So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Daily Archives: June 4, 2009

Starbucks wins reversal of $100-million tips verdict


Basically, the ruling hinged on whether Starbucks shift supervisors performed “managerial functions” such as hiring, firing and schedule making. The judge ruled that the shift supervisors performed the same functions as a barista without the managerial functions, since their main function was the training and direct supervising of baristas without the management functions.

“…Starbucks argued that its supervisors spend most of their workdays — as much as 95% — performing the same jobs as baristas, including making coffee and taking orders. Although supervisors have some authority to supervise or direct baristas, they can’t enforce those directions and can’t hire, discipline or terminate them, the Seattle company said”.

How to piss off a Chef


As you know, I’m not big on “tales out of school”. But sometimes they are object lessons that can help a starting waiter so, here we go.

Last night, my last table (and the last table in the restaurant) ordered 3 steaks; in fact each was the largest of our steaks. They didn’t order a salad course, which meant that I didn’t need to wait a long time for the steaks. However, it’s a little harder to know exactly how long the bigger steaks take, especially when there are no other steaks cooking. You see, most of the time, we’re ordering steaks for people who are enjoying an intermediate course, plus, a good broiler person will bump up a steak that he or she intended for another table if it helps the kitchen flow better (after all, he or she might not need that steak for a few more minutes). Timing a steak can be a little trickier at the beginning or end of a shift. So, I asked the broiler dude when I should call for the steak, telling him that they didn’t have salads. He told me to check back in about 10 minutes.

Now, I should state right now that it’s the policy of The Chef that all instructions and questions should flow though him or the expo. This is a good policy as the broiler person doesn’t need to be distracted during service. However, this was the end of service, so I thought that it would be OK.

And it would have, except that the broiler dude anticipated my needs (a good thing) and when I came  back at the appointed time, started setting up the steak plates instead of waiting until I fired the order. And, he put the cherry on the top by doing the normal kidding thing of proclaiming, “Dying steaks in the window”!

Well, that was news to The Chef, who was acting as expo and sauté cook due to having a deficit in cooks due to a no-show last week from his normal sauté chef. I only had one side dish, a side of garlic mashed potatoes that had to be prepared by the sauté cook, but that didn’t really matter. Not to mention that it actually could have been something that took longer.

Fortunately for me, making garlic mashed potatoes is about a 20 second process. But The Chef was visibly disturbed by my by-passing of the chain-of-command. And I can’t blame him. He needs for all information to flow through him. He made sure that I knew that he wasn’t pleased by my by-passing that chain-of-command.

Later, I made sure to tell him that I hadn’t actually fired that order and I explained what happened, basically saying that I wasn’t blaming the broiler dude and that I thought that they had already communicated with each other and that I hadn’t intended to short-circuit or sidestep the usual procedures. He understood, but I could tell that his thought process went like this – “Why are you talking to the broiler dude in the first place – didn’t you consider that the side dishes need to go out at the same time – who is doing sauté right now, you me, or the broiler dude – how can I run my kitchen when I have a waiter mucking things up”? 

So, my advice to you is simply this – The Chef is the god of the kitchen. You serve The Chef as much as you serve the guest, no matter how long you’ve been doing your job. Watch out for unintended consequences and mind your p’s and q’s when you’re in the kitchen.

Oh yeah, always capitalize The Chef.

Food Item of the month – the humble food mill


If you don’t have one of these contraptions in your kitchen, you should.

“But I have a  blender”, I can almost hear you protest.


The food mill have been around for years, but it’s fallen out of favor with the “plug it in and let it run” generations.

The food mill isn’t cheap. A decent one will cost you $40 to $100. It doesn’t have a small footprint either. It takes up a bit of space due to its wide mouth.

However, a food mill provides a texture that a blender or mixer just can’t provide. It retains more of the original texture, which is why old school mothers prefer it for making home-made baby food.

Food isn’t chopped or beaten, it’s mashed and ground against various corrugated plates. Therefore, it will make a miraculous mashed potato dish.  And, if you want to make a truly authentic lobster bisque like you had on your visit to Provence last year, you’ll use a food mill to extract all of the essential oils from spent lobster shells. The flavor of a true lobster bisque doesn’t come from lobster meat, it comes from lobster “oil”.

A food mill will give additional structure to creamy soups. It creates a velvety texture for sauces and it enables you to make purees without skinning fruits and vegetables. A food mill makes the absolute best apple sauce.

There’s something primal about passing cooked vegetables through the mill, grinding as you go. Every decent cook should experience this every once in a while.

