Blog post by Assistant Curator, Gabby Krieble. Be sure to stop by the History Center to see the “Order Up! Restaurants of Monroe County” exhibit before it closes on November 5.
Many mid-century American sit-down restaurants prided themselves on excellent service. Boxman’s and Groves Restaurant in Bloomington were no exception.
The photo above shows the neatly-dressed, uniformed servers of Boxman’s restaurant preparing for the day. A clean and courteous dining experience was an important part of the restaurant’s branding, and the servers were charged with upholding that ideal. The front page of a 1952 Boxman’s menu includes a quote from Henry F. Boxman himself. It reads, “TO SERVE YOU WELL – is our desire and our constant endeavor. Should we fail – in either goods or service – immediate knowledge of the fact will be appreciated.”
Henry Boxman went on to develop a 12-point “Employee Success Formula,” seen here. While some of the guidance pertains specifically to the job of food service, it’s striking how much the formula emphasizes character and conduct outside of working hours. Point five, for example, instructs the employee to “[manifest] a GENTLEMANLY and LADYLIKE quiet CONDUCT off duty as well as on duty. Always be neat and clean in appearance, clean in speech, and clean in thought.”
That last point seems hard to enforce—to the best of our knowledge, Henry Boxman wasn’t a mind-reader. But it goes to show how much Boxman’s expected their employees to internalize the advice of the formula. It wasn’t just a formula for success at serving, it was a success formula “for personal achievement and advancement”—at work and at home.
While Boxman’s chose to develop a unique employee guide, Groves Restaurant opted to adopt the commercially-printed The Waitress and Waiter’s Bible (Revised Edition), written by E. Ronald Fishman and published by The Almark Company. The purpose of this little booklet is to guide a server through the dining experience, from “The Approach” (“Your greeting should be one of welcome—friendly but dignified.”) through “Taking the Order” (“Suggest additional items by saying, ‘I feel certain, sir, you would enjoy our special chocolate pie. It is very good.’”) and “Serving” (“’Make every guest happy to be here and anxious to return.’”) to, finally, “The Departure” (“present check—face down.”).
Beyond the meal service, The Waitress and Waiter’s Bible places heavy emphasis on the personality and appearance of the wait staff. For the servers of Groves Restaurant, a good personality boiled down to six key character traits: interest, initiative, pride, loyalty, efficiency, and enthusiasm. The handbook also provides some “common sense rules” for maintaining an attractive and tidy appearance, such as keeping one’s complexion clear by eating, sleeping, exercising, and cleansing one’s face several times a day.
Both Boxman’s and Groves Restaurant put a lot of stock in their waitstaff. The servers at these iconic restaurants were considered ambassadors, and they were expected to conduct themselves as such. The service is often the first thing that long-time Bloomington residents remember about these restaurants, so the extensive training must have paid off!