So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Monthly Archives: August 2009

Last day of the month

As regular readers of this blog know, I always remind all waiters to take the last few days of each month to take an especially close look at their uniforms.

A waiter should alway be checking their uniform pieces out, from shirts and pants to aprons, jackets, ties and shoes.

But it’s easy to let things go to the point of being threadbare. That’s why I susggest that they cast an especially critical eye to each uniform item at least once a month. This way, the waiter doesn’t let their uniform standards slide past the point of uselessness. Plus, it helps the server to be the one to replace uniform items in their own time before a manager has to intervene.

So, fellow waiters – check out your uniforms closely and replace items past their useable lifespan.

A couple of new milestones

First of all, I finally made it to the front page of a Google blog keyword search! I typed in waiter, and there my last post was, lurking at the bottom of the page like a lamprey stalking a shark.

Second of all, I’ve gone from a Technorati rating of ~1,200,000th most popular blog to just a tick over 520,000th. My only question is – what do those other 500,000 blogs have that I don’t have? Well, they have politics. They have technology reports. They have funny pictures of cats. They have cool cars and booze and naked women. They have hate language (I’m looking at YOU, Debbie Schlussel!).

So, with great joy, I roll out my new blog product, a red, white and blue, KKK-endorsed, Bluetooth-equipped cat casket .

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I couldn’t get a Ku Klux Klanner to go on camera to endorse this fine piece of American craftsmanship, so I tapped this Italian-American spic to stand in (I would have chosen a fellow Jew, but the hateful, self-loathing Jew Debbie Schlussel was unavailable as she was busy trashing Walter Cronkite and Ted Kennedy). This casket will hold the fattest, more corpulent cat (or Debbie Schlussel if you remove her head before embalming) that you are likely to see in an internet photo. Like this one:

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I apologize for the Bud Light, but at least it was still an American-owned brand at the time, and it was served at the Beer Summit.

The red, white and blue of the casket celebrates our country and its ideals, as does the theme itself – give us your tired, your poor, your beer-deprived masses, and sell it for $4 a sixpack to boot. This beer is appropriate for any White House beer summit for it is part of the largest wholly-owned American brewery in the good ole US of A. No tone-deafness here.

Now your tech-savvy cat can carry his or her technology into the grave without annoying wires.

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The casket comes with its own battery-operated 100 year charger (which is why the casket has to be human-sized). The techology was stolen…I mean borrowed from Tesla:

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Padma Lakshmi is rumored to be considering this car. Here she is trying to bargain down the price of the car:

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And finally, I have to throw this in, because, what’s a blog these days without the obligatory lolcats shot?

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This post should shoot me quickly into the low 400,000s in no time!

Oh yeah, I hit 5,000 views a month for the first time this month. I just zipped right past 4,000, as last month, I only had 3,300.

Thanks for all of the support, linkage and interest.

PS, I promise not to cheat and put naked girls in the tags, although just about everything else is going in there <g>.

Foreign restaurants also hit by worldwide recession

Restaurant News Logo

 

 

Restaurant traffic woes a global problem

by Lisa Jennings

PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. (Aug. 25, 2009)

During the first quarter, foodservice traffic was down in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, and it was essentially flat in Canada.

Total spending at foodservice outlets declined during the first quarter in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United Kingdom — though not in Canada or the United States, according to NPD, a Port Washington-based market research firm that tracks consumer dining habits.

American restaurant operators might think they had it bad in the first quarter this year, but research released Tuesday by The NPD Group indicates that foodservice outlets in Europe, Canada and Japan also suffered as consumers cut back on spending and restaurant visits. 

 Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.nrn.com/breakingNews.aspx?id=371758

Chefs on Charlie Rose last night

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Charlie Rose is on vacation right now, so his shows are compilations of shows done earlier in the year, grouped by common topics.

Last night, he ran clips from his interviews with David Chang, Ferran Adria and José Andrés (with Andrés serving as interpreter), and Tom Collichio (learn how to pronounce his name, Charlie!).

All of the interviews were illuminating (I didn’t know that David Chang was basically a competitive golfer in his early days). I liked Adria comparing cooking to other art forms, noting that cooking involves all of the senses, whereas something like painting only involves one of them (sight). And I liked Collichio’s evolution as a chef actually being an evolution of reduction instead of increasing complexity.