There are a couple of types of manual food mills that you can get. They generally have the same form, the best of which have replaceable mill plates for different textures. The main difference is that the cheaper ones will be “tinned” – the inside will be coated with tin, and eventually, if you use one enough, it will have to be re-tinned eventually, like old school copper tinned pots. The more expensive models are 100% stainless steel. If you can afford it, get one of those. If not, do what I did and find a tinned version. Make sure you get the largest model that you can afford. A 4 qt or larger mill is recommended. there are plastic ones around, but I wouldn’t recommend them. I don’t really have any experience with them, but I suspect that they will eventually pick up flavors that you might not want to introduce to whatever you’re currently processing, plus, there’s the chance that eventually it might wear to the point of unusuability due to warping.

So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself one of these contraptions. Now. so that you can do this:


food mill

Cookbook of the Day – Dean Fearing’s Southwest Cuisine – Blending Asia and the Americas


Dean Fearing’s Southwest Cuisine: Blending Asia and the Americas

by Dean Fearing 

  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0380973189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802113214
  • Dean Fearing is the former chef/owner of the groundbreaking The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. He now has a new restaurant Fearing’s. He’s been called “The Father of Southwestern Cuisine” as he was one of the first to popularize a more wide-ranging “Tex-Mex” view of Southwestern, bridging El Paso and Taos.

    This 19 year old book is a good look at his hearty and flavorful flair. My favorite recipe is a cast iron cooked filet. marinated overnight in molassas and black pepper and served with a compote of smoked bacon, wild mushrooms, sweet glazed potatoes and pecans. The marinade actually combines, molassas and black pepper with balsamic vinegar, garlic, shallots, ginger, thyme and red pepper flakes. The overnight marination begins the cooking process with the balsamic vinegar and tenderizes the beef tenderloin even further. And if you didn’t think that you could cook a satisfactory filet anywhere but a broiler or a grill, think again. The molassas and balsamic creates a wonderful glaze when it hits the hot skillet, which gives a marvelous taste and texture to the beef. And the compote completes this rather autumnal “hunter’s dish”.

    Fearing’s cuisine has continued to evolve over the years, but this look at the foundation of his philosophy of cooking is well worth the cost.

    Article in Slate about cookbooks by Sarah Dickerson

    I don’t know how long Slate keeps their articles up before throwing them in the archives, but anyone who actually reads my little cookbook blurbs should read this article while it’s still up.

    “Some cookbook authors are decidedly domestic, writing about common ingredients with an eye to easing weeknight pressures of the kitchen. Others are professional: They attempt to translate commercial restaurant artistry to the lay masses. Then there are those writers who aim to bring another culture to life through recipes and observations. These authors are the cooking world’s equivalent of Alan Lomax, who ventured to the farmsteads and hollers of rural America, microphone in hand, collecting a nation’s folksongs before interstates and television blurred our regional cultures into a homogenous mass. Whether writing about a childhood home, an ancestral haunt, or a land discovered in full-grown adulthood, these ethno-culinarians try to convey, along with recipes, a sense of how history and geography affect the shifting habits of what we eat every day. They interview grandmothers and street cart vendors to understand the technique and gestalt of vernacular food (and to give the readers a wood-fired whiff of authenticity—a knotty but essential concept). They provide guidance in buying unfamiliar ingredients, be it Greek  mastic or Vietnamese culantro”.

    Paula Wolfert is specifically mentioned (remember my praise of her in one of last week’s Cookbook of the Day segments)?

    Najmieh Batmanglij is also mentioned. I discussed her book, Good Foods of Persia last week as well. Her book, which I don’t have, The New Food Of Life, is highlighted by Ms. Dickerson.

    And praises are heaped on my favorite Vietnamese author/blogster Andrea Nguyen. The very book that I mentioned in the first weeks of this blog is reviewed:

    “With Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, Nguyen, who immigrated to the United States as a child, unearths Vietnamese traditions and describes how they changed in the immigrant community here among the supermarkets and food processors of the States. She spends ample time demystifying the Viet pantry with practical advice—”Premium fish sauce is reddish brown and clear. Avoid dark inky liquids that are overly salty and flat tasting”—but not without true sentimental moments:

    ‘One of my most vivid memories is of our cook, Old Sister Thien, squatting and fanning the small charcoal brazier on which she grilled corn on the cob. As the corn cooked to a charred chewy sweetness, she brushed on a scallion oil made with home-rendered lard. The aroma and taste were heavenly’.

    So, three out of the six authors (and one of the books) mentioned by Ms. Dickerson on Slate were also spotlighted on my own humble blog. Not bad for a blog that’s only been doing this for a month, even though she chose a different Thai author than I did. But, no worries, I still have another 4 Thai books to review in the future and I’m intrigued about the one that she mentioned, Cracking the Coconut. Great title.

