So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Daily Archives: September 2, 2009

Trying out a new theme

I really liked the old theme until I tried to view it on my mobile phone. I found it too dark to read as the colors rendered a lot darker than it does on a desktop.

I’ve also always been annoyed by the double-spacing, which makes for very long entries. I realize that if I had even the remotest ability with CSS, I could fix both problems, but since I don’t, I thought I’d try out a new, cleaner theme.

What do you folks think?  Do you prefer the old theme or the new one? I kind of like the cleaner design, but I also liked the classic parchment look of the other. I’m not much for random changes. I like when websites have a strong look and feel and I’ve become quite fond of the old theme. So I do this a bit haltingly.

If I keep the new one, I’ll have to go back and reformat many of the posts, which will be a pain in the ass. But I do it all for you, so I’m happy to do it. My peeps come first.

Top Chef – Episode 3


Questions, answers and comments…and the call of the Wild Blue Yonder.

Of all of the season’s opening montages, this crew comes off as the most comatose. No crazy dancing, no weird hand gestures, no Martin Sheenesque Jed Bartlet coat flipping – only barely perceptible things like slightly creepy beard stroking, knife gazing  (combined with navel gazing, this could be catastrophic and quite seppuku), and game faces (never thought I’d wish for Spike or Andrew).  I guess the elves want to signify that this is ONE SERIOUS GROUP OF CHEFS. Shame that the cameras and the stress turn even serious Cheftestants into quivering masses of idiocy sometimes.

Jesse – “I love potatoes”. Oh reaaaaalyyyy?

Speaking of Jesse, those mouse  ben wa balls she has in her lips are really driving me nuts. Sometimes they’re lined up right and sometimes it looks like they were stapled by someone in a turbulent aircraft.

Oh dear – the teaming up was painful. Shades of playground kids choosing teams with the last kids picked looking like someone had stolen their puppy.

Why is the French mime talking? Can’t we at least get a walking against the wind thing?

I’ve never understood the “12 minutes and 32 seconds” type call-out thing during quickfires. I almost expect them to go “31, 30, 29, 28…”

The Aryan ice queen wins the QF.  The “I win” self-satisfied comment makes me think of Poland and Czechoslovakia for some reason. Just a bit of warning – watch out for the second front.

And speaking of Jennifer, did anyone else think that she should have been running that kitchen in a black latex catsuit, nine-inch stiletto heels and a Bettie Page wig with a black mask and a cat-o-nine tails?

Tri-color farfalle pasta -gee. why not just do red, white and green chipped nachos?

Hey, an A-10 “Warthog” tank killer! Shame we couldn’t have braised warthog. I guess pork shoulder will suffice.

“Eli’s comin’ hide your heart girl” – where’s the late Laura Nyro when you need her? I guess we’ll have to settle for Three Dog Night. 

Hey, I never got to peel Peruvian purple potatoes when I had KP duty at Ft. Benning in basic training.

Once again, shrimp almost proves someone’s downfall.  I’m still waiting for the rice catastrophe.

Frenchy said “Franco-American”…heh-heh-heh

Bryan would make a great ventriloquist, since he’s always talking as if he’s had his jaws wired shut.

Thought balloon above Ash when Col. Fantastic strides in – “I just LOVE a man in a uniform”.

Preethi – you didn’t just say that you became a chef because of 9-11… oh…you did.

Ash- “I want these people to have a little taste of America before they go”. I’ll bet you do.

Two words – “jet garage”.

Preethi – please take your androgyny  and go.


Waiter’s guide to gluten-free

Waiters are used to the “I’m allergic to garlic” thing. Waiters are used to “I’m on the Atkins Diet”. Waiters are used to “I’m pregnant so I need to avoid undercooked meat” (which is weird when coming from a guy…)

Increasingly, waiters are being confronted by “What do you have that’s gluten-free?” and “I’m gluten intolerant. Please make sure that I don’t order anything that contains wheat”.

What is this gluten thing and why does it need to be eliminated from some peoples’ diets? Here’s a short primer.

Gluten is a couple of proteins commonly found in “grassy” grains like wheat and barley. In some people, their immune systems have a problem processing this long-chained protein combo. When someone suffers from this affliction, it’s called celiac disease or tropical sprue or just plain sprue.It’s also described under the term “gluten intolerance”.

