So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Monthly Archives: September 2009

Cookbook of the day – Classical Cooking the Modern Way

Classical cooking

Classical Cooking The Modern Way

by Eugen Pauli

  • Publisher: Van Nos 
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471291870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471291879
  • This cookbook is actually primarily a textbook. Originally written and published in Germany and France under the titles Lehrbuch der Küche and Technologie Culinaire, this book was published in English by Van Nostrand Reinhold Company in 1979 and immediately became a required textbook for culinary students.

    It covers all aspects of setting up and running a modern commercial kitchen as envisioned by Escoffier. From physical plant layout to food safety and sanitation, from food labeling, butchering and other product issues to large scale recipes, this book should be on the bookshelf of every executive chef and should be at least skimmed by any waiter worth his or her salt.

    The current edition of this venerable book is different from the original edition (which I own). According to one reviewer at Amazon, the book has been abridged somewhat by the new publisher, with the intent of publishing a second volume in the future. I glanced through some of the pages of the new edition through Amazon’s look inside feature, and it’s obvious that the book has been completely re-written. My recommendation therefore is only for the edition that I own and the one that is pictured above. That’s not to denigrate the new edition – I just don’t have access to the whole of it for direct comparison. The image comes from the eBay listing listed below.

    I would recommend picking up this book as eBay only has a handful of the original editions (the new one is the Third Edition).

    The recipes aren’t particularly useful to the home cook, although there are times that they might find recipes for 10 or more handy. The plating and platter arrangements are quite dated. This book is most useful for the reams of information about the practice of cooking – the foundation stuff that every aspiring chef, even the home cook, should know.

    This is a go-to reference work that you should own.

    Spanish researchers find that non-smoking laws help waiters quit smoking


    Anti-Smoking Law Helps Waiters To Quit Smoking

    “Researchers from the Catalan Institute of Oncology have studied the impact of the law banning smoking in public places such as bars and restaurants on those working in these places. The results are positive – 5% of waiters have stopped smoking, and the number of cigarettes smoked by those who still smoke has fallen by almost 9%”.

    Read more about the study here:

    End of the month uniform check

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

    At the end of every month, you should give your uniforms a good, close inspection. You should use a keen eye to observe signs of wear and tear. If you do this once a month, you probably won’t be caught with your pants down, so to speak, by a manager who has to tell you that your uniform is lacking in some way. Once you get into the habit, it’s almost routine. this doesn’t replace checking out your uniform before you put it on every day – it’s a really close look to see what’s going to have to be replaced soon.

    On my inspection this weekend, I’ve noticed that I’ve got no more than 2 months left on my shoes. I’ll be buying a new pair while I’ve got the money instead of having to wake up one morning to find a rip where the top meets the sole. who knows – I might not have the money at the time. Best to take care of it now.

    I’ve had to throw out two shirts. Time to buy two of those puppies as well. And the tie is getting a bit pilled, so I’d better have a backup ready.

    I’d rather buy things on my own schedule than have the gods of wear and tear thrust buying on me.

    Kitchen tool of the day – Cuisinart DLC-5 food processor


    Mine is about 15 years old. The plastic is a little yellowed from years of kitchen and household smoke. I’ve never had the need to upgrade to the rounder, “melted-look” newer models that Cuisinart offers. This puppy is built like a brick and performs like a charm. I’ve also got the “Primary Disc Set”, a set of 5 cutting discs that shred, julienne, slice both thinly and thickly and cut thin fries and other veggies. Along with my mandoline and chef’s knife, I can produce virtually any type of cut, but I can also use the food processor for doughs, sauces, purees and marinades.

    The food processor completes the processing stable of essential kitchen tools – the blender, the stand mixer, the food mill, the mandoline and the mortar and pestle. If you have these five  items in your kitchen, you can do virtually anything, as long as you have a good chef’s knife. You can actually replace the mandoline and the blender with the food processor for most things, but I find both better at certain tasks, so I recommend keeping them around.

    Cuisinart virtually invented the food processor. Initially sold under the Robot-Coupe (pronounced robo coop) name in France , it was brought it to America under the Cusinart name (the name had already been changed to Magimix when it hit the UK shores) where it became America’s first food processor. In fact, its name is almost of the stature of Xerox or Coke – used as a generic name replacement for the appliance – i.e. “She threw a cuisinart at my head”, even though it might have been a Waring that she threw. Robot-Coupe is still the manufacturer of choice for commercial kitchens everywhere. Conair is now the owner of the Cuisinart name and has been the manufacturer of record since 1989 (shortly before my own Cuisinart was made).

