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One rule of waitering: Keep your mouth shut. So says veteran waiter Gilbert Lagunas, who’d keep his lips sealed when a married man would show up one night for dinner with his girlfriend, then bring his wife the next. “I would often be rewarded with a wink and a hundred-dollar bill,” recalls Lagunas, who worked at restaurants in New York, Napa and El Dorado Hills before a leg injury sidelined him. Now he’s funneling his knowledge into his own business, First Class Waiter, providing waiter training and restaurant operations consulting. He’s worked with Iron Steaks, which hired him on the heels of a scathing review in The Sacramento Bee, and was a key player when Il Fornaio on Capitol Mall opened, training its first three managers and assistant managers. “Typically, I train the whole restaurant staff: managers, front of house, servers, bussers, hostesses,” says Lagunas. On theagenda: how to greet customers, when to speak (and when not to) and the art of the cocktail. Other Lagunas-isms:
• It’s all about respect. Respecting the customer is the No. 1 rule of good service, says Lagunas. Loose lingo particularly galls him. “How many times have you gone out to dinner and had a waiter say, ‘Hi, guys, how are you?’” he asks.
• A good server is an observant server. “There’s a look when a person needs to use the bathroom, and a different look when they want the busboy,” says Lagunas. A good server, he says, knows the difference.
• Service can make or break a restaurant. “People need to understand that if their people aren’t trained, the restaurant will likely fail,” says Lagunas.
• Upscale, downscale—it doesn’t matter. “Every restaurant should treat custo-mers like royalty—from Denny’s to French Laundry,” says Lagunas.
• Biba sets the bar. Who has the best service in town? According to Lagunas, it’s Biba. “Biba is my favorite spot for both service and food,” he says.