So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Monthly Archives: July 2009

Cookbook of the day – La Methode

La Methode

La Methode

by Jacques Pépin

Publisher Pocket (September 15, 1984)  

ISBN 10: 0671504959

ISBN 13: 978-0671504953

Recently, we discussed Pépin’s companion to this volume, La Technique. This is the “continuation” of that first volume. There really isn’t much distinction between the two volumes – it’s not like the first only talks about “techniques” and this one talks about “methods” (as if there’s a huge difference between the two terms).  He basically wanted to cover topics that he hadn’t really covered in the first volume, so he starts with something ignored in the first volume – sharpening a knife.

He then covers such diverse kitchen skills as butterflying shrimp, straining and skimming sauces, boning a saddle of lamb, making various chocolate constructions such as boxes, leaves and bark, and he also covers such esoteric subjects as peeling and glazing chestnuts, carving  “cucumber turtles” and “mushroom fish”, and preparing marrow.

Once again, there are copious black and white photos that illustrate each step in the various processes and there are plenty of recipes to keep any recipe hound busy for months.

You can now buy both volumes bound as one, but the originals can still be found in separate volumes for a reasonable cost.

Pépin is a treasure who we should celebrate here in the US for being someone who, along with Julia Child and Paul Bocuse, made it fashionable to embrace French cuisine. And this enabled America to look past its shores and also to its immigrant population as culinary inspirations which have enriched our own cuisine.


Obama sells out to the Belgians

This offends me on so many levels.

First of all, Bud Lite? Plueeze. You can’t give a few calories to the cause of righteous beer drinking and plausable summit holding? Are you going to drink White Zinfandel at the next French state dinner?


Second, how on earth can you drink a Belgian beer that looks, tastes and smells like piss? Just because you don’t want your six pack to screw up your six pack? Live a little Mr. Prez!

Third, letting your participants pick their own beer? What kind of leadership is THAT? You pick their beer and they’ll like it, DAMMIT! May I remind you that your participants also screwed America over? The Prof picked a Jamaican beer (oh, the spliff jokes we could make) and the Sgt. picked a beer co-owned by our enemies to the north, Blue Moon (while brewed in all-America Colorado formerly brewed in Memphis, TN, until they closed the brewery, by American Coors which merged with Canadian Molson, becoming the bi-national juggernaut Molson-Coors Brewing company – note that Molson boldly comes first in the corporation title!). And Blue Moon is also a “Belgian-style” ale. Damn Belgians. Trying to take over the diplomatic world with their Brussels-centric control over the EC.

Fourth, how can you be so politically tone-deaf? Now you set yourself up for Professor Gates to accuse you of caving to whites. I mean, drinking the national beer of rednecks? Bud Lite, the beer that “passes” for beer?

Hell, dude…I mean Mr. Dude, if you’re going to let someone drink a Belgian-owned beer, at least choose this logo:




Since the White House doesn’t routinely stock foreign beers (unless they are formally American beers now wholly owned by  foreign conglomerates, that is), send Rahm out to the nearest specialty beer store STAT before you permanently destroy your legacy.

Or, at the very least, cave in to Massachussetts special interests and pick Samuel Adams (Light,  if you really have to watch your waistline).  Or import Kid Rock’s American Badass Beer from Michigan. It might give you a leg up in the Health Care battle that you’re losing a grip on (who wants to go up against an American Badass?). Plus, it’s likely to taste as anemic as a Bud Lite.

Uniform check reminder

Well kids, it’s that time again – the end of the month.

Time to look closely at your uniform.

Which items are getting threadbare? Which items aren’t bad enough to toss so they should be relegated to the “emergency” pile? How are the shoes holding up? Do they need a shine or some preventive maintenance? Are the soles nearing their end date?

If you check this time every month, you won’t be caught flatfooted and broke when it’s time to replace those sneakers or shirt. Get them on your own time and dime.

Recession puts dent in U.S. restaurant count

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Recession puts dent in U.S. restaurant count 
By Sarah E.  Lockyer



PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. (July  27, 2009) The total number of restaurant locations in the United States shrunk during the past year, as smaller chains and independents in particular had difficulty weathering the economic storm.

