So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Monthly Archives: June 2009

Capital Grill hurting since firing blogger

Well, yes and no. They were hurting before they fired our friend in Kansas City, but I’d like to think that it was a direct result of being buttheads.

They are definitely underperforming in the steakhouse sector, but they did come in first in the chain steakhouse category in the most recent Consumer Reports nationwide restaurant survey. Personally, I’d listen to to them when it comes to buying a washing machine, but when it comes to matters of taste, as a recovering audiophile, I always had to laugh at CR’s complete lack of a sense of style and taste. I mean, Bose? Really? So, when a report that lists PF Chang’s as the number one “Unique Dinner House” chain restaurant, I have to wonder about Capital Grill.

BTW, for 3qtr fiscal year 2009, they were down 19.0% same store sales from 2008. Pretty bad indeed, even in these bad times. It jumped to 22.1% down in the 4th quarter. They are one of the worst performing companies in the sector. Other steakhouses like Palm, Fleming’s, Ruth’s Criss, Mortons, Sullivan’s etc. are hovering between 10 and 15% down this quarter.

So, maybe CJ’s firing has had some effect! Look at their bar – deserted:

Capital Grill


Cookbook of the day – Splendid Soups


Splendid Soups: Recipes and Master Techniques for Making the World’s Best Soups

by James Peterson

Publisher: Wiley (September 22, 2000)
ISBN-10: 0471391360
ISBN-13: 978-0471391364
Once again, I don’t have the most current edition of this book. I have the 1994 edition, which clocks in at 100 less pages than this new edition. Mine has a different cover as well:



I’m assuming that Peterson has added some modern variants of classic soups, as he has presumably done with the updated edition of his Sauces book that I reviewed yesterday. This could be considered a companion edition to Sauces, but even this earlier edition has a wider scope than Sauces, with non-Western ingredients such as bonito flakes, Udon noodles, miso, and various soups from the Far East and other places included in this edition. You’ll find soups from India, Japan, Morocco, Thailand and other far-flung corners of the globe.

This is another of Peterson’s “reference” works. As such, you won’t find a single photograph. It’s all recipes, tips and techniques. Some recipes are for intermediate or advanced cooks, but even the beginning cook can find a lot of practical advice on soup-making that will help them move past the basic into the more advanced levels of cooking.

If you have Peterson’s Sauces, this should sit next to it on your bookshelf.

A couple of restaurant mnemonics

White is right. No, it’s not some sort of KKK infiltration of the restaurant industry or some white supremacist secret recruitment tool.  The conventional placement of salt and pepper is with the salt shaker on the right as you face the table. There are probably some restaurants that have a different spec, but this is generally the case. So, if you’re new, this can help you remember what the standard is (assuming that your restaurant follows this standard, of course).

Also, another popular mnemonic is regular is right. In the absence of a labeled coffee pot, some restaurants have conformed to the convention that regular is always on the right when there is more than one pot. Once again, this is something that you have to find out for yourself – this is probably less universal than the “white is right” thing. Also, I use this personally when I’m carrying coffee cups or pots. If I have both regular and decaf cups in my hand, I always have the regular cups in my right hand. If I’m “butterflying” two cups in one hand, the regular cup is always the one on the right.

A couple of other principles to keep in mind – seams always go down, whether it’s the seam on your apron, the seam on the napkin that you do a rollup or a table fold with, or the seam on your tablecloth. and speaking of tablecloths – let’s say that you have one of those fancy tables that converts from a 4 top square table to an 8-top round table. When you flip up the four half-moon leaves, make sure you align the middle crease of the tablecloth with the original square. In other words, don’t just throw the tablecloth on the table nilly-willy. Make sure that it’s aligned with the original square so that if you have to pop it down because of a no-show, it’s still lined up with the crease down the center of the square. It will save you a lot of time if you don’t have to re-position the tablecloth.  In other words, place it with all creases parallel to the original four sides of the square.


Midyear checkup

Well, we’re a day away from the year’s midpoint. This is a good chance to take stock of where you are in your job.

Have you been tracking your tips? If so, where are you as opposed to last year? Are you a little behind where you would normally be? If you don’t keep your pay stubs each period, you should at least keep your pay stubs for June and December. This way you can see where you’re at versus last year for the first and last half of the year. If you keep your December pay stub, you can glance at your Oct. and Nov. stubs and see if you’re still on track to meet or exceed last year’s tips.  This gives you the chance to evaluate whether you’re doing all you can to maximize your tips. It might also tell you if you’re dishing off too many shifts or taking too much time off (or conversely, whether you’ve got a little room to take a few days off).

Look at your table service. Where can you improve? Can you make your movements more fluid? Are you as in tune with your guests and their needs as well as you could be? Are you manicuring your tables as well as you could?

