Saturday, December 22, 2012

Let your light shine

I hate phone chargers. That's not true, I hate chargers that have an LED indicator. Especially those really bright blue ones. At night, when I'm struggling to sleep, they seem to light up the whole room. That is why all of mine have a blob of blu-tack over them.

Have you ever noticed that even the smallest of lights can actually light a large area? Hold a match up in a fully lit room, and it seems to give off a little bit of light. But light that same match in a pitch black room, and suddenly you can see an awful lot.

In the Gospels, one of the first things John says is 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it' (John 1:5 NRSV). Light is extremely powerful, light can change how the world is seen. Light expels darkness, and there is nothing the darkness can do to fight back.

And as Christians, we are called to be the light. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that we are the light, the hill on a city, which would be a beacon of safety and security for others. And then he points out that 'No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it under the bushel basket' (Matthew 5:15 NRSV). What a obvious waste that would be!

But if I could, I would add an extra verse in there. Call it Matthew 5: 15.1 (The 'Matthew' pun was entirely accidental!) I would want to add 'No one, after lighting a lamp, leaves it in an already fully lit room.' What good is it to light a lamp in a room where there is already plenty of light? Your new lamp isn't able to show its full potential. That lamp is going to do so much better in a place currently shroud in darkness, isn't it?

So, if we, as Christians, are called to be lights in the world, where is our light going to be most useful? In our nice, comfy, well lit churches on a Sunday Morning, or outside; in the pubs, on the streets, where there light of the good news of Jesus isn't already obvious?

This is a theme that seems to be popping up all over the place for me recently. I have a tweet favourited, so I see it most days when I have Tweetdeck open. It is a quotation by William Shedd; 'A ship is safe in harbour, but that's not what ships are for ' Its the same as light. A ship works perfectly well inside the safety of the harbour walls; it'll float, hold cargo, stop people getting wet. But that's not its full potential. A ship is only really useful when it moves outside the harbour.

I'm not saying that Sunday services don't offer a much needed... service... If we think of the lamp as a piece of wood, an old fashioned torch, sometimes they need to be put back into a bigger fire to keep them burning brightly. This is something I used to find fascinating as a Scout; a stick would go out, but put it back into the heat of the fire and it would burst back into flame. Sometimes we need to be in the presence of others to re-energise, to get that spark back. Its the same as the ship, sometimes they need to go back to the safety of the harbour; to refuel, restock supplies and repair any damage. Sunday, 10:30 is a time to get restock, find that spark, be with others who energise us, but that can't be all our faith is.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think that our faith calls us to go outside what is comfortable, familiar, well lit, to the places where we can make the most difference. Jesus, it seems, spent a lot more time and energy outside the Temple, meeting people where they were, making the difference that they needed. And I think that is what we are called to do.

So this Christmas time, as we remember the Light of the World coming down into the Darkness, I'd like to challenge you to think about where your light could be best shone over the next year. And let your light shine for all the world to see.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Your Waiter Tips You Part 2

It's back! I have had more some thoughts since the first instalment and even some requests for my views on certain things. I might even make this a semi-regular feature, if people want it.

I realised, after re-reading the last post, I make it sound like these tips are foolproof. Maybe I was wrong. These tips are my thoughts, things that make me happy or annoyed and my experiences from working for a year in two different stores (of the same chain) and talking to other staff. These tips may not work with everyone, but I can only offer my take on things.

Before we start with the new tips, I'd like to make an addition to #4 on the last post. I was talking about children making a mess and how the worst thing a parent can do is apologise for a mess but leave it. I have found a crime that’s even worse! Yesterday, I walked past a table where the toddler had just dropped a £2 coin-sized piece of pizza into one of the walkways, and the Mum said to the Dad 'Just sweep that bit under the table.' Not only do they know there is a mess, but they actively move the mess, using the same energy that could have picked that up... Grrr...

Anyway here we go: some new tips in a nice systematic order.