According to the latest NPD Group ReCount, which tallies all commercial restaurant locations in the United States, the number of restaurants fell 1 percent this spring to 577,178 locations. A little more than 4,000 restaurants were closed from a year ago, when the United States boasted 581,201 restaurants, according to NPD research. The latest data was collected from April 1, 2008, to March 31, 2009.

The hardest-hit categories were fine-dining independents, which saw unit counts fall 7 percent. Smaller family-dining chains were close behind, with a 6-percent drop in locations among chains of between 50 and 99 units and a 5-percent drop in locations among chains that numbered between 100 and 499 locations”.

Read the rest of the article here:

The article goes on to point that large chains (over 500 units) actually gained unit strength by a slender 1%.

This shows the pressure that independent chains are under. With more limited buying power and fewer ad dollars, it’s harder for indies to compete in times of economic decline. this doesn’t bode well for the health of the US dining market, because it’s independents which provide support for regional and local cuisines as well as being forward-thinking, progressive and creative applications of modern cuisine.

Hopefully, the American public will continue to support their locally-owned restaurants.


Plea to guests

Let’s say that you have a large party (let’s say more than 6). If you know that some aren’t going to make it, please let your host (or your waiter) know the new number of people so that, say, a handsome waiter with a great blog about waiting tables can remove the other table in his section that is being tied up at your table and is being wasted because he can actually fit the 7 of you quite comfortably by turning one of the tables into a roundtop and allowing the other table to be used for other guests, since 9 people require two tables, but 8 or less work quite well on one of those tables that’s flipped up to form a round. Plus, you wouldn’t have had to scoot one person around the table to make the group a little more cozy, and you wouldn’t have had a big gaping gap in the group causing it to basically be a big horseshoe instead of a nice closed circle perfect for sharing a great meal with family. 

I’ve heard that he enjoyed very much waiting on you and you did spend $700 and tipped 20%, and you were fun and lively, and for that I’ve heard that he is grateful, but he would have been happier if he had been able to wait on one other table while he was waiting on you. Especially since he was the early server who automatically got the largest reservation on the books and basically had to stand around for 2 1/2 hours waiting on your reservation and you stayed through the final seating.

I guess the other galling thing was that his neighbor got a 5 top who spent just as much and tipped just as much but also got two turns on her extra table and checked out at the same time while coming in an hour later.

That’s all I’m sayin’.

Guests, are you paying attention here?

Why tipping?

A month into doing this blog, I posted the article “Why tipping”? Since then, I’ve had many new readers embrace this blog (I’m on track to have well over 3,000 hits this month, which isn’t too bad for my modest little effort). Anywho, I thought now would be a good time to reprint the article for those who might have missed it the first time. So, without further ado, a discussion about some of the basis for the continuation of the practice of tipping here in America, an institutional practice that actually began as a way for George Pullman to staff his railway cars with cheap labor by former slaves and allow patrons the luxury of being waited on hand and foot in resplendent luxury without having to pay the requisite labor costs through the price of the ticket.

“Why do Americans tip when most of the rest of the world has given up the practice or has never embraced it?

The main reason might not be the one that you immediately think of. Yes, we Americans are generous spirits in general. Yes, America has tended to unbundle many of the benefits that other workers in other parts of the world have, and American workers tend to have to do some things on their own that governments or companies have to take care of, like health care, and many governments have standardized wages for certain classes of employment, etc. And, there’s the old, “It’s always been done that way”.

Well, the most relevant answer is economic. The entire restaurant business is based on tipping. You have to go back to the beginning of a restaurant to see the whole picture (and all of this leaves the whole current “financial crisis” aside). Let’s say that I’m a would-be restaurateur.  I can’t just go to a bank and get a business loan for it as my wife might be able to do with her dream of an antique shop. It’s almost impossible to get a loan from a bank that finances a new restaurant. That’s because the failure rate of new restaurants is a staggering 60%  in 5 years.  25% of them either close or change hands in the first year!

