So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Monthly Archives: December 2009

World’s largest restaurant…

…according to The Guinness Book of World Records is outside of Damascus and is named, appropriately enough, Damascus Gate, or Bawabet Dimashq in Arabic.

It serves approximately 5,000 diners and has 54,000 m² (581,251 f²) of dining room and 2500 sq/m (26,909 f²) of kitchen.

Over half a million square feet? Really? To give you a rough idea of the scale of this restaurant, have you ever been to the  Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the newest part of the National Air and Space Museum in Fairfax Virginia, near Dulles? You know, the building that houses the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the Enola Gay B-29, the Concorde, a Boeing 367-80 and an SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. And those are just aircraft that are physically on the floor. They only take up about half of the floor space – you walk under quite a few planes that surround these aircraft. That hangar is only about 250,000 f².


I believe that NPR did a story on this restaurant on All Things Considered earlier this year.

It supplanted the previous record holders, both in Bangkok – Tumnak Thai and its successor, The Royal Dragon (Mang Gorn Luang ), both famous for roller skating waiters. The Royal Dragon is a mere piker at only 33,500  m².

BTW, what is the world’s smallest restaurant?

Well, that’s debatable. And, of course, someone has debated it here:

There’s one that they missed – Table for Two in Portland OR, although it’s really just a single table offshoot of a catering company in a larger house. That’s why I think that the Finnish restaurant in the above comparison is hands-down the winner. 

The smallest true restaurant that I’ve ever eaten in was Harry’s On Teur in Memphis, TN. I believe that there were only 5 or 6 tables (you might have been able to serve around 20 people at once). There was one waitress and Harry, who did all of the cooking. Harry was a guy who had been part of the rock and roll world in his early days (the “On Teur” was a play on that). He opened the tiny restaurant in 1989 and it was open for about 6 years. A couple of years after he closed it, he went to jail for stabbing a guy and later went through rehab. When he got out, he opened two new places. The day I ate at the original Harry’s, it was a lunch of mahi-mahi with some sort of caper sauce that was delicious (sorry I can’t be more specific, but this was 20 years ago after all. I think it was a $6 lunch). Harry Nicholas died in 2006 when he was struck by a car while walking on a dimly lit road in Midtown Memphis.

You can find this picture of Damascus Gate and other shots from syria here:

This picture of The Royal Dragon is found here:

Happy New Year to all my readers!

Is this the end of the decade?

Opinions are mixed. It might very well be, if you only count the aughts. It might not be if you say that the decade actually ends in 2010, if you count decades from year one. It’s the old “millenium” argument all over again.

Frankly, I’m ready to ditch this decade and get into a new one, so I’m calling it. The decade ends tonight.

So there!

Whether it’s the end of the decade for you or not, I hope that this New Year’s Eve is the start of many more great years for you and yours.

Be safe, be cool, be festive tonight. Enjoy it however you want.

But enjoy it.

Graphic courtesy of blog,  A Ku Indeed!

Cookbook of the day – The Taste of Thailand

The Taste of Thailand

by Vatcharin Bhumichitr

  • Publisher  Macmillan General Reference (September 1993)
  • ISBN 10: 0020091303
  • ISBN 13: 978-0020091301
  • This, the last cookbook review of the decade, has a literal title that can be taken multiple ways. The first is used in the sense that you would expect a cookbook to use it – taste in a literal sense. But it’s also a taste of Thai culture, with long narratives of Thai life, and finally, it’s a taste of different regional variations of Thai cooking.

    Half cookbook, half history and half cultural commentary (wait – that’s three halves!), this is a most useful book in fleshing out a cuisine, which can’t be separated from the society from which it emerges.

    It has a logical structure. Starting with the history of Thailand, it merges into basic ingredients, essential equipment, basic techniques and the home kitchen. Following that narrative, the book takes you to the country and you start with basic, easy to do recipes. the author then sends you to Bangkok and you start to get to more advanced food. Then, a section on seafood, Thailand obviously being a maritime country. Then you go up country to the North, where he explores the tribes, culture and food of one corner of the “Golden Triangle”. Following that is a segment on hors d’oeuvres, party foods, desserts and the all-important aspect of Thai cooking that you often don’t get a sense of in the US, vegetable carving. Finally, the narrative ends with a paean to eating out in Thailand and some selected “copies” of restaurant food that the author has reproduced.

    This is one satisfying sucker of a book. Laden with photographs that capture the breadth and width of the country, this is a cookbook that every chef should own, even if they’re not really big on Thai food. This might make you a believer.

