So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Daily Archives: May 29, 2009

Selling the sizzle…

This is an old school advertising term that applies in spades to waiters and waiter-wannabes.

Originally, the term probably came from the mouth of a mid-60s chain-smoking, chiseled jaw, (m)ad man describing how he could make a client’s product or service pop by making it as mouthwatering as a sizzling steak on the Weber.

The actual phrase is “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” but you usually don’t hear the last half of the quote. However, the whole quote illustrates the concept better because, let’s face it, if you were confronted with a sizzling steak on the barbie or a shrink wrapped, perfectly marbled porterhouse, which do you think would push your buttons more?

Since the concept is a food metaphor in the first place, it’s particularly apt for waiters.

<editorial insert here> For any new readers of the blog, realize that I use the word waiter to describe both female and male servers>

If you are simply a passive order-taker, I suppose it doesn’t matter, but then, that just makes you a mediocre waiter. You really don’t want to be one of those, do you?

It’s a commonly-held psychological fact that people respond on an emotional level to “s words” (it’s one of the reasons that vowel-filled French  is a “romance” language and consonant-ridden German isn’t). The sound of “s” and vowels are soothing (even the word soothing embodies this concept). It’s especially true when s is followed by vowels. For instance, the words “shit” and “sharp” aren’t particularly soothing. But the word “soothing” is…well…soothing. There are certain consonants that mimic vowels to a certain extent. For instance, “w” is a softer consonant when following an “s” and, therefore, you could consider “sweet” as one of those “sizzle” words.

But a word doesn’t have to be an “s” word to be a sizzle word, especially in the culinary world. Crisp is a sizzle word (yes, it has an “esss” sound that finishes it). Toasty is a sizzle word.

Basically, a sizzle word is a word that triggers an emotional response in the brain similar to a sense-driven trigger like the sense of smell. One of the big axioms in the biz is that we eat with our eyes. That’s true. But we also eat with our ears. that’s why fajitas are so popular – the sizzling mound of meat is soooo enticing. A good example of this sensory conditioning is the smell of popcorn. You smell it – you want to buy and consume food. Basically, you want your words to be the aural equivalent of hot buttered popcorn. Which sounds better, “We have a nice 24 oz porterhouse as our special tonight” or “I love the olive oil brushed, broiled, perfectly marbled porterhouse that we’re offering tonight. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it”?

The application of an appropriate sizzle word or phrase conditions the guest to be pre-disposed to wanting that item. “Crispy, deep-fried tender calimari” sounds so much better than “fried calimari”. Basically, you want the guest’s mind to start manufacturing in their minds the very qualities that you are describing.

Is it manipulation? Sure it is. All successful selling is.

Start coming up with your own list of sizzle words – words that make your own mouth water. Words like buttery, succulent, soft, luscious, unctuous, tasty, round, feminine (the last four usually used to describe wine). Phrases like perfectly broiled, seared rare, subtly spicy, outrageously decadent. Triggers like tequila-laced, caramelized crispy skin, steaming hot cappuccino.

Start pairing those words and phrases with appropriate menu items and you’re on your way. Once you’ve done that, learn how to stretch the words out slightly or emphasize them just enough. Learn to build a vocal rhythm to your spiel, much as a skilled playwright creates music from dialogue.  Don’t get sing-songy, but try to elevate your spiel from a flat, uninvolved line reading.

Once you get practiced at it, you’ll find that you can guide your guest into an above-average dining experience by suggestively selling the strong items from your kitchen.

And you’ll move this:


To this:


Wine topic of the day – Super Tuscans

tignanello_super_tuscan_wineThis is a very misunderstood concept (as is Italian wine in general). I recently overheard it said that they were cabernets and cabernet blends, at which point another said, “No they are Italian varietals of very high quality” and the conversation touched on the “fact” that they were anything but sangiovese and that’s what made them “Super Tuscan”. All of this was both right and wrong.

Super Tuscan is a marketing term attributed to Robert Parker back in the 70s after several Tuscan vintners brokered the concept of rule-breaking in the late 60s. Their original idea was to bring a Bordeaux sensibility to Tuscany, using some of the famed Bordeaux blending grapes to add additional body and structure to  sangiovese and other grapes used in famed Tuscan products and to try to expand the rather staid idea of what great Italian wine should be. At the time, the DOC (the Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and DOCG (the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) laid out the structure of classification of Italy’s better wines, much like the French system of AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée).

The grandaddy of all Super Tuscans is Tignanello, first bottled by Antinori in 1977. It introduced Cabernet Sauvignon as a blending grape, which excluded it from both of the previously stated categories (it couldn’t be called Chianti or Chianti Classico, for example). Because it didn’t fall into the specified parameters of the upscale classifications, it was relegated to the vino da taviola (table wine) category. Although it had been preceded by his relatives’ famous wine Sassicaia by a full 8 years, the Incisa della Rocchetta family usually doesn’t get the credit for creating the Super Tuscan category with Sassicaia. That seems to fall to Pieto Antinori, whose Tignanello’s addition of approximately 20% Cabernet Sauvignon to Sangiovese seemed to set the Italian world alight. Perhaps Sassicaia, with the 80% Cabernet was just too exotic and pricey to be revolutionary. Tignanello came in at a much lower price point and was closer to what most people thought of as “Tuscan” because it had a much lower percentage of outside grapes.

