Wait Staff Services: Strategies For Winning

On Waitstaff: Strategies of Event Staffing

The events industry in Dallas and North Texas continues to require the best efforts of creatives, as well as seasoned operators.  The relentless pressure to deliver the gold standard of service, means that event company reputations hang in the balance every single event.  However, since events represent fast-changing scenarios unfolding on untested plans, they challenge even the best companies and leaders.  Additionally, like running a relay race, every vendor included represents either a positive or negative modifier to the end result.  In order to succeed consistently, event companies need effective tactics, strategies and leadership. Wait staff services in particular remain one of the most viable incubators for producing all three.  Therefore, the purpose of The Event Staffing Field Manual remains quantifying and codifying the best practices of event staffing.  In doing so, it seeks to illuminate the path to consistency and success for all event companies!

Event staffing companies must develop clear goals

Beyond the science of tactical maneuvers and the art of leadership, event staffing companies must also develop effective strategies.  Strategies define the macro-level ideas, plans and campaigns that guide downstream moment to-moment decisions of field leadership.  When vision and intention bring company owners to crystallized moments of clarity, they form the basis of commander’s intent.  Commander’s intent could include setting annual benchmarks, defining cultural priorities and establishing long-term goals.   Strategies flow from these conceptual guidelines, solidifying them into practical steps for achieving them.  Careful strategic development delivers realistic objectives and reasonably-assured outcomes that align with company vision.  Understanding the strategy gives front-line leaders greater tactical autonomy.  Armed in this way, they can make faster and better decisions when faced with urgent, situational dilemmas.

Reputable event staffing companies embrace lateral decision-making

Only by developing this kind of lateral decision-making, can event staffing evolve past traditional, vertical, decision-making models. In the vertical model of decision-making, everyone must continuously seek approval from above in order to take action within their immediate task area.  However, constantly seeking managerial approval before acting only slows down operational tempo, and creates intolerable lag time.  It also over-tasks management with unnecessary chatter, diminishing their focus on company-wide objectives. But if all team members within a wait staff service are knowledgeable in company intentions and strategies, they can act independently in the intensity of the moment.  By being allowed to act without oversight or reproof, all team members help in overcoming single points of failure and systemic event dysfunction.  Thus, merely mastering the mundane maneuvers of wait staff will never be sufficient to achieve excellence.  Only through lateral decision-making can companies hope to  reach the gold standard of service.

Best wait staff services know how to combat decision fatigue

The decentralized decision-making model must permeate all ranks of the leadership cadre of wait staff services.  Decentralized control generates the ability to sustain a higher operational tempo for longer. In this way, decisions can be executed instantaneously within a “continuous fabric of activity”.  Especially since wait staff services for events face the same ongoing, high-rev tempo as fire and rescue teams.  Therefore, how can we combat decision-fatigue among our top leaders when they are engaged in a grinding seasonal campaign? Captains must make up the balance of the decision-making for the lead’s sake.  They do this by formulating follow-on actions for their teams through the trust the lead has in them. In these cases, tactical competence, strategic vision and understanding commander’s intent form the balance of needed decision-making.  By captains overcoming situational hurdles themselves, they free up the lead’s valuable bandwidth for navigating client, team and event needs from a top level.

Leaders of the best wait staff services possess confidence

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” – Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke

Thinking beyond the daily firefighting, how can leaders preemptively strike against chaos without “bruising their heel.”  In other words, how can they balance the need for preparedness with the time and energy spent in planning every contingency for every event?  Skillful leaders must at some level just possess self-confidence that their experience will carry them through. So while planning should occur, it must be balanced relative to the time spent on theoretical contingencies and overall plan complexity.  Complexity will only cause a plan to fracture and become obsolete as the event unfolds Instead, keep things simple  and concise.  Put teams under their captains from the outset and maintain their unit cohesion throughout all transitions of the event. There is elegance in simplicity, and like Einstein’s equation, simplicity unveils universal truths.    Therefore, leaders must plan diligently and lead instinctively, but not try to plan away every contingency.

Leaders of wait staff for events must be force multipliers

The tactical level of events confronts the dynamic and unpredictable character of events daily.  In any complex, rapidly-changing environment, outcomes can only be anticipated in terms of probabilities.  From ‘no shows’ and wait staff running late, to dead cell phones and disorganized clients, probabilities become reality.  Add in tight timelines for achieving “all set”, or panicked planners, and the confusion only increases.  Only through bold decisiveness can the leader hope to cut through this ‘fog of war’.  Leaders that can skillfully manage these interactions, distractions and disruptions become critical force multipliers to the wait staff services they lead.  Larger events with more wait staff generate exponentially more internal and external interactions and resulting friction. Like firefighting and combat, events are the “collision of opposing forces – animate, interactive and unpredictable in behavior.”  Therefore, lessons and doctrines derived from both firefighting and war fighting adapt well to understanding events.