You can view the entire show here for a little while:

http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10572

If it becomes unavailable as a whole show, you can likely view each segment separately in the archives by searching for each chef. The David Chang segment shown last night is excerpted from the full hour that Rose spent with him, so you might want to go directly to that segment, which you can find at the link of Serious Eats below the screenshot below.

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Screenshots courtesy of Serious Eats and can be found here:

http://www.seriouseats.com/2008/07/videos-david-chang-charlie-rose-pbs-momofuku-ko.html

Kitchen tool of the day – Silpat

Silpat? What in the heck is that?

This:

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It’s a silcone impregnated plastic baking mat.  It starts as woven fiberglass and then it’s coated with a heat-resistant silicone-impregnated plastic.

It’s a true time-saver when baking. Nothing sticks to it; not cookies, not melted cheese, not dough, not anything. To clean it, you simply wipe it with a cloth. Occasionally you might feel better about using a little detergent and a good rinse, but it usually doesn’t even need that.

It’s great because you don’t have to use any oil on a baking sheet – in fact you don’t use any oil whatsoever.

It is good up to 482º so it’s good for any possible baking that you might do.

It isn’t usable for roasting or broiling, although you can use it for slow roasting things like tomatoes and you can use it almost as a dehydrator in a very slow oven. You don’t want to put any hot pans on it, nor do you want to ever cut it “to fit”. Fiberglass is hazardous to the health. They also say that you shouldn’t put it in the dishwasher. Just a quick wipe will do. In line with this, don’t use any metal scrapers, knives, cutters or spatulas. You won’t need them anyway. Cookies and baked goods slide right off. All you might need is a little nudge from a plastic spatula.

If you have a large enough Silpat, you can use it for rolling out dough. The bottom of the mat is tacky, so it sticks to the countertop. You really don’t have to flour the dough very much to keep it from sticking.

You use the mat with the writing side up.

It will discolor over time through the oil that’s emitted by things like cookies and cheese (remember, most cookies are mostly butter). But that isn’t a problem.

Don’t use it with insulated or air-type baking sheets. Always use it with simple one layer baking sheets. 

You can use it for reheating pizza but you shouldn’t use it for baking pizza because a baking stone works a lot better and you won’t get a good crust with it (plus, frankly I cook pizza at the highest temperature possible anyway). Personally, I wouldn’t use it for anything that sits in a baking dish because I can just as easily put those on a bare metal baking sheet.

You should always use it with a baking sheet and you should always store it flat. Never fold it up. I actually roll mine loosely, which the manufacturer doesn’t recommend, or even comment on, but I suspect that it’s fine, since that’s how it’s packaged from the manufacturer.

One thing about baking cookies on this mat – they tend to end up flatter than when you cook on greased metal. The manufacturer says that this is because of the extreme slipperiness of the silicone. The dough moves easier as it heats up.  So, you might find that you might not want to use the Silpat for certain types of cookies. Feel free to use a greased metal sheet if the result that you’re looking for requires it.

There are other brands and they are probably just as good. But this is the original. It’s been used since the 60s in French kitchens. I don’t dismiss the others by recommending this, but this is the only one that I can recommend, since it’s the only one that I use.

There are some people who have concerns about using the product as things have come out recently about heating plastics (especially in baby bottles). I have no such concerns about this product, but if you do, then only you can decide whether you want to take the “risk”. There are also some people that claim that they can smell a rubber-like smell, but I’ve never really noticed anything like that.

I find the Silpat quite useful because, I’m basically a lazy git.  Plus, I like innovative “gadgets”. Guess I’m a sucker for them.

silpat

Top Chef Episode 2

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Well class, what have we learned?

The “hot” ice queen chef will disrobe just for you.

Crap…I mean craps, it’s what’s for dinner.

Bravo missed an opportunity by choosing a real bachelor/bachelorette party instead of doing a bachelor/bachelor or bachelorette/bachelorette celebration, although it did give the chance to pummel the viewer with the outrage that gays feel in being excluded from the sanctity of marriage (an outrage that I share, BTW).

Both gays and straights had philosophical problems for different reasons with the elimination challenge. Not surprisingly, it was on the female side. Dudes just don’t care, even the gay ones.

