How to wait tables
I've been in the food service industry from the ripe old age of 14. I've worked in delicatessens, diners, sit-down lunch eateries and even upscale restaurants. Over the years I've developed some techniques and had a few lessons stuffed under my belt from my experience... these I would like to impart to you.
1) There is ALWAYS something to do
The older waittresses never hesitate to let the new bussers know this. Just when you think that you've cleared every table, put away every glass, replaced every sugar holder, your co-worker reminds you that there are lemons to be cut, tea to brew... windows to wash. If there's a broken appliance no one in the restaurant can fix, call an expert and make sure you've done everything you can to make up for its absence.
And if there really isn't anything that needs to be done, then your boss probably would have sent you home already. So there.
2) Don't take away a plate unless there's nothing on it or you ask
It's pretty bad if you try to take away someone's food while they're still eating it. Even if they're friendly about it (and humans instinctively aren't too keen on having food stolen), I still feel bad if I intrude in that way.
3) Keep friendliness at an appropriate level
It depends on the environment of the restaurant. Local diners, for instance, are more permissive and maybe even approving of extra chatter. However, patrons of fancy restaurants tend to be more reclusive and solitary, wanting to remain solely in their own company. Loquaciousness can lose you tips.
4) Be able to BS
This is a quality I have developed over the years. If I don't know what the special is, I BS. If I'm not sure what the salad is made of, I BS. I mean, if there's time to ask the chefs, then I'm more than willing to try. But if it's so busy I can't even remember where we are, then ok, there's no choice but to bust out my skills.
5) Keep on top of the crowd
Falling behind sucks. Royally. So if you have the time, make sure every ketchup is filled, the receipt printer has enough paper and ink, and there's enough silverware to last all day. And try to expect anything. The computer might die, you might run out of food, a swarm of bees might approach the patio... yeah, it happens.
This applies to when customers are seated, too. If you have a second and you see a half-filled glass, fill it up.
6) Wear comfortable shoes
If you're doing your job right, you're walking around a lot (maybe even running). And if you're doing this, you'll need good shoes. You can't be afraid to spend money on workclothes; they need to feel good but look good too.
7) Always take a tray with you
You might just be taking out a cup of coffee to someone, but on the way back you might see a table needing to be cleared. You should be ready with a tray so you don't need to make an extra trip. Also, it looks nicer if you have a tray.
8) Have good people skills
Nothing will kill a tip like snubbing customers. While there are some people whom you just can't please, there are definitely some waiters and waitresses that lose out with an impatient gesture or rude remark. You don't own the tip; you earn it. Personally I get good tips if I'm smiling; people seem to like to see their servers laughing and enjoying themselves so they feel more free to be happy as well.