Historical lessons can be useful in leading wait staff services

Historical examples such as the Battle of Marathon record valuable insights.  As the first recorded amphibious assault, it pitted the invading Persians against the defending Athenians.  Since the Athenian army represented the city’s only defense until Spartan reinforcements arrived, they assumed a defensive posture.  To avoid encirclement by the larger Persian force, they lengthened their lines and heavily reinforced both flanks.  Knowing that their heavily-armored hoplite soldiers were susceptible to cavalry charge, they held their attack.  However, when the Persians moved to amass their missile corps against the Athenian’s closely-packed phalanx formations, the Athenians pivoted tactics and attacked.  This bold and unanticipated gamble leveraged their hoplite’s armored advantages in melee fighting against the Persian light infantry. The heavily-weighted Athenian flanks crushed the Persian conscript forces facing them, and breached the Persian rear.  Pivoting, they encircled the Persian middle, cutting it off from its naval retreat, and annihilating it altogether.

Why wait staff with great morale can win

“Marathon was won because ordinary,
amateur soldiers found the courage
to break into a trot when the arrows began to fall,
instead of grinding to a halt;
and when surprisingly the enemy wings fled,
not to take the easy way out and follow them,
but to stop and somehow come to the aid
of the hard-pressured center.”
– J. F. Lazenby, The Defense of Greece

Leaders of the best wait staff services are decisive

The Athenian victory resulted from them reading the situation properly, pivoting their tactics quickly, and leveraging their advantages effectively. It also illustrates their skillful use of tactical maneuver while maintaining their strategy of protecting both Athens and their army.  In the same way, leaders within wait staff services must be able to skillfully redirect wait staff resources to where they are needed.  Additionally, they must be strategically mindful to only expend their team’s efforts toward decisive goals.  In this way, they preserve their options and expand them through innovative measures.  In addition, leaders should always be mindful to create manpower and equipment reserves at every opportunity.  From ensuring that extra rental silverware are accessible to teams, to tasking area managers over the big picture, leaders must ensure reserves exist at all levels.

Wait staff for wedding receptions

Thus, event leaders must be ready to adapt to new timelines or developments quickly.  They must be prepared to alter buffets, bars and dish pits to fit unfolding situations.  And they must be prepared to discard tradition, equipment and staff uniform pieces, in an effort to maximize the advantages of their teams.  As an example, in the heat of the Texas summer, discarding vests and ties can be a life-saving decision by a leader.  Ultimately, just as with battles fought, it takes great leadership and staff discipline to ‘turn the tide of a battle’.  Therefore, a top priority must be to establish a leadership cadre that can “stand in the breach”.  They must bear the weight of the chaos for their team’s sake. In this way, the leadership team of wait staff services can manage the  mistakes of unprepared and disorganized clients and vendors.

Waiter and bartender agencies face a growing entropy to events

Chaos is just the result of undetected statistical probabilities stacking up and finally surfacing to thwart our ‘best-laid plans.  As the number of technological innovations and experiential add-ons for events mushrooms, they compound the entropy of events. Coordinating and working alongside so many new vendors represents unique challenges for wait staff services for events.  But the desire for more experiential choices by clients expresses our modern American culture that values experiences over possessions. Thus, from booking an electric violin trio for reception music, to ordering ice sculptures that double as buffet stations, events are getting more elaborate and unique all of the time.

Wait staff services for wedding receptions face new logistical challenges

Future events will likely become even more chaotic as more vendors and gadgets are added.  From autonomous drones filming wedding videos to single-pane, smart menu cards displaying courses, innovation will push the limits of imagination.   Add in a host of virtual collaboration services, delivery choices, and unique venue choices, and you have a potent combination for events to become even more chaotic.  And as distances that companies are willing to extend themselves logistically extend, the margin for error decreases even more.  This complicates control, coordination and communication, especially when on remote ranches.  When wait staff services disperse their teams across the entire state, they are “bound up with chance,” as Clausewitz said of forces in combat.