Are you pulling your weight with sidework? Are you a reliable member of the team?

If you haven’t started putting aside money for this year’s taxes, you should start now. You can still cut your tax burden in half, which is better than nothing.

Take a really good look at your uniform.

Set at least one achievable goal for the last half of the year and stick to it. Get your brain ready for when business picks up (for those of you who are in the slow season). 

Get your oil chang…oh wait, wrong forum.


Cookbook of the day – Sauces by James Peterson


Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making

By James Peterson

  • Publisher: Wiley; 2nd edition (January 27, 1998)
  • ISBN-10: 0471292753
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471292753
  • Caveat – I have the original 1991 edition, which has a different cover and is about 100 pages shorter. It’s the edition that won the James Beard Award for Cookbook of the Year.


    This is the book if you want all of the lowdown on classical sauces. If you ever wondered what the difference between a sauce and a glace is, this is the book for you. The first chapter is a history of sauces, the second, a compendium of equipment that you might need, the third a listing of ingredients. After that, he breaks down the various sauces and expands them to their variants as well. There are more sauces in classical cooking than you ever thought possible, many with French-derived names. And they are all listed in categories according to the basic recipe from which they spring. This book concentrates on classical sauces and there are essential tips scattered throughout, tips that will allow you to create sauces equal to those in the finest restaurants.

    I haven’t paged throught the more current addition pictured above, but I would hope that he’s extended his overview to Asian and other “non-western classical” offerings, as well as some of the new sauces based on more exotic ingredients.

    This is one of those “foundation books” that every serious cook should have in their cooking library. I’ll be reviewing his equally important book “Splendid Soups” in a future post. The books are a little dry, but they are intended to be reference works, not entertainment.


    Quick hint

    I’ll be occasionally be posting some quick hit quick hints. Things that you might not think of but can help you solve a problem, streamline service or increase your tips. Some of them might be common sense or obvious for those of us who have been in the business, so, those of you who are more experienced, bear with me.

    Today’s quick hint is regarding the problem of the guest taking both copies of the credit card or putting the tip on one copy but taking it and leaving the other copy, which they might have either not signed or put in the tip.

    First of all, if you are working in a place where they sign both copies simultaneously (a carbon sits below the original), dog-ear the top copy so that it’s clear that there are two copies. I even used to separate them and put them back together so they weren’t plastered together. To be on the safe side, tell them “Sign here and make sure you leave the bottom copy”.  Yes, some guests will accidentally take both copies, thinking that they only have to sign one copy and that you mysterious will know by incredible mental powers how much they are tipping and that management will also take your word for this. I wouldn’t doubt that there are a very tiny percentage of this already admitedly small percentage of guests who might even do this deliberately in order to get out of paying the tip because they know that without a copy, most restaurants won’t allow anything to be put in for the tip and the waiter gets screwed in the process.

    For those of you who get two copies which the guest has to sign, here’s a little trick. When you open your check presenter, put the copy marked merchant copy in the left cover of the book and put the customer copy in the right. Put the check over the customer copy. This forces the guest to deal immediately with the merchant copy, at least at first. You see, it doesn’t matter what he or she does with the guest copy. I’d say about 30% of guests don’t do anything with it at all – they leave it unsigned for you to throw away.

    This doesn’t guarantee that they won’t take the merchant copy with them, so you still have to be quick to retrieve you book. All it does, in my experience,  is make it less likely that they will accidentally take your copy, the one with the tip on it. There’s still the danger that they sign it, put the tip on it, put it in their pocket and ignore the one hidden under the check. But if you’ve been having trouble with the guest signing both copies but only putting the tip on one and taking that while leaving the other, try this little tip and see if it doesn’t help.

    The ultimate solution to this of course is to retrieve the check before the guest leaves and verify that you have a credit card slip signed and with the tip. Just between you and me, and I’m not saying that you do the same, if the guest hasn’t signed the slip, I don’t go back and have them sign, as long as they’ve put the tip in it and totalled it. I really don’t want to confront them about this at the end of the meal because it’s a slightly negative thing in the sense that you’re asking them to do something that they forgot to do and it could be slightly embarrassing to them in front of fellow diners. Of course, your management might be very strict about signatures, so you might have to have them do it. However, if they’ve left me the blank guest copy instead of the copy that they signed, I absolutely will go back and ask them if they took the wrong copy. This has actually happened to me a couple of time. Hell, it’s my tip at stake!