    The cuisina…I mean food processor is perfect for cutting cold butter into flour for perfect pie doughs. It’s great for incorporating oils into sauces, and handy for blowing through heads of cabbage for slaw. Almost anything that you can do with a mandoline you can do with a food processor providing you have the proper cutting disk.

    There are many brands of food processors and I’m not saying that Cuisinart is the only one you should consider. I have no familiarity with other brands, nor have I played with the new, modern-looking Cuisinarts. The model I have has virtually been around little changed  from the beginning and you still see them in commercial kitchens everywhere, sometimes under the name Robot-Coupe. You still will occasionally run across an original Magimix 1800, the model that became the original Cuisinart. The Cuisinart that I have is built like a rock and that’s a virtue with this sort of machine, because a good one requires a  lot of torque and needs to be able to handle a moderate amount of stress.

    There are certain brands that inspire confidence because of their performance over a long period of time, even if folks grumble that “they aren’t made the way they used to be”. Kitchenaid, Braun, Krups, Waring – Cuisinart belongs in that echelon.

    More definitions for newbies

    I thought it would be helpful to newbies to both the restaurant industry and to this blog to repost definitions that I have previously posted. So, here we go…

    Bank – a stated amount of a server’s own money required  by a restaurant used to make change when a guest pays cash. It’s usually $20 or $25, broken down into tens, fives, ones and a dollar’s worth of pocket change. This money isn’t given to the restaurant – it stays with the server and is simply on top of the tips that the server ends up with.

    Deuce – As implied by the name, a table where two people are dining. It can refer to the size of a table, i.e. a table that can only fit two people, or it can refer to the size of the party, i.e. “That deuce is chewing up my six-top”.

    X-top – “X” refers to a specific number, top refers to the table or party. Refers to either the size of a table (two-top or deuce, 4-top, 6-top, etc.), or, as in deuce can refer to the number of people in the dining party. Usually refers to the size of the party.

    Crumber – As the name implies, a curved piece of metal used to remove crumbs from a cloth-topped tabletop (doesn’t work very well on glass or wood). One of the server’s tools in restaurants with tablecloths. It looks like a small tongue depressor with the sides curled up.

    The Pass – this is where you’ll get your food delivered from the kitchen. Also known as “the window”, “the line”, or, in the case where everyone helps run food, “the place to avoid” (obviously I’m kidding here, newbie.)

    Expo the person who acts as the go-between between the front of the house and the kitchen. Calls the tickets to the kitchen and assures that the order is put up in the window for pickup. Coordinates any special requests or changes to the food. Calls for a food runner.  Basically is responsible for coordinating the smooth operation of the kitchen. Is sometimes the chef, sous-chef or manager. Short for expediter.

    Rollup – in restaurants that employ them, this is the silverware wrapped in either a paper or cloth napkin. One of the bits of sidework that most servers and server assistants hate. If you work in such a restaurant, you’ll learn this term very quickly.

    On the fly – often times caused by a server screw up, this means, “Cook this item as quickly as possible because other food is on the table and jump it to the front of the queue”. This is a phrase that a server hopes he or she only hears in the case of a kitchen screwup, but sadly, that’s not usually the case. Also said as on the rail.

    Captain’s pad –  No, you haven’t been promoted. This is the usual term for whatever you write your order down on. It’s usually only used in the case where restaurants provide such a pad to the server. This is becoming rarer, so it’s  a term that you might not encounter.

    B&B – bread and butter plate. It’s also a liqueur, but you’ll hear it most often referred to a 5 in. or 6 in. plate often times used as a place setting item on a set table or also used as an underliner for a monkey dish (see monkey dish later on). Guests use it oddly enough to put their bread on. Is found to the left of the forks in a place setting.

    Monkey dish – the smallest bowl in the restaurant. Usually used to put butter in or side sauces. Can be used for grated cheeses, pepper flakes or any sort of dry ingredient that the guests requires in small amounts. Is always placed on a B&B  plate with a bev nap to keep it from sliding. The only exception is if it’s being used as a butter dish with a bread basket. Most restaurants don’t require it to be on an underliner for that use. Note the use of the word ”most”.

    Bev Nap – short for beverage napkin. Also sometimes called bar nap. These are the square paper napkins, sometimes with the logo of the establishment printed on them, that are placed under a beverage glass. Normally, you don’t use them on tables that have tablecloths or with stemmed glasses. Stemmed glasses don’t sweat at the base so there’s no need for an absorbent napkin. Some restaurants require them for wine glasses as well, which I think is foolish, but if it’s required by your restaurant, always follow the house policies. These are also used to underline plates that hold bowls.