In any case, this was all fortunate in several ways. First of all, these vino da taviolas that weren’t just “inferior” versions of better wines or “wines that the peasants drank” became a source of interest because they were actually more expensive than the standard “classified” wines and were more full-bodied and exotic. So, Super Tuscan came to be a nickname that separated these from what most people knew as table wines. It also caused a new classification to be created, so that it could be included in a category elevated it past mere “table wine” category (does one really call a $200 bottle of wine “table wine”)? This new category was called IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) and is found as a subset of vino da taviola. It basically allows a previously non-standard wine to be promoted as having the same strict standards found in the other two categories.

You generally don’t find the words Super Tuscan as a branding feature on the label. Sometimes you might find the importer using that term in the English back label. This is a category that you simply have to know about. It’s a fair bet that if the wine is listed as Tuscan or from Tuscany and it isn’t a “Chianti” of some sort or a Brunello or Barolo (the latter of which is actually from Piemonte but is sometimes confused with Tuscan), even if it’s 100% Sangiovese,  it’s a Super Tuscan. This is something that you almost need to know by brand name, or be told by your wine rep or your Keeper of the Wine List person.

Here are some known trade names:

Tignanello, Sassicaia, San Martino, Fontalloro, Il Bosco, Vigorello (sometimes called the very first super Tuscan), Centine and Cortaccio.

This is only a smattering of the great names in Super Tuscans. It’s time to do your due diligence and hit the research road. I do hope that I’ve given you enough to give a concise answer to a guest who either asks, “Do you have any Super Tuscans” or “What does “Super Tuscan” mean”?

Tennessee governor vetos “handguns in bars and restaurants” bill

Gov. Phil Bredesen has used his 6th veto against HB 962, a bill intended to allow registered right-to-carry gun owners to take their guns into establishments that sell alcohol, a right not currently granted to them.

My opinion? Guns and alcohol don’t mix. Ask Plaxico Burress if you don’t believe me. I prefer my shooters in a shotglass, not on a barstool. I’m kind of silly that way.

Will the state legistature overturn the veto? Stay tuned for further updates. Right now, the House needs 50 of the 99 members to vote to override the veto, which would then go to the Senate where 50% plus one vote of the 33 members will sustain the override. Support has been strong for this bill on both sides of the aisle, so the veto has an uphill battle. 


Cookbook of the day – A Taste Of Persia



A Taste Of Persia

by Najmieh K. Batmanglij

Publisher: Mage Publishers; 2nd edition (December 20, 2006)

ISBN10: 1933823135

ISBN-13: 978-1933823133

As you are probably becoming aware, I’m a sucker for a good history lesson with my cookbooks. This one has a crackerjack one that opens the book.

Westerners normally have a very minor acquaintance with the history of the region.  They kept a little from the Old Testament and then, the next 2000+ years is basically non-existent. And boy, how that’s worked out for us recently, eh? Little do we realize that the word Shiraz is actually a town in Iran where the grape gets its name. We don’t associate such an arid region as the source for diverse things as oranges (a word actually derived from Persian origins, which is likely the reason that there’s no word in English that thymes with it), walnuts, almonds, sugar cane, basil, coriander, saffron, and other luxuries like spinach and alfalfa. Some of these items were indigenous to the region and some brought in and out in trade with India and China.

This book even has a photograph of a 4000 mortar and pestle! Yes, they were grinding pomegranate seeds millinnia before thirsty housewives discovered the Pomegranate Martini (I was going to say Cosmopolitans but many Cosmos have never seen a pomegranate due to the increasing use of artificial ingredients in grenadine.

Persia has at times included Iraq and a couple of the Russian “-stans”. It has conquered states and been pillaged by the likes of Ghengis Khan of the Mongols. There is an account in this book of the plunderer Ashurnasirpal II throwing down for 10 days with a feast for “47,074 persons, men and women, who were bid to come from across my entire country”. The book goes on to say, “plus thousands more foreign and local guests. The menu included thousands of cattle, calves,sheeps, lambs, duck geese, doves, stags and gazelles”. This was 9th century BC, btw. A feast of truly biblical proportions that never made the final King James cut.

But back to this cookbook. The cuisine of Persia (Iran) is one of fruit  and/or vegetable-laced meats stews (khoreshes), kabobs of spicy succulence, fluffy jeweled pilafs, cooling Indian-esque cucumber and yoghurt salads,  eggplants in various forms, roasted meats like lamb and casseroles.

But if you get this book for one reason only, it’s the recipe and procedure for Chelow, which is a crusty dome of basmatic rice served family style. A yoghurt/water/rice and saffron mix is used to coat the bottom of the original rice pot after the bulk of the rice has been removed and drained. After starting with this layer, the remaining rice is carefully spooned into the pot in a pyramid shape. It’s cooked under cover for 10 minutes and then cold water and oil or ghee is poured on top, a little more saffron water is added and the pot is then cooked under a cover layered with a dishtowel for 50 minutes over low heat. The pot is then carefully inverted over a plate and this is the result (courtesy of


This is one of of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. The tah dig (the crusty top) is marvelous with a crunch that elevates ordinary rice to something texturally interesting. The inside is golden and scented from the saffron (the normal perfumed quality of basmati doesn’t hurt either) of and the use of ghee makes it wonderfully buttery and just chock-full of umami, the Japanese concept for “mouthfeel” that has become the buzzword of the culinary world. It’s an impressive dish to serve – impressive in appearance and its simplicity. You can actually stuff it with various meats and fruits as well. There’s a procedure that you have to follow to get a great result and this book outlines it to a tee and it’s not only easy to follow, but it’s easy to execute and remember without having to use the book once you’ve done it a time or two.

The book is a slender volume – not at all like the huge tomes that I usually recommend. It has a nice coated stock for paper, full-page color shots of most of the recipes, and is well laid-out and attractive. For such a “small book” there’s an astounding overview of a history and culture of a region.

Now go forth and make chelow.