So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Daily Archives: August 2, 2009

Thanks for all of the support!

From the normal slow start of views in week 17 – 18 at the founding of this blog, we’re now flirting with 1000 views a week in week 31 (we’ll probably finish around 900 hits this week). The blog routinely gets between 60 and 180 views a day, which is no small feat for a new blog that doesn’t talk politics or computer software.

That’s tremendous. The trend line is quite steady when you average it out (there are a couple of unusual peaks coming from popular one-off posts).  The first few weeks, we were gradually adding to the count, and then it sort of exploded from there. This week doubles the number from 6 weeks ago.

For a blog that started in April of this year, a blog with a less-than-global subject matter, paucity of political content or general interest topics, the growth has been very nice.

Hopefully I’m doing something right.

Now’s the time for the reader to weigh in. Are there any waiter issues that you’d like to be covered in the future? Do you think there should be more, or less posts about culinary issues? More or less cookbook reviews? More humorous off-topic posts, or the elimination of anything that doesn’t directly bear on being a waiter? Is my frequency of posting too much or not enough (or just right)? Do you need smaller pictures because you check out the blog on your mobile divice or from slow dialup? The answer to such questions, or any issues that you might want to raise, will help me tweak the blog to be more useful.

I know that at least one person would like more “stories from the front”. When I have a story that is a “teachable moment”, I won’t hesitate to relate it. I’m not so much into gratuitous dishing on guests though. There are plenty of blogs that do that, some of which do it in a witty and funny fashion and some that are just plain mean. You can choose your poison. My favorites are those that throw in some mean in a witty and funny fashion.

Feel free to tell me what you like and don’t like. I’ll take all opinions under advisement.

I hope that you, gentle reader, will always feel free to express your opinions, correct me when I’m wrong about something and continue to tell your friends in and out of the industry, about this blog. I appreciate any and all adds to blogrolls. I get significant traffic from those of you who have been so kind as to list me as a blog that you recommend.

Also, if any of you are part of the Technorati community, feel free to review this blog. It would be nice to see some objective feedback on a third party site.

Finally, I guess I should state the philosophy of this blog for latecomers.

This is a blog designed to impart specific information to help newcomers flatten the learning curve when they become waiters. I consider an appreciation of the culinary world essential for success as a waiter, so I add items about the food world in order to expand a waiter’s food knowledge and keep their interest in food and beverage piqued.  I also hope that even experienced waiters can be reminded of a principle or two that they’ve either forgotten about or hven’t revisited in a while. I realize that sometimes I cover items that experienced waiters think are self-apparent or common sense, but many of us have forgotten what it was like when we were first thrown into the wild and wacky world of waiting tables.

I think that education is alos important, so I discuss books pertinent to the cuisine world, books that help a waiter be able to feel confident in answering guest’s questions and helping them guide their way to the perfect dining experience, whether it be in a three-star Michelin restaurant or a mom-and-pop meat-and-three diner. You’ll find those bood discussions under “Cookbook of the Day”. Obviously, the books won’t always be cookbooks, so don’t be fooled.

My use of the the term waiter is gender-neutral. Waiter refers to male and female servers. while I generally don’t use the word server (except in real life, I suppose), you might see it creep in occasionally. There are some contexts where the term waiter might be confusing, so I might use the term server (or even waitress).

On Wine pt. 2

Ok, let’s backtrack a little, now that I’ve pounded home the idea that you need to deliver the proper wine.

There are a few things that you should do, depending on how your restaurant is set up. If you use a single glass for all wines, and they are preset on the table, then all you have to do is bring the bottle to the table. If the glasses aren’t preset, and you have time, it’s best to bring the glasses to the table first, unless you are only serving 2 people. Normally I preach saving steps, but you want to be as smooth and suave as possible when serving a bottle of wine and it can be awkward to place the glasses while juggling your bottle of wine. So, unless you’re just getting hammered by doubleseats and the like, try to make a separate trip with the glasses. Also, if you’re going to decant the bottle, make sure you bring the decanter with you. You might even bring it when you bring the glasses so that it’s at the ready. And this is the time to make sure you have your winetool handy. It’s awkward to dig around in your pocket while holding a bottle of wine at the table. Have it where you can quickly and seamlessly get to it. You’re shooting for smooth and suave, not bumbling.

