So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Designing and building the perfect dining experience redux

We’ve been talking about the parallels between architecture and waiting tables.

To build a successful building, the architect and builders have to have a plan. They have to have the requisite training to be able to work raw materials into a finished form.  They have to understand how the aesthetic is used not only to present a pleasing presentation but also how it can be limited by the utility of the building itself. They also have to have a positive relationship with their clients and be able to be an advocate for them. Finally, they have to conform to stated codes and other civic considerations.

Well, waiting tables touches on all of these concepts.

We’ve already discussed the training aspect. A waiter must know the menu and the beverage offering. A waiter must know how to properly input orders and handle things like coupons, discounts, outages (86es), guest complaints and being in the weeds.

This also blends in with having a plan. When serving guests, a good waiter has a plan of attack. They are able to be responsive to the differences in a set of conditions, i.e. dealing with a guest when nothing is going on vs. when the restaurant is being deluged with guests at 7:30 on a Friday night. Or how they will deal with a guest who exhibits signs of frustration or unreasonable expectations.

They also need to know how to use the system of the restaurant, the menu and the skill set of the team to craft the dining experience into the most optimal one possible. They know what the kitchen can and cannot do. They know that it would be impossible to get a well-done 20 oz ribeye out in 5 minutes when it’s quiet but the broiler person might be able to move up a steak that is already at medium for another table when the entire restaurant has been seated.  They know that garlic can’t be excluded from a dish if the guest wants a dish with marinara. This is the rough equivalent of a builder knowing that a certain sized girder just won’t work to support the hoisting mechanism of an elevator even if the architect has mistakenly specified just such a girder. These examples are similar to “knowing your materials”.

They also know when it’s time to guide the guest who orders a Caesar salad with the dressing on the side because you think that the dressing is just too thick for the guest to incorporate in the salad and it’s important to find out whether they’re going to try to do that because they want “light dressing” or whether it’s actually ok because they just like to dip the romaine into the dressing piece by piece like you would dip a carrot stick into some ranch (the latter is just fine and the former will actually likely make the guest use more dressing than if the pantry line cook tosses it in a bowl). They understand that when the guest asks for the clams to be “on the side” for a linguine with white clam sauce, this compromises the dish past the point of usefulness and just won’t look or taste right. They also know that not butterflying a 16 oz filet cooked well-done will guarantee an almost inedible piece of meat and they need to be able to explain that getting the middle of such a thick piece of very lean meat to well done will require the outer inch of the steak to be so dry and tough as to be awful (plus it would probably take 45 minutes just to cook). All of these things relate to the concept of aesthetics and collaboration with the client.

It is within the power of the waiter to use the conceit of building to help them create the perfect dining experience for each and every guest (impossible but a worthy goal). All you as a server have to do is think a little outside the box and become less of a laborer and more of a tradesman/craftsman. However, never forget that a tradesman/craftsman needs laborers, so never forget the basics either.

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