Guest checks don't crash

The guest check lives on.
Square. POS. Aloha. All great systems for any restaurant. Unless of course, they crash. guestcheck
And o the line at the door signaled one of two things: either the crowd was larger than usual or the kitchen was hit with a catastrophe to slow things up.

We opted to sit at the bar instead of waiting for a table. We sat directly in front of the computer and both of us glanced at the terminal to see a headline at the top simply stating “Looking for Brain”. Anyone who has ever been in this dilemma before knows exactly what that means.

I first experienced it in 1995 when my 450 seat dining room was almost at a stand still on that hot, humid, Saturday night on Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota. I checked in the kitchen and the entire line was standing around as though it were a Monday night in January. When I asked why no food was on the stove, the rail, or under the heat lamps, the chef, John Anderson calmly said there were no tickets.

I scoured the place for the manager and was told that the computer system had crashed 3 minutes ago and nobody could order any food until they rebooted the system.

“We are on the phone with Aloha now” I believe were the words I heard mumbled from his mouth. I quickly ran upstairs, ripped open the guest check box and distributed pads of guest checks to the 10 or so waiters huddled in the corner of the dining room.

We survived the night and on the following Monday I developed a plan for teaching the same procedure every month: How to order food without a computer.

Yet, you would be surprised how the rhythm of a dining room breaks down when a computer crashes.

If you haven’t had a “computer has crashed” drill yet, here are ten tips on having one. The first five deal with supplies, the second five deal with procedure.

1). Have Guest checks handy at all times. These can be purchased at any office supply store. For those who have never seen one, there’s diner in Stilwell Oklahoma that uses them regularly.

2). Make sure that the checks are numbered as you want to let the staff think there is a strong accounting system in place. If you don’t it is easy for a few guest checks to disappear – with the cash that accompanied it.

3). Bring the kitchen into the meeting as they need to be familiarized with the process also.
4). It is imperative to have a substantial amount of cash on hand as once the computer system crashes, your credit card machine also bites the dust.

5). Have a good supply of hand processing credit card slips on hand. You don’t need a manual machine but you will need some instrument to run the card.

6). Explain gently to your staff that food was created, cooked and served long before Gates and Jobs spent the evenings in their garages inventing computers – after dinner.

7) Stress the importance of calmness and let the staff know that they should inform all their guests that the computer system has crashed. This will alert them to the fact, diplomatically of course, that the credit card machine is down. This is also the perfect opportunity to go back to the old days of a cash system. It at times helps if you need the money to cover checks and can’t wait the extra days for manually processed credit cards to post to your account.

8). Explain to the staff how the chef would like the guest checks written. Unlike a computer system, the appetizers, salads, soups and drinks may have to be written on the guest check and placed in the kitchen on a separate sheet of paper.

9). Table numbers need appear on all checks and the time should also be on the check as it helps the line when firing the food.

10). Get ready to buy a few drinks for customers that will no doubt complain about the wait, the service and the general atmosphere. Buy desert for those who don’t complain.

11). This is a bonus tip. Make sure you have a service contract in good standing with the software company. One crash pays for the yearly fee.

John Foley

John Foley is Publisher of

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