So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Daily Archives: May 22, 2009

I want…

Why is it that guests don’t have any idea how rude this sounds? I suspect that part of it is the gradual yet accelerating breakdown of modern civilization as we know it and the complete disregard for common courtesy that is so prevalent in modern day America.

Let me ask this – wouldn’t I be perceived as rude if I walked up to the table and asked, “What do you want”? Wouldn’t that sound brusque and…well…rude? Then why is it that so many people don’t actually use the much nicer preamble, “I’d like…”?

C’mon peeps, if you’re going out to eat, please don’t tell us that you want something. Just the fact that you’re ordering something means that you want it. At least I assume that you actually want whatever it is that you’re ordering.

OK, climbing off my soapbox now…

Link of the day – The Waiter’s Digest


This is one of the oldest waiting tables sites on the internet. Helmut Schonwalder is a transplanted German who waits tables in California. It’s a shame that he probably had to drop the two umlauts in his name – perhaps he could borrow one from Queensryche, who has an unnecessary (and incorrect one, for that matter) over the Y.  And he could just get the other from Blue Öyster Cult since they really don’t need that one, unless they really want you to call their band Blue Erister Cult.

Frankly, I could do without the MIDI background stuff (if you’re going to give me Money! Money! Money!, give me ABBA, not some cheesy MIDI file). And the site has always bit a bit of maze. About 4 years ago, he started to transition into more of a commerce site and he has lots of offerings that you can purchase.

The great part of the site is his “Waiter’s Digest”, a series of pages with the same goal as this very blog – a primer on getting and mastering the waiter’s job.

He’s also got a CDROM on napkin folding, where he has hundreds of folds. He still got a few dozen that you can look at for free.

Schonwalder is old school as well as old world. He takes his profession seriously and he has a wealth of knowledge that you’ll find useful. I remember reading many of his tales of waiting tables over the years (he was the granddaddy of all waiter rant-type sites, albeit with a sophistication that you sometimes find lacking in similar sites). Due to the circuitous nature of his web empire, it’s rather hard for me to see if any of those tales are still visible for free. He has compiled a CDROM of his tales, but, you might still be able to access some of them. Some of them are quite choice, especially some of the ones from “the old country”.

The best tip I got from his tales? If you have a white shirt and the cuff is stained, use a piece of white chalk to cover it up for the day. Of course, in these days of whiteboards and computer monitors, it ain’t easy to find chalk. It wasn’t an explicit tip, but one that was just part of a story. You’ll find lots of little gems buried in his tales. If you have to buy his CDROM to get them, so be it.

While the graphics are very dated, the visual style waaaay too florid, garish and in need of a serious update, and the navigation needs simplifying, you should check out Helmut’s site if you haven’t already. There was a time where it was one of the few waiter reference sites on the ‘net and, for that alone, it should be celebrated.

Oh yeah, there’s a nice series of posts on the history of dining.

This is the main portal:

Cookbook of the day – A Matter of Taste


A Matter of Taste:  The Definitive Seasoning Cookbook

by Sylvia Windle Humphrey

The Macmillan Company (1965)

This 1965 reference book is great to have for two reasons. First, it has some cool recipes in it. But, more importantly, it describes the various herbs, spices, flavoring components and seasonings that make our food both palatable and healthy and gives you a history lesson at the same time.

It’s broken down into the following sections:

Basic Seasonings (salt sugar, honey, acids, MSG, etc.) Don’t hold it against Humphrey that she calls MSG a “super seasoning”. This book is, after all, almost 50 years old now.



Special Seasonings (anchovy, beer, mushrooms, flowers and fruits, etc.)


If your chef came up to you and asked you what the difference between a spice and an herb was, or if your guest asked you to describe cardomom or saffron, would you be able to do it? Wouldn’t it be cool to bark back at the chef, “Yes I do. Want an example? Cilantro is an herb, and its seed, coriander is a spice”. Now, you’re not going to get that from this book, because, in those days of olde,  the whole plant was called coriander. In fact, technically, it’s still called the coriander plant. It’s also called Chinese parsley but that’s neither here nor there. Generally we call the coriander plant cilantro these days, but the chef will get that you indeed know the difference.

Despite the rather dated aspect of this book, you will find this book useful, if only to have a history of the various herbs and spices.  Plus, just reading about herbs and spices should kindle your increasing thirst for knowledge, right?

It’s been out of print for a while now, but you can still find used copies on the cheap.

Amazon has something like 18 copies at the moment, ranging from a little over a dollar to around $8.

You can also find a nice clean copy for around $8 here:

More on designing and building the perfect dining experience

Feeling a little cheated after reading yesterday’s post?  Expecting a blueprint to assure the perfect dining experience?

Well, I don’t blame ya.

But that was just a preamble. Something to get you shifted into a different frame of mind. You see, waiting tables can be a mind and soul-numbing experience for someone who is simply punching a clock or waiting on a “real job”.

In this short series of posts, we’ll extend the analogy and give you some real world tips on erecting a great meal.

First of all, a building needs an architect. Architects needs to have training in the engineering and design arts. It’s also helpful to be an artist themselves.  So, as the architect of your guest’s meal, you have to have a good training on your materials and how to use them. The great waiter will always be learning about food and beverage. They will keep a mental file on human behavior and they’ll have gone over their mechanics of movement. They’ll also try to be an artist with words. If necessary, they could make the Mona Lisa blush, and not from a stream of invective. By using the “sizzle” words and phrases like sizzling, succulent, seasonal, buttery, lean, perfectly broiled and decadent, you paint a picture for the guest that’s hard to resist. But, you can easily overdo this. Potentially great paintings have been ruined when the artist didn’t know when to stop. If everything is luscious and amazing, then it’s likely that nothing actually is. What kind of foundation does your meal have if you can’t explain to your guest why they shouldn’t order that cabernet with the sea bass. Now, don’t get me wrong – anyone can have anything with anything, but you should be able to know enough about both products to be able to explain that sea bass will be overwhelmed by a big cab? Perhaps you find out that they don’t drink white wines at all. Well, you can then pivot to a pinot noir or even something less heavy and chewy than a cab like a  Chianti Classico or something along those lines. Or, if they say they still want a big dark wine, you can offer them the petite syrah that you have on the list. It’s dark and inky (usually even darker than a cabernet) but it’s usually softer and rounder. It’s all about using your knowledge much as an architect would do when she explains to the client that an upside-down pyramid might look great and be unique, but they just don’t have the resources to pull it off.

So, if you want to build a great meal, start with a great foundation.  Nobody wants to work with an architect that doesn’t seem to know about materials or engineering. And you don’t want your great meal to crumble into dust and misshapen girders.