Dishin' That: Tips for getting tips

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With Memorial Day Weekend fresh on our minds, so begins the shoulder season, bringing steadily increasing hospitality business to southern Maine.

It’s a short period where business starts to pick up as folks From Away make day-trips with the windows down, and locals venture out in flip-flops. Patio furniture comes out of storage and al fresco dining can be found.

Seasonal menus are fine-tuned, many with substantial price increases, and Craigslist swells with full- and part-time restaurant jobs.

With the jobs-to-applicants-ratio skewed in favor of the house, here are a few suggestions for elbowing out the competition if one of the openings catches your eye.

Be qualified for the position and honest on your resume. Unlike many fields, faking experience in the restaurant business is painfully obvious. If deemed a phony, you’ll get fired during the first shift. Point-of-sale and operational systems vary, but fundamental skills trump the learning curve.

An entry-level, or “no-experience-necessary” job means the house wants to train you to do things their way, as well as hire you for short money. An applicant with little or no experience has the edge over a veteran here. However, in both the front and back of the house, the shifts and positions will be the least desirable.

Be careful about dropping names. Restaurant owners and managers are not-so-secret grudge holders. Mentioning your sister dates the sous chef, without knowing his insider work reputation, may not be such a great idea. The best personal reference comes from someone of your acquaintance who is a regular customer. Having that person telling the owner or manager what a great asset you’d be will carry a lot of weight.

During an interview, dress as if you already have the job. Personal appearance and hygiene are key, but that’s not all. In urban-chic Portland, piercings, tattooed arm sleeves and purple hair are all part of our foodie-by-the-sea charm. The bummer is, mature people, regardless of how experienced, have been known to lose out to trendy buff guys and sweet young things with half the professional competence.

Front-of-the-house people can combat this by showing up, almost in uniform, to make your best first impression. Wear your Danskos, starch and iron a white button-down shirt, and put your hair up. Do a little recognizance and check out what the servers and bartenders are wearing. If the place is a hipster hang-out, dress the part if you must, leaning heavily to the right.

Ask and answer questions about scheduling, once again, honestly. If you can’t or won’t work at certain times, note it on the application or tell the interviewer when asked. If you’re leaving for school in August or have a family reunion coming up, don’t say you have unlimited availability through the holidays.

Not getting all the shifts and all the hours is a good thing in a business with heavy burn-out. Staffing is crucial to good customer service and many places will hire two or three people for one position, expecting turnover and requiring a back-up plan.

Once hired, be patient and proficient, and the shifts will come. Remember, managers and people with seniority traditionally “earn” Sundays and Mondays off. Be wide open for this 48-hour time period.

Next week: A newbie’s guide to retaining and surviving a first-time restaurant job.

Peas & Q’s

Q: I know you had an injury and have not been working in a restaurant, which seems odd since you write about them. Will you be returning soon? — Cindy R., Gorham.

A: I am currently entertaining a few offers and will surely go back to work in the hospitality business in some fashion. Think of it as “Hotel California.” As far as “Dishin’ That,” there’s years of experience (and outrageous stories) to pull from; I’ve barely scratched the surface.

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Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @natalieladd.