memory techniques for servers

Beginning work as a restaurant waiter is exciting, but having to learn a 30-page menu and wine list by your next shift can be daunting. Your recollection skills are essential for many other aspects of the job: from remembering table numbers and restaurant lay-outs, to recalling orders and your regular customers’ favourite cocktails, to even successfully learning all your coworkers’ names.

Not everyone has a brain like a sponge. With so many moving parts in the restaurant industry, use these memory techniques for servers to sharpen your memory skills and be a better server in the process.


Repeat Names

Legendary sales expert Dale Carnegie emphasised the benefit of using a customer’s name in conversation: it makes them feel special, builds trust, and increases their likelihood to pay attention to you. Using a name can go a long way in getting the people you're serving to agree to your upsell offer or even leave you a better tip.

Research confirms that certain brain regions activate when someone hears their name. This principle can also work to help you strengthen relationships with coworkers, managers and chefs.

To learn names more quickly, immediately use them in a sentence as soon as you learn one. For example, if someone says, “Hi, I’m Alicia,” respond, “Nice to meet you, Alicia.” Next time you interact, add her name to the conversation, such as, “Thank you for running that food to my table, Alicia,” or, “Alicia, would you be able to get a side of salad dressing for me, please?”

Using a name with a customer can occur naturally when you’re processing a transaction. You can thank the diner by saying, “It was a pleasure serving you today, Miss Smith,” or, “Hope to see you again, Mr. Stevens” when handing them their check and credit card back. If they visit again, you can greet them by name next time, and they’ll immediately like you more.


Go Old-School

You may have used flashcards to study back when you were in school. You can use this age-old technique to help you with learning a detailed menu, too, and having someone else quiz you on each item. Flashcards are powerful because they engage active recall and confidence-based repetition, techniques that research shows aid in memory.

A university study found “elaborative rehearsal,” or pairing new items you need to memorise with items you’re already familiar with, can help. While writing menu and wine list items down is an act of practicing learning the item in and of itself, adding a personal touch to the flashcards strengthens memory. Draw a picture of the item, or its individual ingredients. Or, pair the item name with another word that makes sense to you. The person who is quizzing you can give you that word to prompt your retrieval of the item.


Divide and Conquer

Memorising large amounts of information can be intimidating and lead to feelings of self-defeat, where you put in less effort because the task already seems impossible. Research by Nielsen Norman Group promotes the benefits of “chunking,” or breaking down large pieces of information into smaller bits. You come to associate certain items together, and chunking enhances comprehension.

Make chunking more powerful by grouping items based on how they make the most sense to you – not just based on the order they appear in a menu, for example. You can memorise the 10 tastiest-sounding dishes, and then the 10 cocktails you’d most like to try. Memorise a group of entrees paired with mains. Learning this way will also help you to develop a genuine appreciation for the menu that can help you be a better server to guests.


Pay Attention

One of the easiest ways to improve your memorisation is to consciously put in an effort while you’re learning. Research shows people are more likely to remember what they see when their brain is in a more attentive state. From at-home studying to working in the restaurant, make a commitment to focus on what’s in front of you, which saves you time and effort in the long run.

When you’re studying a menu, block off a specific time to do so, and eliminate distractions from your space. Plan breaks at certain intervals, which serve as a reward for focusing and can keep you motivated.

At the restaurant, put your focusing techniques into practice with active listening. Don’t let what’s going on around you to distract you from your conversation with guests. Paying attention to faces while someone is talking can help with order memorisation and name recognition.

Use your work time as an opportunity to reinforce your menu knowledge, too. As dishes come out, visually note each ingredient so you can use that as a reference as you’re studying.


Extra Effort Counts

While some servers swear by never writing down orders, having the wrong dish come out can sour a customer’s experience at your restaurant and make them never come back. Use writing techniques whenever possible, especially with orders. Repeat what you’ve written down to customers to ensure accuracy.

Take care of your mind and body in general to aid in your memorisation. Get proper sleep, exercise regularly, and eat a nutritious diet. Ask for help and clarification when needed, since any time you access a memory, you strengthen it.

What are your tips for memorising menus, restaurant lay-outs and more? Tell us on our Facebook page – we’d love to hear from you!


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About the author BENCHMARQUE

We publish articles to inspire and educate people to join the hospitality industry while providing best practice advice for owners and operators.


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