So, with this reluctance of traditional banks to loan money (and it’s almost as hard to get a SBA loan when you’re starting off), a would-be restaurateur either has to use personal capital, partners, investors or a combination of all three (most likely). It’s pretty hard to raise enough money using these methods so start-up capital is usually just enough to get the business off the ground. And this is where tipping comes in. Because the guest provides much of the payroll, this allows some breathing room in the critical first couple of years. Also, because tipping has become de regueur. It has become the basis for establishing the menu prices of items (payroll being a significant component of valuing the price of your rib-eye).

If the failure rate of restaurants is so high, wouldn’t this indicate that tipping is a bad system? Not really. It gives more people the chance to open a restaurant and attempt to be a success. Sure, there are plenty of weak sisters that give it a go, but because of their own ineptness, just can’t make it work. I don’t think people understand what slim margins restaurants operate under. People think that a bustling restaurant is printing money. While there’s a lot of money going in, there’s a lot of money going out as well. Tipping allows lots of new restaurants to have a chance and this means a vibrant competition and a large amount of choice for the consumer.

And this is the reason why changing the system would be very difficult. The consumer would have to accept higher menu prices and polling indicates that they aren’t interested in this even if the prices would simply equal the old price plus some standardized tip like the 15 – 20% that they are likely to be leaving now. One recent poll indicated that 94% of people preferred to determine their own service charge (read tip) 

and others have come up with 25% of people wanting to change the system  (click on the download button to get the study).

I think Dr. Michael Lynn did a poll where he found something like 80% of people wanted to keep things the same (although I can’t find the link at the moment). I suspect that the true total is somewhere between these two extremes). 

Also, the metrics of a restaurant would be altered significantly. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Thomas Keller (Per Se and The French Laundry) and Alice Waters (Chez Panisse) have famously dropped tipping and The Linkery,  a California free-standing neighborhood restaurant has done it. Even some NYC restaurants seem to be trying to sneak autograts illegally through the system lately (NY has regulations on the application of an automatic service charge). However, these are pretty unusual cases. You’re already going to pay some of the highest prices for dining out in the country with Keller, Waters has the clout and following to be able to impose her will on the restaurant, and The Linkery has an owner with a strong opinion and a strong neighborhood presence where the changeover can be explained to patrons more readily. the mass market would have a very hard time overturning Americans’ approval of leaving tips. After all, how many industries are there where you can pay what you think the service that you are receiving is worth?

We’ll be addressing the pros and cons of tipping in future posts. We’ll be addressing some of the points that nay-sayers of the tipping system use to advocate the elimination of the tip.

But I thought I’d lay the groundwork and bring up the most basic rationale for tipping – the economic underpinning of a restaurant. After all, few people think of it in those terms. If they ever think about the economics of a restaurant when it comes to tipping, it’s always, “Why shouldn’t restaurants pay a full wage? Why do I have to pay their employees? Every other business has to pay their employees”! Well, now you have part of the answer”.

Ed. note – in the comments section, a fellow server pointed out that the charge at Per Se (or Keller’s sister restaurants Bouchon and French Laundry) was a service charge that’s bundled into the price of the meal instead of being added separately at the end, as is the case with most restaurants. This is quite true.  He claimed that this prevents you from being able to not paying the charge because of bad service. Depending on the circumstances though, they could certainly make an adjustment to the bill to reflect removal of the service charge. There is one instance here:

where someone is having difficulty getting satisfaction, but I note that they didn’t ask for it to be removed when the check was presented.

My foolproof way of cooking basmati rice

When I watch Top Chef, I’m amazed how many times rice is the downfall of a cheftestant.

I rarely have to cook mass quantities of rice, so it’s possible that it’s more difficult to cook rice for 10 or more people. But if you have to cook rice for less than 10 people, rice isn’t all that difficult, especially with basmati, my favorite rice (jasmine rice, a close cousin, is a close second).