#7 Where to sit

This one is a bit more specific to the operating procedures  of the company for which I work, but I would expect similar systems operate elsewhere. When you arrive, the Host will greet you, and show you to a table. They may direct you to a certain table or area, or they may offer you the choice. I'll take these scenarios separately. But first a little background. We divide the restaurant up into different sections, and each Waiter looks after a certain section. This is done for ease; I don't need to keep a track of where the tables I'm looking after are; they are in one place. It is also done so a table should have the same Waiter for the duration of the visit, which helps if there are problems, and also helps build a good relationship.

If you are directed to a certain area, there is probably a good reason why. A good Host will spread tables out among the sections, rather than sitting three in one area in the space of five minutes. This makes the waiter's job easier, and means you should get quicker service. You can ask to move, or sit at a certain table, and we will do our best to accommodate that. But I often advise customers that if they sit there, they may have more of a wait, because the server is quite busy. Then it is their choice.
If you are given the option of where to sit, please think about your server. If there are three tables at one end of the restaurant, and none at the other, where should you sit? I'd prefer if you sat near the others, it means everything is in one place, and can save a lot of walking. Also, if there are two of you, please don't sit on the table of six, unless there is nowhere else. We have very few places where we can seat a table of six, so we might have to turn customers away or make them wait because you are taking up a valuable table.

#8 - Unlimited drinks/food is limited

We sell 'unlimited' drinks, ice cream, and we even give free salad all day. We also offer an unlimited lunch buffet. But unlimited doesn't mean unlimited. It is for one person. If there are two of you, that means buying two drinks, not getting one and sharing it. If you have a small child (officially, if they are 2 or under) then they can share with their parent. But that is it. I had a table of two the other day who ordered two (different) unlimited drinks. After taking the order I did my usual 'If you'd like a free refill, just let me know.' I was a little busy, so one of the other staff took the drinks over, and came back to tell me that they had 'only ordered one drink', and had sent one back. I know that they ordered two, they were different. Then it clicked that they we going to share it, after I had told them it was unlimited. In these cases, it's too much hassle to argue, so we took one drink off the menu.  But it winds me up, especially as they were obviously playing staff off against each other.

#9 Splitting the bill

Spilling the bill is fine, our till even lets us split it equally between everyone or actually break it down so each person pays for what they had. If you can do the maths yourself, sort the money amongst yourselves and pay in one go, then that is great, please do! But the other day we had a table of 14 who each wanted to pay for their bit, and each pay individually on cards or with cash that needed lots of change. This is a nightmare, each card transaction takes around a minute to complete. You can see the problem here. This means my other tables have to wait for service, and other tables can't pay (we only have two card machines, but they don't like both working at the same time). If you are all paying cash, maybe work the money out amongst you so that you can leave whatever change there is as a tip (see below), maybe even use things like Pingit from Barclays, which allows you to transfer money quickly via internet banking.

#10 Tips on Tipping

A few people have asked me what my view is on tipping. This is a tricky one, and this is very much my opinion. I never expect a tip as Customers are paying for food and I get paid (admittedly minimum wage) to give it to them. I find it strange that, in the UK, we tip some people and not others. We don't often tip bartenders, we never tip checkout staff at the supermarket even they are providing you with food you are paying for (I have been a till boy as well). That doesn't mean I don't like getting tips. And since being a waiter, I have become a better tipper myself. My view is 10% as a good mark, but would never tip less than £1. I don't know why, but 78p seems a bit low, even if it was a £7.80 bill. I don't know why. And leaving 2p on the table, well that's just irritating. I think I would rather have nothing that that.

If you are a big table (10+) then I am more likely to expect a tip. Large tables are hard work, especially when I have a few other tables. Getting 10 drinks and running 10 pizzas takes a lot longer than 3 or 4 do (obviously). On the other hand, it may be that I only have your table, in which case you will be my sole tipper.

I won't hold it against you if you don't tip, but I will certainly remember if you tip well.
Also, know what the tip policy is at the restaurant. Some places share the tips equally between all staff, some (like mine) let servers keep 100% of the tips they earn, some more dodgy places take a commission from the tips, or use tips to top up wages so the worker still only gets minimum wage. If in doubt, ask.

