On Waitstaff & The Event Staffing Field Manual
The Dallas events industry continues to be a crucible for distilling the best ideas and practices of event companies. The constant pressure to perform precipitates excellence. However, the difficulties and friction inherent to events constantly combats our best efforts. With no agreed-upon doctrine or proprietary manual existing in the public domain, standards exist only as nebulous, unwritten best practices. Therefore, this publication remains dedicated to seeking out time-tested constructs for how to plan, think and act amidst the chaos and uncertainty of events. It draws extensively from event staffing experience and incorporates concepts from military theory. On Waitstaff codifies tactics and strategies for effectively leading wait staff for events. For leaders, achieving the gold standard of service requires many things, including unwavering preparedness, mental prowess and physical toughness. Beyond these, leaders must also possess the ingenuity, self-discipline and humility in order to overcome adversity and win consistently!
Wait staff services must apply tactics to staffing waiters for events
Tactics within the context of events include the ideas and actions available to overcome common points of friction. A wait staff service’s aggregate reputation is directly affected by the tactics it employs. Whether for single events or seasonal campaigns, tactics guide leader decisions and priorities within a common framework. Paired with leader adaptability to contextual variations, tactics help cut through the “fog of war.” For wait staff agencies, tactics also cover managing staff morale, retention and replenishment. Tactical frameworks, like the strategies that define their use, originate from company vision and culture. Therefore, owners must generate upstream intentions that flow down to managers. These will define the boundaries of the strategies managers use to implement them. From there, front line leads, captains and staff gain perspective on what tactics are available and acceptable for use.
The best event staffing agencies use preparedness to achieve consistency
“Having a lucky rabbit in your staffing hat results from constantly stuffing more of them in there.”
– Scheduler Preparedness 101
From possessing ready response teams, to building in reserves for large days, preparedness helps deliver consistency. However, events contain many dynamic interactions, so no plan survives intact for long. Therefore, lead preparedness must include creating contingency plans that allow for plan adaptability. From pre-planning multiple service styles, to creating alternate table designations for waiter teams, contingency plans give leads quick solutions. Leads must also prepare contingencies for the role of themselves and others, so as to fit changing situations. Leads can do this by predesignating primary and secondary roles for waitstaff in advance. This also helps to increase efficiency per person via seamless task-changing. Ultimately, preparedness, contingency planning and a readiness to modify plans, teams, and environments delivers consistency. But by necessity, preparedness also entails looking beyond the ‘firefighting’, to strategic preparedness. This includes setting company vision, coordinating decision-making, and reiterating standards to captains and teams.
Leaders of waiters for events must exercise creative adaptability
Like matter and antimatter, preparedness and entropy destroy one another upon contact. Therefore, leads must overcome plan deficiencies through creative adaptation, rapid refocus, and a willingness to change everything. Creative adaptability remains one of the most important attributes for leaders. It follows that it must also underlie the selection criteria for a wait staff service’s leadership team. In order to creatively adapt, leaders must quickly think through the entire timeline, to its conclusion. By doing so, it allows their experience and imagination together to preempt downstream problems. This gives the lead the necessary bandwidth for handling unforeseen problems that could not have been predicted. But how do we more thoroughly degrade entropy’s efforts to unravel our best laid plans? And how can we more effectively flank chaos before it flanks us?
The Rule of Momentum in leading event staff
The Rule of Momentum states that “it is more important to act upon an intuitively-derived plan, than to await instructions that would likely align anyway.” In other words, rather than failing to do something useful, action must be the default setting for a lead. Wait staff for events that stand around too long waiting on instructions without oversight tend to drift off. Therefore, leads should quickly walk the event site with captains, appointing task areas that they can execute with their teams. Task areas could include: splitting up glassware, silverware, plates and kitchen equipment. Other tasks include: setting up dish pits, dividing beverages between bars, and unpacking glassware. Responsibilities should be prioritized by their estimated place in the timeline, the intensity of effort required and their relative importance to the event. This kind of proactive mindset allows leads to stay ahead of the event’s timeline.