What is it with scallops this season? Isn’t this the most accomplished group of food savants this side of Paris? First of all, scallops is what I would consider a “safe” dish, perhaps too safe to make a real impression on the judges, although I’ll have to say that judges always seem to go ga ga when a scallop is “perfectly cooked”. Damn, how hard is it to pan sear a scallop? Unless you’re distracted by shiny objects, it’s a breeze. Maybe all of the stainless steel is distracting our cheftestants.

The gay guy gets care of the orchids. He admits that gays grow better flowers than straights, but half-heartedly grumbles that he’s getting the fuzzy end of the stereotype lollipop. I’m straight and I’ve grown orchids pretty well in the past, so there! Besides – phalaenopsis – Easiest. Orchid. Ever. 

Brother on brother action. But not the type that you’d expect from Bravo.

Shame that nobody threw snake eyes. It would have been fun to see how someone would have dealt with that. Me? I’d probably do some sort of scallop dish. One pan-seared scallop as a base. Then I’d attempt to cut a scallop into a julienne and deep fry it until crunchy and brown. If it didn’t work from a flavor and texture standpoint, I’d discard, but if it did work, I’d nest a little bit of it on top of the scallop. Then I’d poach another scallop in fish sauce and water and slice it on the plate, drizzle with a little olive oil and a little sea salt and cracked pepper. I’d either prop up the slices against the seared scallop tee-pee style or lay them flat like playing cards fanned out next to the scallop. It would either fail miserably in terms of flavor but I’d get kudos for the effort or it would have worked perfectly.

Hmmmm, watermelon carpaccio.  It would have been more interesting if she had chosen watermelon seed carpaccio. Imagine shaving a few of those little buggers.

May I introduce to you Tom Collichio, Mafia hit man.

Gail Simmons is wearing my shower curtain for some reason.

Andy Cohen must have some salacious photos of Todd English to pry him away from QVC once a season.

When you marinate raw meat of any kind with any kind of acid, you’re actually chemically cooking it. As Tom points out, fresh tuna shouldn’t be marinated for more than about an hour. If you are marinating a big slab of beef, you’re free to marinate overnight, but not fresh fish that’s intended to be served rare. That’s why you can get away with it with ceviche because the seafood in ceviche is supposed to be “cooked”. Oh, by the way Jennifer, if you don’t stop pronouncing it “ceveech”, I think I’m going to throw a squid at the TV.

Leave the lettuce cups for P. F. Chang’s please.

A chips and guacamole “macaroon”? Inspired. HOWEVER – I’m surprised that Tom didn’t pull the same sort of linguistic “quibble” that he pulled on Casey a couple of seasons back when he blasted her for calling her dish coq au vin. That was no “macaroon”. While a macaroon certainly starts with something similar to a meringue (beaten egg whites), it adds coconut and/or almond paste to make a dense, chewy cookie, which is the exact opposite of his cookie. What it really was was a meringue cookie, which is exactly what he produced – something that was crisp on the outside with a melt-in-your-mouth middle.

If you aren’t an accomplished “pastry or dessert chef”, do dessert only as a last resort. Please. At least don’t admit to it at judge’s table. Your judgment will be questioned.

Eve and her knives are gone. See ya,

Eve

Steakhouses work the bar angle to attract guests

Premium steakhouses are using expanded bar offerings, in both the food and drink realm, to bring guests back to their dining rooms and bars. They are offering smaller and less expensive variations on their normal fare, almost in a tapas style. They are also rolling out signature drinks in order to capture a younger demographic.

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Morton’s has their “Power Hour” in selected locations. They have some value-priced $5 glasses of wine, $7 “Mortini’s” (selected Martinis, Cosmopolitans and Mojitos) and they are offering $6 “bar bites”, including miniature crab cakes, trios of little burgers, four tiny filet mignon “sandwiches” and “iceberg wedge bites”.

Palm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Palm Steakhouse has upped the ante with their “Prime Times Bites” bar menu. They also have trios of “sliders”, theirs being Kobe beef. They have a smaller version of their massive fried calamari bowl, plus they have mini crab cakes, a trio of steak “capri” sliders (steak, basil and mozzarella) and little Philly steak bites. Prices range from $7 to $12  but from 5-7pm and after 9pm, they sell for the unheard of price of $3.50 (three Kobe beef sliders for only about 50 cents more than Krystal or White Castle burgers?!!??) They have also done an upscale makeover of the look of their bar tables . This is rolling out nationwide as I write this, having been tested in certain locations.

flemings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleming’s Steakhouse has their “5 for $6 ’til 7” promotion in their bar. For $6, they have 5 premium cocktails, 5 value priced wines and 5 appetizers such as “tenderloin carpaccio”, seared ahi tuna and “wicked cajun barbecue shrimp”. This is served from 5pm to 7pm.