    BTW, some people don’t realize this, but a signature isn’t even absolutely necessary. The money is captured as soon as it’s approved by the credit card company. However, a signature is important should the charge be challenged down the road. Without the signature, there is no evidence that the person who owns the credit card is the one who actually presented it. Frankly, I can really only see this happening in the case of a crooked guest, because who’s going to challenge a charge that they actually made, unless the total is different because the either the tip got changed or they grossly miss-added the total themselves and the waiter corrected it. But this is a topic for another day, a topic that I believe I’ve even addressed in the past.

    Damn, that was longer than I expected.

    Possible positive news from restaurant sector

    From Restaurant News’  Breaking News:


    “The NRA is predicting that eating and drinking places will add 381,800 jobs between June and August, a 4.1-percent increase over the industry’s employment levels in March. The rise in employment may also be an indicator of the beginning of an economic recovery for the industry, said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the NRA’s research and knowledge group

    “While overall U.S. employment growth remains negative, the industry is bucking that trend as it added jobs in May for the first time in 10 months,” Riehle said. “Building on that gain, the growth in summer employment is a clear sign that the restaurant industry remains a powerhouse in the U.S. economy.”


    Read the rest of the article here:

    However, Florida and Arizona are still seeing predictions of a decline in jobs, so all isn’t totally rosy.

    One thing that this indicates is the possible migration of workers in other fields into the restaurant business. If you are one of those people, especially if you’re going to try to be a waiter, you’ve come to the right place. You might want to go back to the beginning of the blog and start reading through. You can reduce your learning curve significantly if you read some of my posts on the subject of waiting tables.

    I think that some people are going to be in for a rude awakening if they get a job as a front-of-the-house restaurant employee, especially if they have only seen the job from the other side of the table.  Based on some of the comments on waiter-related sites, many guests wonder, “How hard could it be?”,  “Servers are just spoiled workers who have it easy”, or “Servers should be happy with whatever tip I voluntarily give them”.

    I’ve always said that everyone should have to be a waiter for a year because it will help them in life, as well as seeing dining out from a different perspective. However, I usually recommend that at the beginning of one’s work career, not after. It will be interesting to see what the impact of this potential flood of “civilians” into the workplace is.

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    Cookbook of the day – Sauternes



    by Bernard Ginestet

    Publisher:Jacques Legrand S.A. Paris ©1990

    ISBN-  0-582-07544-0

    ISBN- 2-905969-39-3

    This is a book that you might have to dig for. It’s a mostly European-distributed book from the series Bernard Ginestet’s Guide to the Vineyards of France. It was translated by John Meredith and has a foreword by Nicholas Faith, who points out that, Unfortunately, the French edition went to press before Bernard could discuss the biggest single revolution in the history of the great sweet wines of the bands of the Ciron: the way in which the technique of cryo-extraction has swept the vineyard, even such vineyards as Chateau d’Yquem, in the past few years.

    Other than that topic, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better discussion of the wine history of the region as well as a rundown of the chateaux of Sauternes, down to a discussion of the soil composition . Most get at least a cursory examination, some very extensive discussions, and at the very least, a listing of the various statistics and whether or not they allow visits.

    There’s a great map of the region, color-coded according to soil type. The photo on the cover shows a typical bunch of grapes which clearly shows the contrast between “healthy” grapes and the raisinesque botytris-attacked “raisins”. There is a comprehensive discussion about botrytis and Ginestet would seem to hope that the popular term “noble rot” disappear from the lexicon. In fact, he points out that this isn’t what we normally would call “rot”, as it doesn’t attack dead tissue but living, healthy grapes. The grapes end up getting picked in two different categories of decrepitude, shrivelled and dessicated. This necessitates constant pickings, and the price of the product is a reflection of this reality.

    You get a detailed report on the meteorology of the region as you would expect from a book covering a French region, as dependent on terroir as they are.

    The language is what you expect from translated French, lugubrious and academic. It achieves this without becoming treacly or haughty. There are copious photographs, which give you a sense of the culture of the region. There are even 5 “savory dishes” recipes from regional chefs in French; recipes that utilize Sauternes in the dish.

    I don’t recommend this book for people only getting into wine. This is for the intermediate wine enthusiast or better. It’s not that it’s above the head of a beginner, it just goes into more detail about a small but significant region of French wine, a region that the beginner might not even encounter, as most restaurants don’t even offer a Sauternes on their wine list. Additionally, it’s not a common book and might be difficult to find at a decent price (I was lucky enough to find mine for $3.00 – would I have piad $20 for it? Probably not, although for a wine expert it would be worth the price).



    And no, this ins’t about waiting tables. It’s about waiting.

    My internet connection has been wonky the past few weeks and I have a service appointment at 3. So, I’m sort of biding my time, time I would normally spend making trenchant and sometimes treasonous remarks about the art of waiting tables.

