When Disaster Strikes

It's a typical waiter's nightmare. Your station has been empty all night long. You are just 10 minutes away from the end of your shift, and then suddenly it happens: A bus pulls up with a bunch of hungry people who all sit in your station and want to order at the same time. And then the coffee machine breaks, and the chef slips on a banana peel.

Even on its best day, a restaurant is a place where one routinely goes toe to toe with the fundamental laws of physics. No wonder waiters become experts on how to demonstrate grace under pressure, make catastrophes into adventures and always remember that when all the checks are down and the tips are counted, they are going to have great stories to tell.

Here are some time-honored tips that will help you cope with disaster and keep the hungry wolves in your station at bay.

Don't Deny the Damage: Don't pretend your disaster isn't happening. Be honest with your customers, or at least as honest as you can be without admitting to any health code violations or starting a stampede for the door. Encourage your customers' trust in you, and assure them that everything is under control.

Conserve Your Energy for Crucial Tasks: Don't do anything you can get the busboy to do. You have backup help for a reason; use it. The first step in successful disaster management is to delegate responsibility.

Laugh in the Face of Adversity: When all else is lost, find your sense of humor. There is always something funny in any situation. And help your customers see it, too. A well-timed laugh to ease the tension has saved many a tip from ruin.

Never Go Anywhere Empty-Handed: When things are going from bad to worse, controlling what you can helps customers feel that they're in good hands, even if they're waiting an hour and a half for their cheeseburgers. When you pass through your station, empty full ashtrays, fill up water glasses and bread baskets, clear dirty plates, and see if you can get somebody a second beverage. Maximize your every move.

Let Them Eat Bread: Bread is very filling, which can be a good thing when the kitchen has just shut down amid the lunch rush. In a pinch, keep those rolls and butter pats coming!

Let Them Eat Cake: You catch more flies with complimentary desserts than you do with lame excuses.

Befriend the Bartender: The person behind the bar can be your best friend in a restaurant crisis. Stay in touch with your bartender. He's got an overview of the situation and can often prevent things from going from bad to worse. Plus, in many restaurants, the bar is a great place to hide from a situation that you can't control. In a pinch, let the bartender handle it.

Keep Your Cool: Panic isn't good for anybody's appetite.