These are examples of fresh thinking in the steakhouse sector. They augment the usual summer special dinner deals that chains have been offering during their slower months and are intended to expand their demographic.

How things have changed since 2005 when Nation’s Restaurant News ran an article entitled “Big high-end steakhouse chains are primed for 10% growth”. Here’s a snippet of that optimistic report:

“Demand for high-end steakhouses seems to have continued to rise in many markets across the country. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this in 25 years,’ said Dave Cattell, chief development officer for Ruth’s Chris, the 86-unit chain based in Metairie, La. ‘There are lots of opportunities, and I don’t see any end in sight.’ “.

You can access the rest of the article here:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3190/is_9_39/ai_n13251038/?tag=content;col1

It’s the little things

Managers are funny beasts.

In order to stay sane, they tend to have certain things that they focus on in order to do things like doing the closing or maintaining the operation of the restaurant because you can’t check 100% of everything in the restaurant. I know that I was a bit of a freak when I managed because I looked at some small things or insisted on certain procedures.

My rationale was that it was often the little things that mattered. It’s just impossible to check every little detail, so each manager has their little quirks about what pushes their hot button or gets them looking closer at the waiter’s work.

Closing is a good example. The next to last thing a manager wants to do is do a thorough intense inspection at the end of a hard shift.  The last thing a manager wants to do is sit through a bitch session with his or her general manager or restaurant staff the day after the restaurant has been closed sloppily. So, most managers have things that they focus on from night to night to give them a general indication of the quality of the closing sidework. However, depending on their closing waiter or what they know about certain members of the staff, they will poke around, especially if they don’t have confidence in the work of certain people. You can burn a manager or a closing waiter once or twice, but after that, they will stay on top of you until you regain their confidence. They’ll check your work with a fine-toothed comb.

As a server, there are little things that you can do to keep your manager or closing waiter from picking apart your sidework (especially if you’re the closer) as well as making your own job easier.  When I’m a closer, I use a technique that I call “shrinking the restaurant”, something I did when I was a manager as well. I try to reduce the amount of area getting used to a minimum. At a certain point, you don’t need all three server stations, or you don’t need all of the side items that you normally need when the restaurant is bustling. I try to limit what I use to a minimum. If it’s been cleaned or refilled (such as sugar caddies), I either don’t use it, or I try to keep what I use or touch to a minimum. If I have three wait stations available, and two of them have already been cleaned and I’ve checked out a server on those two stations, I make sure that nobody uses it from that point on unless absolutely necessary. As I check out the various servers, I’m able to reduce what I’m going to have to check at the very end of the night because I’ve gradually “shrunk” the restaurant over the last hour or two. At the very end, I really only have to give a cursory look.

This was my approach as a manager as well. In the last couple of hours, I’d try to be aware of anything that was “out of joint” in the early stages of slowdown and I’d sort of keep my eye on it and see if it were taken care of. Of particular importance was anything that was visible to the guest. This gave me an idea of how well the closing was going. If something didn’t get done right by my walk-through, then I started poking around, and you never want a manager poking around in dark corners at 11:30pm because they will always find things. Suddenly, dust in the corner of drawers becomes important. That little unwiped bit of stainless steel that is barely noticable to man or beast becomes something that has to be corrected NOW.  

The same goes for the closing waiter responsible for checking sidework. If the first thing they check hasn’t been done correctly, then they are more likely to check everything closely.

There is one main thing you can do to keep your manager’s or your closing waiter’s walk-thorough cursory, other than doing your job correctly, of course.

Make sure everthing lines up. In the Army, we called this “dress right dress”. For example, most restaurants have a lot of sugar caddies. If you leave gaps in their arrangement, or leave some crooked here and there, it gives the impression of a job half done. It only takes a second to line everything up. If you’re in a hurry to get to that post-shift drink, it’s easy to do a sloppy job of arranging everything. Just take a half a second and line everything up. Make sure that labels face the same way. Let’s say that you have to restock ketchup and condiment bottles. It’s easy to just stick them on the shelf, but if you take a moment and have the labels facing the same direction, it looks like you’ve done your work correctly. And managers and closing waiters kep a mental inventory of those that leave their work looking good and those who simply do the minimum to barely get things in order.