    I’m avoiding pandering to my statistics about talking about the big news issue of the day (even as I take a bit of a hit on hits because I’m sure that most people have other things on their internet minds). All I’d have to do to goose my hits would be to do some commentary on the media circus that’s going on right now and put a certain name in as a tag, but I’m better than that. But boy is it tempting, partially because I’ve got some things to say about the subject.

    So, for right now, I’m just treading a little water while I wait for my DSL “Extreme” line to get extreme again. You wouldn’t believe how bloody slow it’s been lately. Sometimes I’m lucky just to get 3G speed and much of the time, it’s even worse than dial-up.

    So, have no fear – I’ll be back with more pearls of wisdom shortly.

    Tips for free-pouring wine in a large party

    First of all, if your host has entrusted you with pouring wine at-will for his or her large party, this is a trust that should not be abused.

    Having said that, you want to pour the absolute most wine you can.

    So, how do you balance these two imperatives?

    Here are a few tips.

    Don’t pour more than about 4-5 oz per glass. “Why?”, I can just hear you ask. First of all, it sends the message to the host that you aren’t going to gouge them. But there’s a more insidious purpose. If you pour too much, some people will hoard their wine, just as they would when they dine out.  Old habits die hard. They forget that they aren’t paying, or they are worried about their host thinking that they’re freeloding and being greedheads. So, if you normally pour 6 oz pours in your restaurant, pour 5 oz or less. If you already only pour 5 oz and have those shitty little generic 8oz wine glasses, then pour 4 oz, especially if you’re pouring red wine into such a small glass. What you are trying to do is get some people who are normally fairly fast drinkers to drink down to the bottom quickly. At that point, you can bring them back up to the original level and recharge the other glasses, even if they’ve only drunk an ounce or so. If you wait until someone is almost empty, this gives you license to bring everyone else up as well, unless they wave you off, of course. If you do it this way, and keep your levels at the 4 or 5oz level, you’re almost guaranteed to sell more than if you give everyone a full 6 – 8oz pour up-front. There are few people who really slam their wines, so it will probably be 10-15 minutes before you really have the chance to refill an empty glass. If you pour less, the glass looks emptier quicker. This, of course, means more work and attention, but a little more work can mean that extra 2 or 3 bottles of $75 wine. Who wouldn’t like to build their check by another couple of hundred bucks?

    The more small pours you do, the more likely that people will continue to drink rather than hoard. For people drinking white wine, I don’t always wait until the glass is almost empty. I like to give everyone a splash or two when it’s obvious that they’ve drunk some and it’s been a few minutes since you gave them wine. I do this to keep the temperature correct and I tell them that’s why I’m doing it if they seem to need an explanation. But I  am also working my way gradually to another bottle. You never know whether those last two splashes you did 15 minutes ago will be the ones that force you to open another bottle.

    The last thing you want to do to a host is to pour so that most people have to leave a half-glass of wine when they leave. Sure, that’s another couple of bottles just in the glass. But you’ve just screwed your host. And, believe me, many of them will take note of this and realize how much wine that they paid for is wasted. This means that they might complain to management and they might not be so trusting the next time they book a party.


    …it’s very important that you pretty much stop topping off by the first third of the entree course. Obviously, if someone is almost empty, by all means, pour them some wine. But don’t give them a full pour, and I generally ask them if they’d like more wine before I pour. Let people finish as much of their wine as possible as they finish their entrees. Don’t get greedy. Don’t try to pour more wine so that you have to open another bottle of wine right before dessert. This isn’t really cricket.

    Most of the time, there’s going to be a few people who don’t finish their wine. That’s OK. As long as you’ve followed the above guidelines, you’ve done the best you can. What looks bad is when you end up with 20 half-full glasses of wine at the end. You haven’t served the guest very well at all and you’ve left as much as 3 bottles of wine in glasses. 

    The position of waiter is one of trust. I guarantee you that you’ll make more money in the long run if you keep the guest’s interest in mind. And never forget the concept of Karma. Karma can be a bitch.

    This is a pretty good wine pour for a 22 oz red Bordeaux glass. There’s more there than you think. That’s around 4 – 5 oz.  A 6 oz pour brings the level up to just short of where the glass starts to curve inward for this type of glass. BTW, a 750 ml wine bottle yields four 6 oz pours (give or take a tiny amount).


    If you don’t know what 4 or 5 oz looks like in your house glasses, ask the bartender to pour you the amount by measuring it. Throw in a dash of grenadine to give it some color and then practice with a water-filled wine bottle. Get to know what it looks like from the pouring position, which is different than looking at it from the side.

    This is a no-no:


    Photo courtesy of The Wine Enthusiast. Their website is They are a wine accessory website and catalog store.