    Just a reminder, you can find my reviews of the three authors that I mentioned here:

    You can see all of my Cookbook of the Day posts by inserting that phrase into the search engine. However, I didn’t do a full review of the Nguyen book as it was done before I started this series. It was really as much a touting of her website as it was a recommendation of her wonderful book, the link of which website you’ll find in my blogroll. I really should go back and make it a true Cookbook of the Day report.

    Reminder of the importance of ID’ing your guests

    Last weekend, one of our servers had a table that was bought a bottle of champagne by another table in a different section being served by a different server. The couple wasn’t ID’ed by the server. The next day, we got a call from an angry parent who wanted to know why her under-aged child was served alcohol, because the kid was a little under the influence when he or she got home from the date. “Where were you served alcohol??!!” the mom sputtered.

     The server was suspended for a week.

    The server wasn’t suspended because an angry manager was pissed because of a customer complaint. The server was suspended to show the parent that we take this sort of thing seriously. The manager didn’t really want to suspend the server because he recognized that it was a bit of a weird situation. He didn’t actually take the order himself, although he did send the order to the bar when the other server told him that his table wanted to buy them champagne and he served the alcohol to the couple. But we servers are sort of conditioned to take the order, evaluate the guest and then ask for ID if they appear to be underage. This went a different way and his guard was let down. A couple of the cues that we look for were absent (unfamiliarity with alcohol terminology, inappropriate alcohol ordering, i.e. “Give me jello shots with my Kobe steak tartare”, you know, that sort of thing). How many underage people order a nice bottle of champagne?

    But that’a moot point to the ABC (the Alcohol Beverage Commission). Had this been an ABC sting (and yes, they set stuff like this up all of the time), the server might have been led out in handcuffs. He might very well have spent the night in jail. He could have lost his ABC permit for a year, effectively shutting him out of a job. He could have paid a hefty fine along with the restaurant. And, god forbid that the couple got in a wreck and killed somebody. He would be totally screwed.

    Hopefully it’s been contained to the restaurant. Hopefully, the manager who spoke to the mom conveyed the seriousness with which we treat this incident; god knows it was conveyed to us during preshift. Hopefully, she was satisfied with the strong action that was taken (that’s almost the same thing as a $700 fine). However, she could still make a complaint to the ABC. Now we have to be extra conservative when asking for IDs. The ABC is known to have underage people who look like they’re 25, and, if the ABC is contacted by the parents of the couple, they will probably send in somebody to try and trip up a server. They won’t necessarilysend us a notice or  fine us for this instance because they really have no proof other than the word of the parents and kids. They would have to do an investigation and it’s far easier for them to just come in and do an undercover sting. That would accomplish two things – it would support an investigation of the first instance and it would also establish a pattern of abuse that would support taking strong action against us.

    They can do this undercover sting in several ways.

    They could send in someone who is unnaturally hirsute for his age (or someone who looks like she could be a 25 year old bombshell – heck, many 15 year olds look like they’re 22 these days). They could have a father pour a glass of wine for a 20 year old son in the presence of the server. They could have the father say, “It’s OK, we allow our kids to drink. It’s our right as a parent”.  They could have a 45 year old agent ask to buy a bottle of wine to take with her (we can do this as we have a corkage law that allows people to take their unused wine with them, but we have to uncork the bottle and pour at least a small amount into the glass). They could have someone try to order alcohol without an ID. They could do what was done in this case – try to buy alcohol for an underage guest at another table. Or they could do a variation of this and go to the bar with three people who are of age and one who is underage. The underage person orders a Sprite while the others have been carded. Then, they all bring their drinks from the bar to the table and the server assumes that the carding process has been done. The underage person then “switches” to something like a gin and tonic, the server not knowing that the first drink was a non-alcoholic one, or even not caring.  This is a trick that actual underage folks  pull all of the time. And, finally, they could have someone with an obvious fake ID.

    So, a warning to my fellow waiters. Don’t let your guard down. If you haven’t carded someone who could be under 21 at any point in the meal, even if they order something with their coffee at the end of the meal, card them. When if doubt, card them. Do it politely and with humor if necessary – “You look good for 84, oh wait, it says you were born in ’84”. Or fall back on the old, “Our alcohol commission has been extremely active lately. We’re having to be overcautious. I apologize. I sure wish people would card me these days”. And don’t let a parent push you around. It doesn’t matter that their kid has been drinking wine with the family since she was 10. Don’t let them pour their kid wine. At least not in your presence. And tell them that – that you can’t see them pour wine for their kid or let them have a glass of wine in front of them. This is a nod and a wink to them that there’s no way that you can tell if the glass of wine that seems to be in front of no one is being consumed by the kid. At least give yourself some cover because, frankly, you can’t monitor their table at all times, right?