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How to Bus Tables & What is it?


Bussing, in short, is the act of making sure that the restaurant’s tables are neatly taken care of. The goal is to make the guest experience as smooth as possible. It’s usually a summer job for young men and women looking to make some extra buck.

In this article, we’re going to go over what exactly is and isn’t bussing. We’ll also give some practical tips for bussers and for restaurant owners. We hope you’ll find this article helpful. 

What Is Bussing?

how to bus tables in a restaurant - what is bussing

In the restaurant industry, bussing tables is a critical aspect of maintaining efficient table service. This process involves diligently clearing empty dishes and dirty dishes from tables, ensuring that the dining area remains neat and welcoming. 

A bus boy will often be tasked with swiftly removing empty plates, used steak knives, and any other tableware that guests have used during their meal. Once the table is cleared of these items, the next important step is cleaning tables. This not only involves wiping down the surfaces but also making sure they are sanitized and ready for the next customers. 

Following the cleaning process, bussers are also responsible for setting tables. This includes placing fresh tableware, like clean plates and steak knives, in preparation for new guests. The role of a busser in the restaurant industry is thus integral to the dining experience, bridging the gap between guests leaving and new guests arriving. Efficient bussing ensures that tables are turned over promptly, which is essential in a busy dining environment, and contributes significantly to the overall flow and success of the restaurant’s service.

What Isn’t Bussing?

how to bus tables in a restaurant - what isn’t bussing

In the restaurant industry, the job description of bussers differs significantly from those waiting tables. The primary responsibility of bussers is bussing tables, which involves efficiently clearing away dirty dishes and empty plates after guests depart. 

Part of their duties also include setting tables for new guests and ensuring a neat and inviting dining setup. While their role may occasionally involve filling glasses, this task is generally secondary to their main responsibilities and is often performed in assistance to the waitstaff.

Bussers are not concerned with waiting tables and don’t generally engage directly with guests. The distinction between these roles is crucial in a restaurant’s operation, with each contributing to the seamless execution of dining service. Bussers focus on the cleanliness and readiness of the dining area, while those waiting tables handle the interactive and service-oriented aspects with guests.

How to Bus Tables? 3 Tips

Bussing tables is not a particularly complicated task. It comes down to common sense, organization, and good teamwork. Below we’re going to discuss three simple steps that will help you make your bussing experience as straightforward as possible.

1. Organization and Teamwork

how to bus tables in a restaurant - organization and teamwork tips for restaurants

A great busser, often a waiter’s assistant, should be well-organized, capable of working harmoniously with others, and maintain alignment with the team’s broader goals. 

They should take pride in their work and appearance, clearing tables promptly, refilling water glasses as needed, and removing empty bread baskets and cups appropriately. Pre-bussing to remove remaining items from the table is also encouraged.

  • Create a Cleaning Checklist: To stay organized, develop a checklist for clearing each table. This list should include all the items to be cleared, like dishes, bread baskets, and water glasses, ensuring nothing is missed. Regularly update the checklist to align with the restaurant SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) standards.”
  • Communicate With the Team: Make sure to communicate openly with your teammates, including waiters and other staff members. Each one of you should have their designated work area (tables you take care of) and tasks.

2. Clear Thoughtfully

how to bus tables in a restaurant - thoughtful cleaning

Approach a table with consideration, especially if guests are still engaged in conversation. Aim to stack dishes with minimal noise to avoid disrupting the dining room experience. Below are some tips to make your life a little bit easier.

  • Practice Silent Service: Train to clear and stack dishes as quietly as possible. This can be achieved by gently placing dishes onto a tray or stacking them carefully in your hands, avoiding the clinking of silverware or the clattering of plates. Practicing this skill during quieter hours can help improve technique.
  • Observe Body Language: Before approaching a table, observe the guests’ body language and engagement level. If they seem deeply engaged in conversation or are still interacting with their meal, it may be best to wait before clearing. This respectful approach ensures that guests aren’t interrupted unnecessarily.

3. Know When to Clear

how to bus tables in a restaurant - cleaning timing

Understanding the restaurant’s approach to clearing tables is crucial. In fine dining, clear only when everyone is done, with options like synchronized clearing. In casual settings, clear appetizers as each person finishes and entrees accordingly.

  • Learn the Restaurant’s Clearing Signals: Familiarize yourself with any subtle cues or signals that indicate a guest has finished eating, like the placement of cutlery on the plate. Each restaurant may have different standards, so understanding these will help you clear effectively without intruding on the guests’ experience.
  • Regular Observation Training: Practice observing different tables to gauge the right time to clear. This could involve identifying when a group has finished eating or noticing when individual plates are ready to be cleared. Regularly observing and adapting to these situations can refine your timing and approach.

Bussing Tips for Restaurant Owners

Good bussing can be considered a delicate art form. A good busser is one that’s almost invisible. On the other hand, he or she has to be able to handle customer interactions and do it well. Below are some tips on how you can make it easier for your bussers to do their best.

1. Team Effort in Bussing

how to bus tables in a restaurant - team effort

We’ve already touched on teamwork in regard to bussers. As a restaurant owner, there are some things you can do to make it better. 

Everyone, regardless of their role, should be ready to assist in clearing tables. This team approach ensures efficient service and minimizes the steps in the bussing process.

  • Cross-Training: Encourage cross-training among staff members, including servers, hosts, and kitchen staff, in basic bussing techniques. This helps create a flexible team that can step in and assist with clearing and resetting tables during peak times or when the busser is occupied elsewhere.
  • Communication Systems: Implement a simple communication system, such as subtle hand signals or verbal cues, to indicate when a table needs clearing or resetting. This ensures that any available team member can promptly address the need without disrupting the service flow.

2. All Hands on Deck Mentality

how to bus tables in a restaurant - all hands on deck

Encourage a mentality of “full hands in, full hands out” among all staff members. This approach maximizes efficiency, as everyone is always ready to help reset tables, clean dishes, and provide extra utensils, improving the overall restaurant experience for guests.

  • Implement a ‘Full Hands’ Policy: Train all staff, including bussers, servers, and managers, to adopt a ‘full hands in, full hands out’ policy. This means they should always carry something—either clearing items or delivering items—to and from the kitchen. This maximizes efficiency and reduces the number of trips made. This also

3. Integrate an Online Table Reservation System

 how to bus tables in a restaurant - restaurant reservation system

Integrate an online reservation system that syncs with the restaurant’s floor plan. This tool can provide real-time updates on which tables are reserved and at what times, allowing bussers to efficiently prepare and prioritize their table setting and clearing tasks. 

It can also help in anticipating busy periods, enabling the staff to plan and allocate resources accordingly. This system not only streamlines the workflow for bussers but also enhances overall service efficiency and guest satisfaction.

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Key Takeaways

    • Bussers should be organized, work well with the team, and keep the dining room efficiently running by clearing tables, refilling beverages, and removing unnecessary items.
    • Approach clearing with consideration, minimizing noise and respecting guests’ conversations, especially in different dining settings.
    • Understand and adapt to the restaurant’s specific clearing protocols, balancing attentiveness and not rushing guests.
    • Encourage a collaborative approach where everyone assists in clearing and resetting tables, enhancing service efficiency.
    • Implement a ‘full hands in, full hands out’ policy for staff, boosting overall efficiency in serving and clearing.
    • Utilize an online reservation system to help bussers prepare and prioritize tasks, improving service flow and guest satisfaction.
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Emil Gawkowski

Creative digital writer and marketer. A caffeine-fueled madman who loves to make things better.

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