First of all, for basmati, it’s very important to rinse well. You need to get rid of a little of the starch that’s on the outside, plus, occasionally you’ll find small grit and tiny stones that have to be eliminated. You need to rinse 4 or 5 times, or until the rinse water is clear and not cloudy.

I usually don’t measure, but most people think that a cup of cooked rice per person works pretty well. That’s about a half cup of raw rice.

The traditional ratio of rice to water is 2 parts water to 1 part rice. But I don’t worry about measuring. Here’s my trick, as taught to me by an accomplished Indian cook – add the rinsed rice to a pot and add enough water to be one inch above the rice.

I add some salt and ghee (although you can certainly use butter or vegetable oil – for an even more exotic flavor, you can add a dash of light colored sesame oil as well, but only a couple of dashes, because it’s quite strong in flavor). You put it on high heat and bring to a roiling boil. As soon as it hits the roiling boil, immediately turn down the heat to a simmer and cover.

Don’t peek until you get to the 12 minute mark. If you have a small amount of rice (say for 2 or 4 people), the rice will just about be finished. You’ll probably need to cook for another couple of minutes. How do you tell if it’s done? There will be steam holes on the top when it’s close. Take a chopstick and carefully open up the middle of the rice and expose the bottom. If there’s still a little water in the bottom, you’ll need to cover and continue to cook for at least 2 more minutes. Never stir the rice. This will make it gummy. Check again after 2 minutes. If all of the water has evaporated, you’re done! If not, cover and check every minute.

If you are cooking larger amounts, you’ll probably have to cook a little longer. You still want to check at the 12 minute mark just to see how close you are. You’ll basically be judging by the amount of water left in the bottom. After you cook a few batches, you’ll get a feel for how long it will take to evaporate the remaining water.

I like to leave just a tiny amount of water in the bottom, cover and remove from the heat. The rice will continue to cook off the remaining water even when it’s off of the heat if you keep it covered. If you do this, you won’t risk scorching the bottom of the rice.

When serving, take a large spoon and scoop it out, trying not to disturb it too much. It should be light and fluffy without having to “fluff it up” with a fork as is sometimes suggested.

If you follow these instructions, you’ll never have a problem with basmati rice.

Morton’s settles wage-and-hour claims

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Morton’s settles wage-and-hour claims By Mark  Brandau



CHICAGO (July  24, 2009) Morton’s Restaurant Group, the Chicago-based parent of the 78-unit Morton’s The Steakhouse chain, announced the settlement of several wage-and-hour claims dating back to 2003, including a class-action suit filed against the company in 2005.

 Morton’s denied the allegations of the claims, but said it settled in order to spare the company further legal fees and management time devoted to the litigation.

Under the term’s of the settlement, Morton’s will pay an undisclosed amount of cash to the plaintiffs over a four-year period as well as issue preferred stock, which will have an aggregate liquidation preference of $6 million, following the court’s approval.

Read the rest of the article here:

mortons logo

Cookbook of the day – Dr. BBQ’s Big Time Barbecue Cookbook


Dr. BBQ’sBig-Time Barbecue Cookbook: A Real Barbecue ChamQpion Brings the Tasty Recipes and Juicy Stories of the Barbecue Circuit to Your Backyard

by Ray Lampe

Publisher St. Martin’s Griffin (April 14, 2005)  

ISBN 10: 0312339798

ISBN 13: 978-0312339791

If the hyperbole and chest thumping of Paul Kirk (The Baron of BBQ) turns you off, but you’d still like some “inside information” about barbecue competitions, as well as some great rubs, marinades and smoking procedures, this is the book for you.

Modestly priced, this book offers a lot of practical advice and information about the different regional and local varieties. there are name checks on famous BBQ “joints” and plenty of pics of barbecue culture that inform the novice.