So there we go. A few more hints for good service and a happy waiter. Anything else you'd like me to talk about in the next one?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

OPP Post #6 - More Than Sunday

Over the last three days, I've worked in three different Methodist Churches in three different towns/cities. I have taken orders and run food at the Drop In (Preston's Central Methodist), prepared and served food at Comfort Zone (North Shore Methodist Blackpool, though staffed by volunteers from Thornton Methodist), and attended a coffee morning for The ARC, Asylum Seekers and Refugees Community, (Wesley Hall, Blackburn). These are three great projects supported by Methodist Action, the independent charity which I work for as an OPP, and I really admire the work that they do. The first two provide food, warmth and fellowship for homeless, poor and lonely people. The latter is a place for refugees and asylum seekers to come together, make friends and get support and advice as they negotiate their way through the system. One of the guys I met there, originally from Iran, came to Britain 18 months ago, speaking no English. Now he is pretty much fluent, and he learnt from other people at ARC who translated for him and taught him.

For the last few weeks, on the advice of my supervisor, I have been keeping a fairly detailed journal of the work I'm doing. I have started recording the interactions I have, my observations and some reflections. I have also been noting down the number of visitors/clients/attendees (each project uses its own term) each time, and I started to wonder what the church attendance there was. Luckily, The Methodist Church have put together a really useful interactive map which holds all the data you could want, including a church-by-church breakdown of average weekly membership. (This map can be found here, and any data with * is taken from this source).

So let's look at the three projects, and their host Church's average weekly attendance.

Drop In (09/12/12) - 53 Visitors                  Central Methodist - 41*
Comfort Zone (10/12/12) - 58 Clients         North Shore Methodist - 44*
ARC (11/12/12) -  61 Attendees                 Wesley Hall, Blackburn - 14*

Can you see a pattern? There are fewer people sitting in the pews (seat in Wesley Hall's case) than attend the outreach that they do. But I wonder how much of their time and effort is spent of this living out of their faith through serving others, and how much time is spent on preparing for the Sunday morning service.

I've thought a lot recently about where the church is going. The latest Census figures released today seem to show Christianity is in decline in Britain. Church attendance seems to be declining in most major denominations; it all looks gloomy. But maybe our focus is in the wrong place. What if we stop worrying about that hour on a Sunday - those five hymns sandwiched between the call to worship, different prayers, three point sermon and the Grace - and start looking to what we have around us. Churches are often geographically in the hearts of communities: my home church is right next to the bus station; Preston Central Methodist is a few yards off the main shopping street. What if we spent more time looking outside, going outside, providing services to help those in need in the local community - be it homeless, refugees, alcoholics?

What is going to show the light of Jesus more; an hour on a Sunday attended by 99 who already know the Gospel, or a few hours serving food, making tea, providing a listening ear for 172 who don't?

I'd like to hear from you - comment on here, on Facebook or on Twitter

Do we need a shift in focus in our church?
If Jesus popped along to your church for a week, what would he think?
Would he prefer the Sunday morning or the drop in session?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Your Waiter Tips You

So I have written a number of posts about my OPPing, so thought it was about time for one about my other job. I'm a waiter at a well known Pizza restaurant if you didn't already know.

This post was inspired by my shift tonight, which was a game of two halves. For the first two and a half hours of my four hour shift, I had lovely customers. For the second two and a half hours, it wasn't so good. (And if you have noticed the deliberate error there, I ended up working an hour longer than scheduled.) So I thought I would give you some tips on how to keep your waiter happy. Happy waiters usually mean good service; annoyed, stressed, unhappy waiters mean that your service won't be as good. And if there is a problem with your meal, I will do more to help you/get you a discount if you are nice to me. Generally, I will point out how to save money, using my knowledge of the menu and deals. But if you are rude, I am much less likely to share these tips with you.

#1 - Being a waiter doesn't mean I'm not a person.