The best wait staff leads know how to delegate tasks
“As the leader, you have to inspect what you expect.”
Upon arrival for setup, the lead should first delegate logistical roles to others in order to free themselves up to be the client liaison. These include tasks such as directing parking, signing in staff, tracking down missing staff or assisting lost staff. Leads should instead focus on obtaining client plans and timelines, as well as prioritizing how to commit teams to task areas. The lead should delegate all operational responsibilities to captains, who should then designate those tasks to team members. Once the lead has delegated all tasks to captains, they can maximize their situational awareness by stepping back and observing. They should then move between teams to ensure that the decisions and actions of captains continue to align with the client’s vision. Missing the mistakes or oversights of subordinates endangers both the client’s experience as well as the event’s overall success.
Reputable wait staff services develop leads that empower others
Decentralizing responsibility over task areas to captains imparts valuable technical experience to them. It also helps to empower them to try their hand at squad-level leadership. This hierarchical incubator shields captains from making critical mistakes in decision-making or communication styles. Even if faced with leading a group of wait staff for events without captains, leads must be able to designate and mentor captains on the spot. In this case, since “two equals one, and one equals none”, the lead should also designate an assistant captain. The collective experience of the two combined will suffice to lead their squad-sized waiter team. At intervals during setup, reception, dinner and cleanup, leads should stop to perform an OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act). This maintains their situational awareness, and helps in forming follow-on actions for teams.
Organizing waiters and bartenders through decentralized control
Only by decentralizing control can leads free themselves up to see the bigger picture. Otherwise, they become mired in the granular requirements of the event. This kind of task saturation happens quickly, so leads must delegate all tasks to captains as soon as they are known. Additionally, if leads allow themselves to remain fixed in one area too long, they lose awareness of the event as a whole. Both task saturation and target fixation cause leads to fail to be available to captains at critical decision-making junctures. Therefore, a lead’s bandwidth must be treated as a valuable resource, available for client instructions and captain questions. Similarly, leads should never delegate all tasks, then detach from the event. Referred to as battlefield aloofness, it represents the opposite extreme, and can be equally dangerous. Therefore, leads must remain both in the fray and above it, in order to guide the outcome.
Events requiring lots of wait staff and bartenders require special planning
For especially large events, requiring many staff, leads must perform some critical additional steps. These include obtaining plans and outlines, as well as performing site visits in advance. If too few instructions exist, or a walk-through has not been planned, then leads must request them. Primarily because leads bear the responsibility of formulating initial plans. If too many details still remain unknown for an event, then the lead should prepare to arrive early. In this way, they obtain as much information as possible before the arrival of captains and teams. Occasionally, planning, coordination and a walk through have not been conducted prior to the event. Sometimes the caterer or planner does not arrive on time. When faced with delays or obstructions, leads should diligently attempt to maintain operational tempo despite these inconveniences. Allowing wait staff to stand around without instructions undermines staff morale and wastes precious time for the setup.
Organizing wait staff for events
“A group of wait staff without a leader is just a mob.”
As a rule, captains should not be given responsibility over too many waiters. Having too many only causes them to lose awareness over the decisions and actions of all of their team members. From waiters mistakenly setting the knife blades pointing outward, to them creating slip hazards from icing water glasses, blunders abound. Wait staff and bartender teams without close supervision invariably cost precious time and resources by making these mistakes. Also, whether its bartenders opening too much wine, or wait staff trashing the plastic glass rack covers, waste results from a lack of oversight. Therefore, leads should be careful not to overload captains. This ensures adequate oversight and reproof of all activities and priorities, at all times.
The best event staffing services develop skillful leadership groups
If a lead must command too many captains, then they should task someone to assist them. In this way, they establish a more realistic command capability, in order to better maintain oversight. This works because it accounts for the average person’s memory capacity and processing speed. Ten or less represents a universal human comfort zone that feels right. This precedent exists in other examples, such as legislation mandating certain ratios of teachers to students. As well, military units consist of complex hierarchical structures, divisible down to fire teams of 2-3 people. During our long history as an event staffing agency, we have always sought to improve our leadership structures, so as to maximize their effectiveness.