This is a convoluted and wordy way of telling you that the better the outward appearance of your work is, the easier your job will be. And it doesn’t take all that much longer and can actually save you time when you’re trying to get out for that post-shift get-together with your compatriots. One little trick I used to do (and still do) was to line up my sugar caddies so that the same color sugar packet was in front. It only took me an extra couple of seconds to do this. As a manager, I was always impressed when certain closing waiters did this themselves (yes, I can be easily impressed). I knew that they were looking at the small things and I could pretty much give them the OK without doing an intensive walkthrough. But I had some waiters who didn’t care that much about how things looked in general and I took extra time with those waiters until they got the idea that there were certain things that I might be looking for. It was a Pavlovian response, I guess. Eventually, they’d get the idea that the neater things looked, the less actual work they had to do at the end of the night. And they’d work backwards from there and start insisting that their fellow servers also showed the same sort of eye for detail.

Develop your eye for detail and you’ll find your job getting easier and easier.

Thanks to Jim for his plug on my post on phở

I’m very grateful to Jim for mentioning my post on that great Vietnamese dish, phở.

I didn’t know that I was capable of writing an encomium. I must be a hell of a writer!

Seriously, just a note about that post. It was a knee-jerk reaction to a mailing-list characterization of phở as “bland” (or something like that). I fired off that post in about 20 seconds, so it wasn’t intended to be a carefully constructed or well-considered piece of literature. But I stand by it. I basically posted it as-is/was, with the exception of editing out a mailing-list specific reference, which wouldn’t make sense to the casual reader.

And 10 bonus points to those who get the mussels reference.

I’ve also been meaning to link to Jim’s blog for a while. Since I don’t do politics (in general) on this blog, it’s sort of slipped my mind.

Jim is a staunch libertarian and is part of Unqualified Offerings, a blog focusing on the libertarian weltanschauung. You’ll find the link in my blogroll and at the bottom of this post.

Me? I’m left of center, and this leaks out every once in a while on this blog. However, I have some libertarian impulses, and, if I weren’t generally a bit of a leftist, I would probably be a libertarian. Yes,  I read Ayn Rand in high school but the philosophy didn’t take. Hmmm, that sounds patronizing – it isn’t meant to be.

Anywho, this is one of the blogs that leans Right that a Leftist can read and learn from. It’s unlike those many hate mavens like Debbie Schlussel that wave the flag in one hand and the Constitution in the other but ignore the First Amendment by the suppressing contrary opinions expressed through readers’ comments.

I highly suggest that you give the blog a spin, no matter what your politcal bent. Heck, any blog that uses a cute dog to entice readers can’t be all bad, can they?

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http://highclearing.com/

Top Chef Las Vegas Redux

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As you might know, I was shaken by the appearance of Vegas showgirls in the Quickfire challenge, although I suppose I shouldn’t have been.

So, it took me a little while to get back to watching the rest of the episode.

So kids, what did we learn?

We learned that chefs like alcohol. REALLY like alcohol. Probably bathe in alcohol.

Wolfgang Puck can throw a great slider. Imagine if he threw a slider slider (using a slider as a baseball, that is).

While bacon makes everything better, it doesn’t always make one a winner.

Wolfgang Puck is The Terminator.

Frying a ribeye? Not so much.

If you don’t have to say that you didn’t have time to put something on a dish (like a gastrique), don’t say so.

If you’re going to cook something as simple as a scallop, cook the damn thing right.

Poached chicken must rest in poaching liquid.

Substitute wheat gluten for meat at your own risk.

A good back-story will get you to the Winner’s Table, even if you miss the point of the Elimination Challenge.

Wolfgang Puck keeps a spotless kitchen. At least when it’s going to be on TV.

Padma has a different look when she’s trying not to telegraph who the winners are and when she’s getting ready to lower the boom. The first is “total stonefaced mean”. The second is “cobra eying its prey”.

Tom Collichio can shill Diet Coke.

Buh bye. Jen, please pack your tat and go:

jennifer-zavala-top-chef