When you bring the bottle out, don’t hold it by the neck swinging it like a billy-club. You should cradle the bottle in the crook of your arm with the label facing out. It should be nestled in a folded white napkin, which serves a dual purpose – it frames the bottle nicely and it will allow you to wipe the opening of the bottle after opening (plus, you can place it under the neck as you pour which prevents the random spotting on the tablecloth or table).


Don’t carry the bottle by the neck, swinging it in your hand like a billyclub. Don’t carry the bottle by it’s body. Nestle it in the crook of your arm.

You always present the bottle to the person who ordered it, whether they be male or female.  As you show them the label, you will point to and say the name of the winemaker, the vintage, the region and the special name of the wine if applicable. When they give the ok, you’ll proceed to open the bottle. Take your winetool’s knife and the capsule (the name for the foil) cut below the rim. Never just cut just under the top of the foil off horizontally, always go under the bottom of the rim of the bottle. Slip the capsule top in your pocket, don’t leave it on the table.

I’ve already covered the physical act of getting the cork out of the bottle in a previous post. You can find it by searching for it.

When opening the bottle, don’t spin it. Always keep the label facing the guest. You’ll have to twist your corkscrew-holding hand a bit to accomplish this.

When the cork is removed, in most restaurants, you’ll give the cork to the guest. I do it simply by putting it on the table in front of them and let them decide if they want to sniff the cork. In a selected few (somewhat snobby) restaurants, you will have brought a small metal plate for the cork, because some people believe that the cork should never actually touch the table. This “giving the cork to the guest” routine serves little purpose really, but seems to have become an expected part of the ritual. Very few people can tell anything substantial from squeezing the cork or sniffing it that they can’t tell by the ritual of swirling, sniffing and tasting. Here’s a contrary view of that though:

Besides the “judging the wine aspect”, one reason over the years that you presented the cork was to assure the purchaser that the bottle was indeed what it claimed to be. That’s why, other than marketing, the vintner’s name is usually on the cork (and an aside about this in a moment). Obviously, this isn’t very much of an issue these days, unless you’re buying very rare old wines at auction (there have been some high-profile counterfeiting schemes uncovered recently). 

You’ll then proceed to pour a small amount into the glass. When I say small, I mean small. Don’t pour more than a decent sized sip. A little more than a dash of the bottle will do fine. (I’ll talk more about the actual act of pouring in the next thrilling installment).

Stand there patiently while the host studiously studies the glass, making faces as he or she spins the glass, looking for legs, makes comments about his or her extreme level of wine erudition, talks about the wine that they have in the cellar and the vacation that they took to Napa two years ago. Let them close their eyes while they make a pruneface slurping the wine between pursed lips.

After the host approves the bottle, go around the table and serve the wine – but don’t just pour. Always give each person the chance to turn it down. The best etiquette is to serve the ladies first. 

Don’t forget to fill the host’s glass! I’ve seen the host get forgotten, believe it or not.

If the host has ordered wine and red, make sure that each guest has two glasses. When presenting the wine, present the white first. Always present from lightest to heaviest wine. If someone has orders, say, Tempranillo and Cabernet, both of which are reds,  you’d present the Tempranillo first.

I don’t know if there’s specific etiquette on this, but you might want to offer the first bottle to the table before you present the second bottle to the host. It can be a little awkward trying to offer a choice to each person because you’re dealing with two different bottles. And if you do this, don’t just skip people who already have wine when presenting the second bottle. In fact, I like to encourage people to try both wines by asking “Would you like to do a little mini wine tasting”? Not only will you sell more wine, but you help educate people who might not be that familiar with wine or judging the quality of wine. Any kind of side by side comparison of wine helps people learn more about wine.

Unless someone wants to keep it, the cork can be removed at any time after the glasses are poured. I like to leave it until I return the next time (perhaps when I bring the salads). It shouldn’t be on the table by the times the entrees have arrived, that much is certain. However, if you live in a state that allows un-drunk wine to be taken home by the guest, make sure that you either save the cork somewhere or that the bar has some used corks available (most do keep a small stockpile of them).

Also, one little detail that most people probably won’t notice, but unconsciously might absorb, is if you take the time to arrange the cork so that the vintner’s name can be read by the guest. It’s the accumulation of such small and “trivial” details that creates the “perfect” dining experience, even if the guest doesn’t consciously realize that they are there.

In part three, we’ll wrap this topic up with pouring issues, both at the table and at parties.

sniffing the cork