Leaders within the best waiter services lead by example
“Real leadership is being the person others will gladly and confidently follow.” John C. Maxwell
Leads and captains working together extensively form the basis of a staffing company’s esprit de corps. To lead such a team requires being seen and felt helping at every turn. Leaders must lead by example, through both inspirational actions, as well as encouraging words. These engender positive bonds with captains and other team members. Therefore, leads should constantly oscillate between client and team needs. They should observe, correct or commend and reiterate priorities, before moving on to rally the next team. In this way, leaders balance on the knife’s edge of being helpful, but not becoming fixed in any one spot or task. By acting as the conductor, leads orchestrate seamless experiences for clients and staff, by calmly wielding teams as extensions of their will.
Wait staff for wedding receptions and outdoor events must be treated responsibly
Wait staff for events endure a range of indignities at events. From unloading vans in pouring rain, to working long hours without being afforded food, wait staff get abused regularly. Even while events remain exciting for new staff, the sting of sunburns and the misery of cold, endangers their morale and performance. Add in very real physical barriers to working in hot and humid environments, and events can even become dangerous. Therefore, leads must be keenly aware of the need to provide proper care and attention to their team members. This includes their physical well-being, emotional state and energy levels. Therefore, leads must prioritize staff nourishment and encouragement. Leads must do everything in their power to ensure that long shifts are punctuated by staff being fed, watered and kept cool or warm. To do anything less endangers the well-being of team members, and increases attrition rates during critical seasonal campaigns.
Trust underpins discipline in the most reputable staffing services
“Absolute trust is the surest form of discipline.” – Truppenführung
During events, maintaining team morale and energy levels must be prioritized, so that discipline can be expected. The ability of teams to maintain fast tempos remains directly proportional to the care they are receiving in return for their best efforts. Therefore, leads must prioritize team provisioning, even at cost to themselves. Ultimately, whether provisions or climate, teams must trust their leaders will attend to their needs and well-being. In doing so, the leader establishes both their worthiness to lead, and reinforces the servitude it includes. Like King Leonidas of the 300 Spartans, who sacrificed everything to defend his homeland, leads must give themselves over to the sacrifices of leadership. As primus inter pares, or “first among equals,” they must frame their decisions and actions around the principle of the servant leader. Therefore, the most influential leads remain those who can fluidly alternate between the needs of their clients and staff.
The best wait staff and bartenders keep learning and practicing
Leads must constantly seek to hone their technical and leadership skills, in order to truly become a force multiplier. To achieve technical and leadership mastery means seeking out educational tools, practicing real and imagined scenarios, and using skills daily. Only in this way can leads reach the exponential curve, where they move from journeyman to master. However, to achieve true excellence, a leader must also achieve mastery of themselves. This includes donning better habits, increasing awareness of the passage of time and dedicating themselves to constant improvement. Skillful leaders also have learned to objectively evaluate the behaviors and actions of themselves and others. Leads who master the skill of detaching from both self and situation, can effectively lead others through difficulty. However, to manifest these traits amidst the cacophony of events remains daunting for even the best operators.
The best leaders of event staff detach and use intuition
Only through intense and continuous exposure to events can leads gain the intuition required for masterful command. By weaving technical mastery with sound judgment and skillful delivery, they can even lead wayward clients to success. In reaching this zen level of self-awareness and capability, leads exude calmness and superb decision-making, despite uncertain or difficult situations. Paired with an unwavering positive attitude, they serve to encourage others to act similarly. In this way, great leaders exemplify to others how to storm the ramparts of personal and occupational difficulty, in order to seize victory for themselves. In doing so, they uphold the fabric of families, communities and workplaces. To all who carry others to a place of success daily, know that your value cannot be overstated. You embody the attitude and initiative required to win, and win again!
Author: Justin Atkinson
Charles C. Krulak, General, U. S Marine Corps, Commandant of the Marine Corps (1997). MCDP 1-3 Tactics. United States Government as represented by the Secretary of The Navy.