The Mark of a Great Waiter: Emotional Intelligence

There are many things that go into waiting tables. Juggling a zillion things at once, both literally and figuratively; maintaining your sanity while acting as the go-between for petulant children (customers) and an angry parent (chefs); appearing to be pleasant when you've just been stiffed for something entirely not your fault. But there's one quality that I believe helps more than any other: Emotional intelligence. That is, the ability to gauge a table, and react accordingly.

Reader Patrick Tatten recently sent me an email that put it another way:

I, too, work in a restaurant, and when I dine out, I am always on the lookout for one thing in particular; service staff intuition.

What I mean is this: You walk into a Cheescake Factory/Applebees/TGI Fridays, etc., leaf through their enormous bible of a menu and, dizzy, close it. The server comes over and you ask him/her for recommendations based on some of your generalized personal tastes. Often, the server will recite a rehearsed spiel (as they have been trained to do) and wait blankly for you to make a decision.

Or, you can walk into a hole-in-the-wall sausage kitchen downtown, which you only stumble upon once in a blue moon, and be greeted by a portly Silver Lake hipster with a beard whose only passion is how spicy he can make your sausage and the beer to which it should be paired based on your personality. This guy will have a much better day having ascertained your desires and created a unique experience just for you. His passion is figuring you out, and taking control, leading you down the path of culinary happiness. He truly cares.

I would like to read a review where the column gives me a flavor of enthusiasm, warmth and, most of all, intuition on the part of the staff. I want to walk into a place and feel like I'm among friends, like I'm at home.

Some places really get it.

But, it's a real drag to take a first date to the ones that don't.


Thanks Patrick. If you have a strong opinion, or something you'd like to see discussed on the blog, please email me:

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