For most people, gluten is a very useful thing. It forms the structure of bread – it needs to be “developed” through kneading –  repeatedly stretched until it develops the crumb of the bread. It’s a very elastic material and this tendency needs to be exploited by kneading. Otherwise, it’s similar to a tightly wound spring – great for storing energy but not a very good structure for forming the framework needed to support the crumb of bread.

However, in people who have celiac disease, the body has trouble with this very lengthy molecule due to a problem interacting with it. Basically, the enzyme responsible for processing this food material freaks out and because of this inappropriate reaction to the protein, screws up the intestinal villi (those little hairs in the intestines that aids in absorption of nutrients). This in turn leads to inflammation and can cause malnourishment, bloating, abdominal distention, weight loss, and other nasty gastrointestinal difficulties. It can even, in extreme cases, affect other organs of the body, cause depression and mimic other diseases and syndromes.

It is not an allergy. There is such thing as wheat allergy, but that’s a different animal. It’s an auto-immune disease. Yes, so are allergies to a lesser degree, but this is a full-blown auto-immune disease. In layman’s terms, an allergy is the body’s reaction to a pathogen or irritant, whereas, an auto-immune disease implies the body actually attacking itself instead of the irritant (very dumbed down, I know).

Fortunately, most restaurants can accommodate diners afflicted with this ailment. Unfortunately, gluten can sneak in if you aren’t familiar with the potential sources of gluten.

Obviously, people with celiac disease must avoid most bread products (soy and rice flour breads are fine, but how many restaurants offer this option?). It’s also not difficult to realize that pastas are out as well, since they contain wheat ( although Asian noodles such as rice noodles are fine as well as true buckwheat noodles like soba, although, even then you can’t be sure that wheat flour isn’t part of the mix, so it’s generally advisable to give it a pass in a restaurant – it might very well be safe for cooking at home if you’re able to verify that it’s pure buckwheat, which doesn’t cause problems like “true” wheat does.)

What isn’t obvious is that most soy sauces are forbidden because they are often fermented with wheat – La Choy soy sauce is apparently safe, but it’s not a very good tasting soy sauce. Most people will substitute tamari, which is a similar product without the presence of wheat. Kikkoman also claims that their soy sauce is gluten-free, but the jury is out on this.

Many things that you wouldn’t expect might contain gluten.  Here’s a list of things that celiac-suffering people should avoid:

The list is rather staggering, isn’t it? If you work in a restaurant that uses a lot of “pre-manufactured” bases and sauces like bullion veal stock concentrates and the like, your ability to serve your guest is  more limited (many of those use ingredients like caramel color, emulsifiers and seasonings that are on the banned list). If you work at P. F. Chang’s, Bonefish Grill or Chili’s, you’re in luck because they have a dedicated gluten-free menu (see bottom of post for a link to restaurants that have a gluten-free menu available to their guests). Be aware that all gluten free menus aren’t on the same level – Chili’s won’t really guarantee absolute gluten free. If you work in a kitchen where the cuisine is focused primarily on combining natural ingredients, you’ve got better luck than the first example. The chef will be able to tell you what sneaky ingredients go into his or her dishes and chefs are increasingly becoming celiac aware. You should also be careful with your modifiers if there isn’t a gluten free screen to order from. If you have to ring in “no croutons” or “no bun”, for instance, you really should take extra care that this is what the guest actually gets, even if it means talking to a food runner. It’s much easier if there’s a GF designation on the actual order because this means that the kitchen should make the item according to gluten free standards, not have to rely on a printed modifier.

No, you don’t have to memorize the whole list. There’s only so much you can do. Sometimes, the guests themselves can give you important information and can help you help them avoid bad ingredients.

Things that are usually OK are burgers without buns or special seasoning, steaks, from scratch marinara sauces, grilled, pan-seared or broiled chicken, fish and other unaltered meats, olive oil and balsamic vinegar cruets for salads or any dressing known by the chef not to contain anything from the banned list – many made-from-scratch dressings made in good kitchens qualify but if your kitchen uses prepackaged dressings or seasoning packets in the preparation of those dressings, then you need to be wary.