    Underliner –any plate used to hold a bowl. You always use a bev nap to keep the bowl from sliding.

    Dupe – The printed ticket hanging in the kitchen that the cooks read to prepare an order. For restaurants in the stone age, can also refer to a carbon copy of a hand-written check. short for duplicate.

    Pop-up – a table that has folding leaves that turn it from a square table to a round. Also refers to the act of making said table larger, i.e. make table 14 a pop-up and set for 8, or “Pop-up table 12 and make it an 8-top”.

    Pivot Point – this is the first position at any table. It’s where you start numbering your guests. It’s usually determined in advance by concensus (closest seat to the door, the left seat on a banquette, the position to your left as you naturally approach the table, etc.). In some restaurants, it’s up to the server to determine the pivot point and the communicate that point to anyone helping them run food. In classical serving, numbering is done in a counter-clockwise fashion. However, you’ll find that most modern restaurants assume a clockwise fashion. You should always follow the convention because it’s very important that each guest is presented with the proper plate. It’s an imperative if you don’t run your own food,

    Cap – the rounded end of a long table. If the long table looks like a long cigar, the cap would be either rounded end, although most servers use the one on the right hand side as you face the table. It’s sometimes the designated pivot point.

    Head –the position immediately to the left of the cap. For a long table, either the cap or the head might be used as a pivot point (guest number 1). This is either determined by the server heading the party or by house policy.

    Fire –the point where a server is ready for his or her food. Used in kitchen systems where you preorder your courses but the kitchen doesn’t deliver it until you’re ready. Sometimes this is done verbally and sometimes it’s a command sent through the computer. Old-style Italian restaurants call this via. A server should never fire their food unless they’re ready to run it.

    Walk-in – That big cold room where they keep the perishable food. It’s only called a walk-in if you can walk into it. Otherwise, it’s a reach-in or a refrigerator. Alternately, it’s a table that hasn’t made a reservation and has, wait for it…walked in and wanted a table. Get it?

    Tray Jack – a folding/collapasable thingy that can act as a stand for a large food tray. Looks slightly like a TV tray table, except that it usually has a pair of straps that holds it together when unfolded.

    Stiff – something that a server dreads above almost anything, even working Sunday lunch. Strictly speaking, it’s a zero tip. However, in common parlance, it’s any really bad tip (like 5%). Some servers even use it for a substandard tip like 13%, but I maintain that this is diluting the supreme power and terror of the word.

    Spiel/Scripting – the recitation of the specials. Sometimes you’ll hear “scripting the specials”.

    Sections – the grouping of tables into discrete blocks and assigned to a specific server or servers. This is the server’s “real estate”.

    Closing section – usually the section that checks out the other servers and usually has little sidework other than doing the walk-through with the closing manager. Usually reserved for the stronger servers. Usually leaves last, but can actually leave before someone else who might have a camper.

    Camper – a table that sits…and sits…and sits…and sits…and…well, you get the idea.

    Walk-through – the final inspection of the restaurant at the closing of the shift. Usually done with the closing manager and the closing server.

    Run/ride/follow/– the transfer of a table’s food from the kitchen to the table. A ride or a follow is the helping of another server, servers or food runners in the running of the food.

    POS – the computer system that handles all of the business of the dining room and kitchen. Stands for “point-of-sale”. Alternately, stands for “piece of shit”. This meaning can also apply to the POS system, but can also refer to anything from the Assistant Manager to a greedy server to the salt shaker whose rubber stopper just won’t stay put.

    Pantry – the part of the line where you get salads, desserts, appetizers, etc. It does not refer to the room where the dry goods are stored. That is called:

    Dry storage/lager – Yep, that’s where you get the food that doesn’t have to be stored under refrigeration.

    Dishland – affectionate term for the dishwasher area.

    Dishwasher – the most important person in the restaurant.

    Order fire – in systems where you pre-order your food, this is where you’re ordering the food and firing it at the same time because they don’t have an intermediate course. Chefs don’t particularly like this because it makes it look like you’re trying to jump the queue. So, whenever possible, if you can wait until close to the time that you know that any lengthy items that have to be started early are finished, try to hold off on order firing.

    Mise en Place – a line cook’s prep setup for service. This includes anything that has to be cut, chopped, pureed, blended, seared, soaked, or spooned into a hot pan or dish. Everything is arranged so that it falls to hand and the line cook doesn’t have to think about where everything is. This is sacrosanct territory and should never…let me repeat this…never ever be messed with. The server has no reason to ever touch, remove, play with, or even covet in his or her mind anything in the mise (pronounced meez). If you need something that the line cook has, always ask politely if you can have some and let them give it to you.

