In an industry plagued by rude customers and uncertain income, it isn’t commonplace to find someone who has made waiting tables a true profession. But Richard Becker has done just that, having worked at many restaurants, including Lake Park Bistro; the late, great Downtown German spot John Ernst Cafe; and, for the past 16 years, the Pfister Hotel’s Mason Street Grill. We asked him for his insights from the other side of the table.
On reading what the customer wants:
Everybody has a different personality. You have to roll with that. You get four businessmen, and they want good service, but they don’t want you to be in their face all night long. But then you have another table that wants to socialize. You have to feel your people out as you go.
On what makes good service:
I know so many [repeat customers]. I know what they want before they’re even sitting down. So a lot of times we’ll have things on the table for them, things that they want all the time. Or you don’t even need to ask them what kind of drinks they want. You just bring it.
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On the (dis)advantages of being an extrovert:
I love meeting new people and being at a hotel – you get people from all over the world. It’s always fun if they want to engage in conversation. [But] a lot of times, I’m terrible with this. I’ll be talking at a table way too long – it’s like a social thing for me!
On how to be better restaurant patrons:
I wish people would leave their cellphones in their purse or their pocket. I saw a table the other night – it was like 10 women, and I walked by the table and it was complete silence. Everyone had their phone in their hand. Y’all are here for dinner. Enjoy your time out.
On the importance of being patient:
[When I’m the diner,] it’s very rare that I judge. I’m just not that guy. I was out on New Year’s Day. This place that we were at, it was so busy and the person I was with is so impatient. I said, just calm down. And it did take a little bit for the food to come out. [And that] was fine. I can see where servers and cooks are bombarded. I’m not gonna make an issue. And I’m very patient. You know, I really can’t even remember the last time I had bad service. I always give everybody the benefit of the doubt.
On Mason Street Grill’s rigorous server training:
You have to go through the whole menu, you have to know all the ingredients. The second day, you’re tested on appetizers, and the next day you’re tested on salads, and the next day, you’re tested on entrées, and you have to know the major components of each dish. You need to know your food because there are so many allergies out there right now. When I’m training people, I always stress you’ve got to retain this because you’re going to get somebody who is going to have a reaction and then we’re going to have a huge problem.
On why serving is a worthy profession:
It’s been a long road. And now it’s all these newer people who are coming into it, [and] I just hope some of them stay in the business as long as I have because it’s been good for me. Years ago, it wasn’t really considered a profession. And now it’s become that. I mean, I make as much money as some of my friends who have degrees. [And] I have a sense of freedom.