    My copy of the book has the cover that’s pictured above. Mine is a paperback UK edition. There are at least 4 different covers that I have seen and the book is also available in hardback. And, beware, there’s a book called A Taste of Thailand. It’s not the same book. I haven’t seen the book and it might very well be a great book. But it’s not the book that’s reviewed here.

    The book is available at this moment from Amazon sellers in both paperback and hardback in new and used conditions. The price ranges from very cheap to very expensive as is usually the case – for out of print editions, there’s always a seller willing to sell you a book for $50 that you see listed for $4 from another seller. They also stock the current Pavillion reprint of the original book for around $14. It has a different cover and it’s questionable as to whether it has the great photographs of the original. I see no credit for the photographer, nor any photographs when I use the “Look Inside” feature that Amazon offers. If I had my druthers, I’d only buy the reprint as a last resort. 

    Here are the Amazon links:

    Original hardcover:

    Original softcover:

    Current softcover reprint (out of stock at the moment, but available):

    And, just for kicks and giggles, here are eBay’s current listings:

    You’ll have to filter out the other books – look only at listings for Vatcharin Bhumichitr.

    Happy hunting!

    End of month, end of year, end of decade

    Well, this is my last exhortation about uniforms this decade.

    Now’s the time to take a close look at your uniforms from head to toe.

    Shoes intact and non-skid? Check.

    Pants not frayed at the cuff and in the back? Check.

    Pants have oil stain that won’t come out? Put in emergency inventory. Use only when all else fails.

    Shirt collars not pilled and stained? Check.

    Hell, you know the drill. At the end of every month, you do what you don’t normally do day to day – give a close look to the uniform. Not only do you look with more of a critical eye than when you’re grabbing and going, you get a heads-up about uniform items that you are close to having to replace. It’s really bad when you’re broke and suddenly your shoes rip on the side and you’re forced to spend money that you don’t have. Better to buy new uniform items on your own schedule, not the waiting god’s vengeful wrath. 

    No, you don’t have to be THIS put-together, but it’s something worth shooting for, I suppose. Just can the haughty look.

    Muscle memory

    Muscle memory is a big deal in sports. Muscle memory allows you to play relatively unconsciously, which frees you from making mental errors or second-guessing yourself. It is only attained through repetition and practice.

    You can apply the same concept to waiting tables, except you should think about developing the biggest “muscle” of all – the brain.

    I recently wrote about focus and consistency.  That’s what the corollary of muscle memory is all about.

    The quicker you can achieve almost a Zen state when you get busy, the quicker you’ll be able to deal with the weeds and not be thrown into panic.

    If you can do many of your tasks almost automatically and with little thought, you’ll be surprised how easily you’ll get through the rush. But this is almost a contradictory thing – a Zen puzzle, if you will. Aren’t you supposed to be super focused? Aren’t you supposed to be constantly evaluating, balancing, prioritizing? How can you do this if the advice is to not think – simply to do, to be?

    The key is honing your skills during slower times so that you eliminate distractions. Get your abbreviations rock-solid consistent. Get your notational skill fixed so that you always write things in the same order and in the same way every time. Start seeing the section as a whole (start with two tables and work your way up from there). Work on speeding up ringing orders without compromising accuracy. Work on consolidating tasks so that you reduce your trips by half and then by thirds. Learn to glance at a table and see the table as it should be, not as it is. Should there be a little flash of pink on the table? Nope – that’s a Sweet ‘n Low packet that needs to be removed. Should there be a third glass in front of position 3, especially since the third glass is finally empty (they had wanted to nurse their previous cocktail while they enjoyed their new one, but now it’s empty).

    As you develop these skills, you’ll find that you’re thinking less and less about them and doing them almost unconsciously. Hopefully, you’ll get to the point where you’ll be able to scan a 4 table section while getting double-seated at 8pm on the night where there’s an hour wait for tables and you’ll be able to see the whole picture. You’ll know where your other two tables are in a glance and automatically be able to prioritize your service in a flash – almost in a no-brain mode. You’ll glide through the next two hours instead of stumble. And you’ll appear to be totally controlled instead of two steps behind.

    That’s because you’ve developed “muscle memory” in your brain. You’ll be relaxed and focused at the same time.

    And that’s the sound of one hand clapping.

    Picture courtesy of DogsLoL

    Brandy vs. Cognac

    OK, a quick quiz:

    Brandy is to Cognac as:

    A. The Ku Klux Klan is to Barack Obama

    B. Barack Obama is to Glenn Beck

    C. The Republican Party is to Tea Baggers

    The answer is: (a qualified) C.

    I qualify it because I’m sure you could find a tea bagger that isn’t a Republican (I’m talking to you Mr. Independent). You might even find a Democrat or two that is a tea bagger (in a political sense, of course).