     French service – the serving of family style side dishes by the waiter onto the plates of the guests rather than letting them do it themselves. Usually done with a serving spoon and a fork or two serving spoons, chopsticks-style. Actually involves a lot more detail, but this is what is usually meant.

    Ranch dressing the object of scorn by waiters around the Northern Hemisphere. A white, viscous substance used to mask the fresh flavors of a salad, or used as a dipping sauce for things as diverse as raw cauliflower to various fried substances. Also used as a yang counterpoint to buffalo wings’ yin.

    Pre-shift – the pre-service meeting where information is disseminated to the service staff. Sometimes used to “inspect the troops”.

    Family meal – the free (usually) meal prepared by the kitchen for the staff. Sometimes it’s a creative use of leftovers or excess inventory. Sometimes it’s a  failed science experiment utilizing ingredients approaching toxic waste category. And sometimes it’s just a thing of simple beauty.

    Bacon – a miracle material that makes just about everything taste better. Alternately, the money that you bring home.

    Grease – an additional tip on top of an auto-grat or mandatory service charge.

    Double-bump – a usually unintentional full gratuity added on top of an auto-grat or mandatory service charge.

    In the rough – the state of being that occurs right before getting “in the weeds”.  The point where the server is at the tipping point. It’s the point where the ship can either been righted or can sink like a stone.  First publicly coined by the blogster bitterwaitress. the term comes from golf, where a golfer has missed the fairway and landed in the tall grass that abuts the short cut grass of the fairway.

    Are you a happy waiter?

    A very nice post about the joys of waiting tables from the inspiration blog Living in the Storm:

    “I will not claim that a waiter has the happiest job in the world, but I have sure seen some happy waiters. If you consider the work they perform, it should be easy to imagine their joy. You may not see it quite yet, but it seems so obvious to me. The overall function of their job is to give people what they want. This can be said for many professions, but a few things stand out about waiters. They often come into our lives when we are having good times with friends, celebrating, or just meeting to share a meal together. They are there to help us feel good, and extinguish our hunger. They are really a lot more important to us than it may seem at first glimpse”.

    Read the rest of the article here:

    happy waiter

    Photo courtesy of

    Definitions for newbies

    No bev key– this order button is what you push at the end of the meal if a diner doesn’t have coffee or some other after-dinner drink. It can have various designations, and its function is management’s way to alerting you about ringing in coffees and the like. They track the number of items that they are concerned about and match them to the number of diners indicated on the check. If the number of coffees, hot teas, or other trackable items plus the number of no bev entries don’t match, then it’s an indication that the waiter might not be ringing in some of their self-serve items, usually because they simply forget. Not all restaurants track this sort of thing, but if they do, use it as a tool to help you remember to ring things in because, after all, the larger the check, the larger your tip is likely to be.

    On-call shift – a shift that a waiter is scheduled for on a “need” basis. It’s considered a scheduled shift and the waiter is required to call the restaurant by a certain time before the shift to see if he or she is needed. Waiters usually hate this sort of shift because you really can’t plan one way or another. The important thing is to make sure you call in and cover your ass.

    Marking tray– a tray preset with appropriate silverware for “marking” a course. “Marking” is the setting of silverware to replace silverware removed from a previous course.

    Closing a check – the final completion of the transaction after you’ve received payment from the guest. Depending on how the system is set up, you may or may not be able to modify any terms of the transaction once it’s closed by having a manager reopen it. So, it’s important to make sure that you’ve entered the tip correctly or that you have removed any voids, comps or other items from the check that are not supposed to be paid for before you close the check.

    Rotation – refers to seating by the hostess according to a station’s number. Some restaurants seat strictly in numerical order, others don’t. Even a strict rotation can be disrupted by a guest requesting a different table or a call party, so it isn’t an absolute.

    Call party – a party that requests a specific waiter. This is gold.

    Bump– an extra tip over and above a service charge or autograt. Same thing as grease. A double bump is a bump that is exactly or close to the original autograt.

    Sane advice on tipping in hard economic times from CNN

    BBC reports on British tipping law change

    There’s another link to a previous video about the change that should be watched as well.

    Former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s favorite waiter dies

    According to the AP, Cornel Urcan has died at the age of 67.

    Not only was he Ceausescu’s favorite waiter, he was also likely a spy for the Securitate, the secret police that Ceausescu employed until he was executed in 1989. Plus, he could reportedly carry 24 plates on one arm.

    I can see it now – “Waiter, what’s your name”? “Orcan. Cornel Orcan”.

    You can read the article, published by The Taiwan Times here:


    Image courtesy of