I do disagree with him about cooking pork butts and shoulders though. Now, keep in mind that I don’t cook for competition but for flavor and goodness. First of all, I have found that there’s little difference between cooking a big shoulder or butt at 350° for the first 4 hours and keeping the temperature at the BBQ approved 225º – 250º. You see, it’s still going to take at least 1 1/2 – 2 hours per pound for most butts and, because I use a rub with a lot of sugar content, my bark (the crunchy outside “skin”) is going to be black, whether I cook it totally “low and slow” or if I let the temperature go higher for the first part. This is due to the extreme muscle mass of the cut. This mass keeps you from “overcooking” it and making it tough. Keep in mind that it’s going to take you 8 – 14 hours to cook it. As long as you limit the really high temps to the first 4 hours or so, you’ll be fine, as long as you don’t mind a black bark. To me, the black bark adds to the flavor. Also, Lampe removes the fat cap before “pulling” the pork (pulling by shredding it, not pulling it from the smoker). To me, incorporating the fat cap into the pulled pork only adds to the flavor. If you’ve cooked it to 195° or higher, the fat cap will become gelatinous and will actually “melt” into the final product. It keeps it very moist and tasty.

If cooking it at an initial higher temperature doesn’t speed up the process all that much, why do it? Well, I do my smoking in a 22″ Weber kettle. It takes a lot of fiddling to get the temp down to 225°, and you waste a lot of fuel. What I do is get a good honkin’ fire going and put the rubbed butt or shoulder on directly out of the fridge. I can then ignore it for at least 3 hours, because the temperature will stay at at 350° for an hour and a half and will start to drop to about 200° for the next hour and a half. At that point, I’ll get the fire blazing again and start all over again. By the four and a half hour mark, the temp will have dropped again down to about 250°. At this point, I’ll let it go to 225° and keep it pretty close to that. for those who have bigger rigs or smokers with sideboxes where you can add wood without opening the cover, it’s easier for them to maintain a constant temperature. But with a kettle, you have to remove the lid, which makes the temperature instantly drop. Having done some “scientific” experiments taking temperatures of both the air and the meat, charting the results, I’ve come to the conclusion that the higher temps don’t hurt the pork one bit as long as you take the pork directly from the fridge and you limit the higher temps to the first 4 or 5 hours.. My pork is every bit as savory as pork cooked at a constant 225° – 250°.

Other than those quibbles (and admittedly they might not apply if you’re trying to win a BBQ competition), I highly recommend this book.

Here are a few photos of my own “Memphis-style” pulled pork:





And the fat cap in all of its mostly rendered glory:


Sidework Pt. 2

In part one, we tried to paint sidework with some broad brushes. 

I’m not going to list all possible tasks that you might have to do on a typical shift. Every restaurant has its own unique needs and it would be impossible to list them all. Besides, you’ll find out soon enough what they are. So, why is sidework important? Because it’s so often thought of as an afterthought; it’s thought of as drudgery. Waiters whine about it. Waiters blow it off. Waiters do part of it but don’t finish it. Waiters do a poor job of it. Don’t be one of those waiters. While you can certainly whine about it, do your sidework. Why, you might ask? Why should I do it when I see others getting away with sliding on theirs? After all, you’ll soon identify certain slackers who can’t be relied upon to do their work and they seem to get away with it. Well, all I can say is, don’t be that guy (or gal for that matter).

It’s extremely important that sidework gets done because nothing will put you in the weeds faster than having to break your routine during the rush to go back to the walk-in to grab the half and half that someone else hasn’t bothered to restock as part of their sidework. This is especially grating when you make it easy for them by assuring that they can put their hands on what they need because you did your sidework while you hunt through the restaurant for a single clean glass because they didn’t do theirs. 

Hold your fellow servers accountable for their sidework.

And remember, someday, you will be a closing waiter and you will rely on others to do their work. You already have enough to do without having to do someone else’s job too.

The main thing is for each waiter to pull their weight so that if the waiter gets in the weeds, it’s not because his or her fellow waiter let them down.

It’s hard to do sidework when the rush is on. However, it’s even harder to have to do someone else’s sidework on top of  that. Or suffer the consequences of not being able to put your hands on what you need when you need it.

Sidework is important. Curse it, fear it, hate it, but respect it. Because to respect it is to respect your fellow co-workers.