How to think about events as a wait staff agency

“The challenge is to recognize opportunity
when it occurs in the midst of chaos and uncertainty
and to seize it to obtain a clear, unambiguous victory.
When viewed through time, even the most chaotic of systems
may reveal recurring patterns that may then be exploited.
The experienced tactician will look for these recurring patterns
that can be exploited to advantage.” MCDP 1-3 USMC Tactics Manual

How we think about events in large part determines the priorities of wait staff services.  The two competing views of events that exist are the idealistic viewpoint the realistic viewpoint.  Idealistic views see events as predictable, accomplished through strict adherence to well-established guidelines.  While this works in hotels and established food service locations, transplanting it to a field on a ranch does not work.  The competing realistic view sees events as complex, unpredictable and in terms of probabilities.  The distinctions between the two drive choices of leaders of wait staff services.  The idealistic view often leads to centralized control and micromanagement. If strict orders inhibit a team’s ability to cope with change, then they may cause that team to become overwhelmed.

Services that provide wait staff must adopt a realistic framework to decisions

Conversely, the realistic viewpoint values junior leaders exercising their own initiative.  It recognizes that the uncertainty of events necessitates a doctrine of decentralized control.  This view prioritizes trust in subordinates to carry out actions based on the event specifics and commander’s intent.  In this way, junior leaders learn to handle themselves and their teams independently, even as the ‘battle’ rages around them. Reduced to only the situational awareness of their area, wait staff captains become the backbone of unit discipline and useful innovation.  Wait staff services must therefore not rely on fixed rules to maintain order.  They must facilitate leader study, practice and initiative to succeed.

The best and most reputable wait staff services must develop tactical excellence

The successful execution of events rests on the skillful application of all of the above tactical considerations.  These include quick decision-making, creating opportunity, speed of action, adaptability and coordination with supporting teams.  Knowing when and how to apply these concepts, to what degree and in what order, sets skillful leaders apart from their peers.  These considerations and many more exist.  They help to frame the scope of study for leaders and captains in developing a tactical mindset.  Because excellence remains the hallmark of the disciplined and innovative leader.  It must therefore follow that the best wait staff services develop tactical excellence at all levels in order to lead and win every time!

Wait staff for hire must be trained beyond the basics

The number of waiters in a wait staff service far outnumber its leadership group and company management.  As a result, many waitstaff agencies seek just incremental gains in wait staff and leader proficiency levels.  However, the best wait staff companies decisively choose to prioritize robust training at all levels.  Even despite training, we must remember that weather conditions can devolve events into brutal and desperate situations.  To be effective, a lead must act decisively when lightning, ice or torrential rain threatens the guests and wait staff. Therefore, leader and captains can never be content to rest on yesterday’s successes, nor take for granted what awaits them on the ‘field of play’ tomorrow.

Wait staff services must seek decisive victories in order to achieve excellence

Leaders must do the hardest part, they must make a decision for the team.   They must expend the valuable resource of their team to reach a decisive victory.   A decisive victory can only be claimed upon flawlessly executing the event at all levels.   An indecisive result, marred by technical errors, behavioral issues and failures of oversight, only serves to waste everyone’s efforts.  All of the costs, planning, sweat and stress will have been for little gain.  Such events possess no meaning, becoming just another thread woven into a mediocre tapestry.  However, wait staff services cannot allow the furnace of field operations to generate such mediocrity.  Instead, excellence must act as our crucible, forging something both effective as well as beautiful in its craftsmanship.  As an example, the perfect execution of white-glove, military-style, truly-synchronized, team service by a team of jacketed wait staff, is a sight to behold.  It reflects the levels of mastery and visual art that can be obtained within elite wait staff services.

Staffing services must hire wait staff for events that can lead through sound judgement

“The consequences of a tactical engagement should lead to achieving operational and strategic goals.” – MCDP 1-3, USMC Tactics

With events containing infinite variations in situational chaos and firefighting, no formula or process can be relied upon to account for all situations. Rather the balance of the answers resides in leader judgment. Sound judgment derives from assessing the situation and applying the wisdom of experience to it.  It allows a leader to identify emerging issues, discern quick solutions and concentrate wait staff resources to the hottest points of ‘friction.’  When exercising judgment, the leader must first consider their wait staff resources and timetable.  The leader must think through all phases of the event, its transitions and the likely issues.  At every junction of the unfolding event, the leader must ask themselves how their decisions and allocations will result in a decisive victory.  Only through waging a strategic campaign of decisive victories can the best wait staff services hope to secure a vibrant history of their services that stands out in relation to their peers.

On Waitstaff is a part of The Event Staffing Field Manual and represents best practices and theoretical application of tactics in fielding wait staff.

Author- Justin Atkinson

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