Also be wary of dishes that might use soy sauces as seasonings (many Asian-type dressings and sauces use it). Orzo is out because, even though it looks like rice, it’s actually a wheat-based pasta (as a well-informed waiter, you should already know this!)

1% or less of Americans suffer from this disease. So you won’t see many guests who need your guidance. However, you can really impress the table that needs gluten-free food by knowing what it is and being able to guide them through your menu.

Here’s a current list of restaurants as of this date that offer a gluten-free menu to their guests: is a great source of information and every waiter to should at least pay it a visit.

gluten free menu

First of the month

As you know, I always have a reminder at the end of each month – check your uniforms!

Well now, I’m going to suggest that you take the first couple of days of the month to decide a focus for improvement for the rest of the month. Take one topic and concentrate on that each day for the rest of the month.

It can be something as broad as increasing your PPA (per-person-average) or something as narrow as learning the different types of vodkas that your bar serves, taking care to learn which vodkas belong in which categories and fine-tuning your descriptions and comparisons between the two.

You generally want to choose topics as specific as possible, but broad strokes can be useful too. The main thing is that you choose topics that you are deficient in or unsure about.

Now’s the time to set personal goals for the month as well. If it happens to be the start of a new quarter, you might set your goals for that quarter as well. The goal can be the usual like “I want to make X dollars” or it can be improving a facet of your game such as “I want to sell more premium brands of liquor”.

When you take the time to focus on the smaller details, the larger picture often comes into focus as well.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to do this – just take a few moments each day to focus on the goal of the month and you’ll see an improvement in your job performance.

Cookbook of the day – All Around The World Cookbook

All Around the World Cookbook








Sheila Lukins all around the world cookbook

by Shelia Lukins 

  • Publisher Workman Publishing Company; illustrated edition edition (January 5, 1994)
  • ISBN 10: 1563052377
  • ISBN 13: 978-1563052378
  • It’s weird. I’ve had this book laying out for while because I had planned to eventually review it. I’ve seen it subliminally as part of the furniture for about a month now.

    It’s been a little while since I posted a review and so yesterday, when I had an unusually early day off in the week, I decided to catch up a little. I actually looked at the book and considered doing it, but decided to do another book. It was the first time that I had actually looked at the book and actively considered picking it up and reviewing it since I pulled it out over a month ago.

    It wasn’t a couple of hours later that I got the word that Lukins had died.


    So, to the book itself.

    It’s a nice roundup of food from around the world, gathered during a year year world journey by Ms. Lukins. There’s nothing earthshaking in terms of uncovering secret local cuisines – I mean, harissa isn’t exactly a secret, right? But it’s a handy volume to grab if you’re stuck for a menu item or a theme for a dinner.

    It’s a large and breezy volume that avoids a lot of pedantry (like the kind you find on this very blog!). It’s the result of a publisher sending a food writer around the world to build a specific book, and, as such, it’s a pretty personal view of what a middle-aged upper-middle class lady might experience from a cuisine standpoint. She ain’t no Zimmer or Bourdain, but that doesn’t make this nice bit of compendium any less useful, with some caveats of course.

    There’s concise information on beers, wines and alcohols of the world in the book and background information on the different cultures. And there are some unusual recipes, such as a Chilean Quinoa Tabouleh, a grain salad usually more associated with the Mediterranean and the Middle East, not south America. And the substitution of quinoa (please pronounce this KEEN-wah) for bulgar wheat is a nutritional upgrade. The salad even adds avocado and sweet corn. This is Lukin’s own fusion of two disparate continents;  it’s not an indigenous dish. You’ll find quite a few recipes like this, so, when you read this book, realize that it’s not just a collection of local recipes. there a lot of recipes “inspired” by locales. and there’s very little “authentic” about most of the recipes. They are tailored to American tastes. kitchens and  markets.

    This is a handy, if not particularly indispensable, book to have available when you need a little inspiration. Just don’t mistake it for a “reference work”. 

    PS, yes the title is exactly as reproduced at the top of the page.  No possessive apostrophe and all lower case letters (at least according to The Library of Congress listing).