    But, sweeping politics aside, basically, all Cognacs are brandies, while only a subset of brandy is Cognac. Armagnac is also a brandy, but it is produced in the Armagnac region instead of the Cognac region (it lies just south of Cognac).

    So…what is a brandy?

    The word comes to us from the Dutch word for “burned wine” – Brandewijn. The Dutch discovered that if they distilled wine, they reduced the volume so they didn’t have to pay as much tax when they shipped it from place to place.

    Societies had been distilling wine since pre-Christ times, but the Dutch perfected the process to save some tariffs. They intended to turn it back somewhat into wine by adding water (and volume) at the final destination, but discovered that the product was good on its own (it developed character from the wooden barrels that it was transported in, much as a great Bourbon or Scotch gets its character from barrel aging).

    “Burned” came from the distillation process.

    Brandy is called Brandwein in Germany (“burned wine) and eau de vie in France. Kir is cherry brandy (not to be confused with Kir, the cocktail). Slivovitch comes from the Slavs and Metaxas comes from Greece (it’s a brandy hybrid, if you want to be precise). Some people even call Calvados ‘brandy” even though it’s an apple-based distilled spirit, instead of grape spirits. In fact, many brandies are adulterated after the fact by the maceration of various fruits, although Calvados replaces grapes with apples, while other brandies take the maceration route.

    Basically, you can consider brandy a distilled grape product. This means that grappa is technically a brandy as well.

    Think of Cognac and Armangac as brandies with pedigrees. Armangac is usually more “rustic” and rough-hewn than Cognac. This is due to a slightly different process and a different geographic influence.

    This is only an overview. later, we’ll get into such things as XO, VSOP, etc. In the meantime, Google is your friend…

    The famous Louis XIII from Rémy Martin. Nicknamed “Louis Trey”, it’s a blend of 1200 different Cognacs, aged from 40 to 100 years and offered up in a Baccarat crystal bottle worth $100. It’s traditional in restaurants that serve this precious liquid that the person who orders the last glass from the bottle gets the bottle as a gift. A single serving of this usually runs around $150, and the smart restaurant performs a bit of ceremony when they serve it.

    Oldest continuously operated restaurant in the US

    The honor of the oldest restaurant in the US that has always been open belongs to Boston’s Union Oyster House, only a few steps away from Fanueil Hall.  Opened in 1826, it is not the oldest restaurant in the US, but it’s the oldest that has never closed or moved from its original location.

    I stumbled into the place in the late 80s almost by accident the one time that I found myself in Boston. Being by myself, I ate at the bar, where I met a lady that I hung out with that evening and kept a correspondence with and met again once during a trip to London when we found ourselves there at the same time (with me living in Germany and her living in New Hampshire, there was never any possibility of a serious relationship), but I’ll always have a fond feeling when I think of the Union Oyster House. I didn’t know of its history when I went in, but it was clear that it was a restaurant of great heritage.

    If you find yourself in Boston, you should check it out.

    Antoine’s in New Orleans is the oldest family run restaurant in America, having been opened in 1840. It’s now in its fifth generation. It even survived Katrina and thrives to this very day. It embodies the spirit of New Orleans and shouldn’t be missed.

    New link added – Lone Waitress

    Here’s another blog that I’ve been meaning to add to the blogroll for a while.

    If you are a waiter, you’ll like it. I guarantee it.

    Recently there was a post about “Stupid things customers say”. This was one of my favorites, although it’s not so much “stupid” but just funny:

    2) “Do you have a bathroom?” Umm, yes. We have a bathroom.

    My favorite variation of this is, “Do you know where the bathroom is”? Hmmmm, I’ve been here for 4 years and I’m still waiting on them to show me.

    Anywho, check out Lone Waitress. Satisfaction or your money back.

    PS, just another reminder for new readers – I refer to both male and female food servers as waiters. It’s fine if others don’t.

    Stick to the gameplan

    I find that when I make mistakes waiting tables (and I certainly still do, even with all of my experience),  it’s because I get out of my routine.

    It might be writing something on my captain’s pad out of its usual place.

    It might be trying to cut a corner in service.

    It might be not listening to my “inner waiter”.

    In any case, it’s important for new servers especially to establish a routine. Keep the abbreviations consistent. Put all of your order writing in a reliable order. Don”t cut corners unless it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. And stay absolutely focused even in the face of tall weeds or adversity.

    Above all, don’t be a hero. It’s a team game.

    Oldie But Goodie

    In the spirit of the holiday season, here’s a post from my second month.

    I think it captures the spirit of the season.

    Enjoy (again, if you’re read it previously):