When I come over to your table and cheerily say 'Hi there, how are you? I'm Matt and I'll be your waiter today' I am actually asking how you are. If you just respond with 'I'll have two Pepsis and a large Margarita' then I will mark you down as rude and/or inconsiderate. I like to actually interact with my customers. Saying hello is expected. Asking me how I am definitely puts you in my good books. Using my name shows that you see me as a person, and believe me, you'll get better service.

#2 - Waiters hate waiting.

Technically, I'm not actually a waiter. My job title is 'Team Member', and the company tends to refer to us as 'Servers' rather than 'Waiters'. And trust me, I hate waiting for customers to order. I don't mean that you have to know before you walk in the door what you want. I am more than happy to go and give you a minute or two longer. What drives me crazy is when I ask if you are ready to order, you say yes and then I am stood like a lemon for five minutes while you and your family discuss what toppings you want. I am happy to answer questions, clarify the (admittedly a tad confusing) menus and offers. But if you say you are ready to order, you better be able to list what you want. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that you are my only table, I have lots to do. And I'm sure you don't like waiting, so please don't be the reason that someone else has to wait to be served.

#3 - Order together

When it comes to refills, desserts, hot drinks, please order all together. Don't ask for one refill, and when I bring it over ask for another. Then when I bring the second one over, ask for a straw. These seemingly small tasks soon mount up, and when I have six tables on the go, seconds soon mount up. I once had a table that asked for 6 different things, one at a time, back to back. That is an easy way to ensure you will see little of me again. I am much less likely to come and check on you again, in case you do it again. Order in batches. However, saying 'Could you get me X when you have a minute' means I am much more likely to get it sooner rather than later. Like #1, you are seeing me as a person, not your personal dogsbody. This makes me happy, and I'll want to make you happy.

#4 - Children

If you have children with you, please don't let them run around. This is going to end badly, there have been numerous times where I have almost dropped hot food/drinks on a small child who darts into my path. I know 'children will be children', but I would really prefer not to maim one of them (think of the paperwork!). Also, I know children make a mess. If you really want to make my day, clear up after them. I don't expect spotless, but if you know they have thrown food around please at least pick up the worst of it. The very worst thing you can do is apologise for the mess they have made as you leave, leaving the mess there. What this says is 'I know they made a mess, but I'm not bothered. Someone else will deal with it.' Children can really make a shift if they are funny, cute and/or polite, but if they are spoilt, shouting and screaming (I'll allow babies that) and running around, it just stresses me out.

#5 - The Customer isn't always right

The old adage is wrong. The Customer isn't always right. Set meals are set. Not you can't change it. Yes, that starter you want is the same price as the one in the set menu, but you can't have it instead. IT'S A SET MENU. Argue all you like, I'm not going to change it, set means set. And if you ask to see the manager, I will tell them what you are trying to do before they go over, and trust me, 99% of the time they are going to back me up. I'm not trying to be awkward, I am following the rules that get handed to us by Head Office.

(However, if follow the tips, treat me as a human being, and I'm having a good day, I might be able to 'see what I can do' and 'have a word with the kitchen'. But this is rare.)
And throwing a strop won't get you better service. I will do the bare minimum, I don't want to bend over backwards to help someone who is rude, inconsiderate, argumentative. I will be professional, but that is it. I'm going to spend more time looking after the tables who say please and thank you, who smile, who get that I am busy, and they aren't the centre of my world.

#6 - I like compliments

I once got told I was the best server a customer had ever had. You can't believe how happy that made me. We are all too quick to point out things that are wrong, to complain. But are we as quick to point out good things, to tell a manager that you have had a good time? Maybe it is the rarity of these things that make them so special, but boy do they make a difference.

I could go on and on. Maybe I'll do a second part to this one day. But if you take note of these next time you go out, you'll make your waiter's day, and you'll get better service. Try it, let me know how it goes.

I'd like to hear from you - comment on here, on Facebook or on Twitter

What is the best/most memorable service you have had?
Fellow Waiters, what tips would you add?