I was inbetween jobs a couple years ago when I started my first — and last — restaurant host job.
My local watering hole was a cozy Irish restaurant and was one of my favorite places to catch up with friends since moving to the neighborhood. Its warm, wood-paneled interior and sticky beer stains on the floor were part of its charm.
When I saw the hand-written “HELP WANTED: PART-TIME HOST/BARTENDER” sign on the door one day, I quickly lost myself in a daydream where I suddenly had a thick Irish Brogue and poured pints of Guinness while clapping back at the sometimes-inappropriate-but-always-well-meaning regulars.
I was ready to make my favorite neighborhood dive my new source of income.
I had high hopes walking into my first shift; I was excited to be a cog in my favorite Irish machine. But after only six hours on the job, I was done.
Restaurant New Staff Onboarding — or Lack Thereof
I arrived at the restaurant 5 minutes before my first training shift and was greeted by a locked door. I double checked the date and time and there was no confusion — I was at the right place at the right time.
My “interview” had lasted all of 5 minutes and I didn’t get any contact information, so I Googled the restaurant and called their number. I could hear the phone ringing from where I stood outside, ring ring ring , nonstop. No voicemail, no pre-recorded message, just endless ringing.
Finally, the owner pulled up and apologized for being late. “I forgot we were doing this today, I’m so sorry.”
I shrugged it off and followed him inside.
I sat at the bar, which in the afternoon light I noticed was covered in dust, while he made some phone calls in the back office. I later learned he was frantically trying to get someone to come in and train me. Twenty minutes after my scheduled shift had started. On the high holiday of Irish Americans.
Yes, I was training on St. Patrick’s Day.
Another twenty minutes later, a clearly flustered employee decked out in green glitter arrived to walk me through my new duties. We only had an hour to go over everything I’d need to know because she had a previous engagement at another Irish bar.
We scurried around the restaurant while she quickly blurted out half-sentences and vague directions. Every question I asked that started with, “should I...” was answered with, “if it makes sense, do it.”
Cool. Great direction.
An hour later, I was on my own at the host stand hoping my new job would just “make sense.”
- Have a documented training plan. For most positions, you’re doing this relatively frequently. Print it out ahead of time.
- Inform your team someone is joining and create an inclusive environment.
- Do not choose one of the busiest days of the year to train a new employee.
- Put important events and meetings in a calendar. Do we even need to say this?
No Restaurant Waitlist App, Reservation System, or Processes
There was one tool for me to use at the host stand: an old notebook to scribble names on. Guests would wait by the bar or outside on the sidewalk and it was my job to scream names through a sea of muddled voices and poke my head out the door when my first pass didn’t yield results.
As I flipped through pages of waits prior, I noticed a massive lack of consistency. It seemed each host had their own process and no one was aligned.
Some hosts added arrival times, others added party sizes, and one day someone decided to write very choice descriptors next to party names — yep, descriptors that you definitely wouldn’t want showing up on Yelp if this book were lost.
Having been a patron of the restaurant so many times, I wasn’t expecting some state of the art digital waitlist, but I’d at least expected things to be less… chaotic.
When it came time to start closing, I was on my own. My trainer had left hours prior, the FOH Manager was sitting on the customers’ side of the bar, and the one remaining server was having a seemingly heated discussion on his phone outside.
I awkwardly stood behind the FOH Manager, waiting for a lull in the conversation, to ask about closing. She told me to “wipe everything down.” I didn’t know what “everything” was.
I should’ve asked, but frankly, I didn’t care. No one else seemed to.
Delivering great service begins with being consistent. Being consistent means having processes that everyone follows. For example:
- Use a waitlist or reservations template so you always get the right information in an organized way. (Need some organization help? Print and use our simple waitlist template and reservation template!)
- Use checklists for any complicated or lengthy process that has to get done right for health & safety or other reasons, like opening and closing.
- Everything begins with an efficient host stand.
Restaurant Staffing Issues
As the evening went on and I learned more about the staff and their roles (only after introducing myself, of course), I started to understand why I was surrounded by chaos.
The Front of House manager also worked as the bartender; she wasn’t salaried and relied on the generous tips she received from her heavy-handed Jameson pours. As such, all things Front of House were, for lack of better term, a dumpster fire.
Reservation management was non-existent, servers stepped out for smoke breaks more often than the inebriated clientele at the bar, and there was zero accountability across the board.
Remember that endless ringing I heard while standing outside, waiting for my shift to start? The ringing never ended. I offered to answer the phone once, but according to my trainer, it was the Front of House Manager/Bartender’s job to take calls, so the ringing persisted.
Prior to my 6 hours as a host, my only professional experience had been in tech startups. I’m used to wearing a lot of hats, and I’m used to everyone around me sharing those hats. I had never heard “that’s not my job” from a coworker, let alone witness someone completely ignore a task they’re perfectly capable of completing.
- Automate simple, repetitive tasks. Like, add voicemail to pickup your phone before it rings and use the message to direct people to your website to book reservations, join your restaurant waitlist, or send an email inquiry.
- Empower your leadership team to lead and don’t saddle them with too many operational duties.
- Set the expectation that if you can do it, you should do it. This might sound campy, but it’s true: teamwork makes the dream work!
A Simple Wait List Template Could Have Saved it All
I walked in to the restaurant on a Tuesday afternoon and it was the last time I passed through that doorway. What was once a favorite local haunt was now a haunting memory of the worst work shift of my life.
Since then, I’ve found my way back into the tech world and became obsessed with the science behind happiness and finding happiness at work.
That’s an entirely separate post, but I’ll share one tidbit now: the two best ways you can keep your team happy at work is to offer them the resources they need to succeed and foster strong relationships.
Knowing what I know now, it makes perfect sense why my 6 hours as a hostess left a terrible taste in my mouth.
You don’t need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a multi-app tech stack. Start small with simple wait list templates, reservation templates, checklists, and standard operating procedures documented, then adjust from there. Your business is always evolving, but your team should always be aligned.