramekins with ranch dressing, and stocking paper products in restrooms, to polishing silver, folding napkins, and taking out the recycling. Depending on the day, it can also be replacing light bulbs, sanitizing high chairs, or scraping chewing gum from the bottom of tables; The sorts of tasks that the phrase “additional duties as assigned” was invented to include.

Ideally, all of this takes place out of view of the guests, usually before any diners arrive, or after all the diners have left the restaurant. Which is why guests that linger for an hour after close can get the evil eye from servers who can’t begin their hour’s worth of tasks until the restaurant is empty.

Everyone working in the restaurant has sidework. The kitchen crew must prepare ice baths and bain marie-s to keep cold things cold and hot things hot during service, then sanitize every surface at the end of the night. Hosts sanitize menus, clean the coat closet, stock business cards/ mints/ toothpicks/reading glasses. Bartenders cart ice to the bar wells, inventory liquor, prepare infusions, wash all the black rubber bar mats. Servers polish every glass & piece of silver, fold hundreds of napkins, reset tables, clean service stations. Bussers rearrange furniture, clean & stock restrooms, bag the dirty linen, sanitize beverage stations/coffee makers/ undershelf refrigerators…plus anything that needs doing, as assigned by managers like me.

The most odious task I have to assign to my staff, on a somewhat regular basis, is scraping gum off the barstools and tabletops. I worked at one restaurant that kept the remains in a gallon jar in the managers’ office. It filled up shockingly fast.

Those of you who work in restaurants, what’s the strangest (or least-favorite) bit of Sidework you’ve ever had to do?