So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Daily Archives: May 5, 2009

“How easy is it to be a waiter”

These are the words that someone typed into a search engine to find my site. And I suspect it will be a more common question the longer that this economic upheaval lasts. I’m guessing that we’re going to see more and more refugees from other fields as the layoffs pile up.

The easy answer is, “It’s easy to be a waiter until you realize how hard it can be”.

To be a good waiter requires a lot of skills that most people have to learn on the fly. It takes a good 6 months for most people to start getting good at it. To be a great waiter is something that takes much longer. Just as in any profession, there are a cherished few who seem naturals and pick it up very quickly. For the rest of us, it takes a lot of hard work, careful observation and a continuing desire to polish the fine points.

Hopefully, in a year, you’ll be able to go to your local bookstore and buy my book.  My hope is to make it easier for the rank amateur to come in and demolish the learning curve. In the meantime, I hope that this person will continue to read this blog as I will be discussing elements of the job that will turn him or her into a top-earner much more quickly than if they get hired and have to learn things on a trial-and-error basis.

Famous NYC food Critic Frank Bruni on the job of waiting tables

This is a couple of years old, but it’s a required read for diners who don’t have any idea about what it takes to serve them their meals (hint, a few qualities are patience, stamina, patience, focus, patience and…well…patience).

Bruni, who has been the  food critic for the New York Times for the past 5 years, decided to go undercover and work in a restaurant as a server for a week and then write about it. This is his story.

Here’s a tiny excerpt:

“I’m shadowing Tina, who has worked at the East Coast Grill for decades and seen it all. She is handling the same section Bryan did. She offers a psychological profile of a woman sitting alone at L-3, who declared the chocolate torte too rich and announced, only after draining her margarita, that it had too much ice.

‘Some people are interested in having the experience of being disappointed,’ Tina says”.

True dat.

The waiter as Renaissance person

I had someone ask me, “Why post about fo0d items or kitchen equipment like mortar and pestles”.

Well, the answer is, you will be a more successful server is you take more than a superficial interest in the culinary arts.

Actually, you will be a better server if you take more than a superficial interest in the world in general. The more you know about stuff, even stuff that you aren’t particularly schooled in or interested in, the better off you will be and the better you’ll be able to communicate with your guests. This is especially true for all things food related, but it also holds true for things like sports, politics and world affairs. I’m not saying that it’s wise to offer your opinions on these things since, just because you’re waiting tables in Boston, praising Jason Varitek for working his way out of a batting slump won’t necessarily be greeted with a resounding “Hell yeah” if you happen to be waiting on a New York Yankees fan up from New Jersey on a weekend trip to see the Boston Symphony. You always have to know your audience and play to it.  It’s always good to be able to at least acknowledge current events because it increases your credibility with the guest.

The more you know about food-related stuff and the more interest that you take in it, the better you’ll be at describing flavor profiles and flavor characteristics, culinary procedures such as the difference between a broiled and a sauteed piece of salmon, or why it might be better for the guest to have their salad tossed by the pantry cook instead of having the dressing on the side (you  get a more even distribution of dressing as well as actually eating less dressing). If someone asks what the tarragon in the tarragon-shallot beurre blanc tastes like, it’s useful to be able to tell them that the flavor has a resemblance to licorice since licorice is one of those flavors that most people either love or they hate. Plus, if they asked to hold the onions on their salad, they might be interested in the little fact that a shallot is a member of the onion family and you will be able to inform them of that fact and let them decide if they’re willing to suffer the onion-esque/licorice quality of the sauce or perhaps choose something else.

The more information that comes tripping off your tongue naturally, the better off you’re going to be (as long as you don’t go overboard and start showing off or arguing with the guest.

I have about 250 cookbooks. I’m just naturally interested in cooking, culinary issues and culinary history. I enjoy cooking and I’m pretty  good at it when I take the time to do it. I’m not saying that you need to go to my extreme, but would it kill you to get some basic tomes on cooking? Would it ruin your day to do some research on some of the items that your chef is putting in the daily specials?

In future posts, I’ll be listing some good, basic foundation books on food that every server should have access to or own, as well as lising some cookbooks that I’ve found both useful and interesting in terms of offer great recipes and also explaining the whys and the whats behind the recipes. Some of these books will also go into depth about cooking techniques as well.

Feel free to recommend any books that you have personally found helpful as well.