So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Tangental thinking

The other night, a very simple little action got me thinking about some things that I didn’t expect to think about.

Before I describe it, let me say that I’ve participated in more than a few a few discussions about tipping on the Internet, some of them quite rancorous (discussions which ironically don’t seem to happen in real life). Inevitably you get some troll saying things like “The job is easy. All you have to do is take orders. How hard can that be”? Or you hear, “It’s a job that you don’t need training for, so why should you get paid X amount of money for something that’s basically a minimum wage type job”? Anyone who has read the back and forth about tipping has seen these sort of things.

The other night, I saw a new hostess bringing someone to a table. The other hostess had just sat the same table when the patrons that she was seating saw one of our other waiters and asked to be sat in their section. Of course, she let them get up and was leading them to the new table when the other hostess was bringing a new table into the dining room. Obviously, the hostess was taking them to another table when she saw the other table get up. I saw her sort of stop and then walk the couple to the table that was just vacated.

Now this seems to be a logical response. Why not make sure that the table was sat, since it was supposed to be the next in rotation? However, for someone who had experience in the hospitality industry, another response would probably have been more appropriate and a different action would have been taken (at least in my mind). Why would you take someone to a table that someone else turned down. Your guests don’t know why they switched tables, only that someone else thought that the table was undesirable. The more savvy response would have been to take them to another appropriate table and then notify the manager on duty who had assigned the table. It’s almost like the couple got “sloppy seconds”.

This wouldn’t occur to the average “civilian”. It’s one of those nuanced moments that you only learn with experience and I’m not criticizing the hostess for doing what seemed natural.

But it got me thinking about all of these so-called “experts” who seem to know more about our job than we do. Sure, you can take someone off of the street and teach them to “wait tables” in a couple of weeks. But, with the exception of a few people who have either been raised in homes where hospitality is paramount or who are just innately imbued with a natural service and hospitality mentality, it takes a long time to learn the ins and outs of proper service.

And it’s these very trolls who would be lousy at waiting tables and who would never be able to last long enough to provide top-notch service because they have shown that they can’t put themselves in the shoes of others, and that’s a key trait in the ability to provide patrons with an ultimate dining experience.

So, the next time you confront such attitudes on-line (which is about the only place that people are brave enough to express such opinions), you can be comforted in the fact that they have just proven that they’re basically talking out of their ass.

Yeah, I know – this is a rather abstract thought process and one that has flowed from a rather mundane observation. But the ignorant flow of statements that are thrown out there is something that’s been bugging me for a while and it’s almost impossible to counter statements like those because, they refuse to admit that the art of waiting tables isn’t to be discounted simply because you don’t need a degree to do the job. They don’t understand the day-to-day dealing with human nature that a successful waiter must face. They don’t understand that it’s not just about taking orders. It’s about filling a need, reading people, reacting to physical and verbal cues that vary from table to table and this is only learned by extensive trial-and-error on a daily basis.

That is all.

Back to your lives now.

One response to “Tangental thinking

  1. vandervecken January 26, 2010 at 1:12 am

    i don’t know if you use the phrase, but i call it “restaurant sense”. it’s kind of like spidey sense [impending blog post including this concept alert]. but you’re right, it can’t be taught.

    And it can’t be known by someone who is not accustomed to having to simultaneously and instantly process information about the immediate environment, existing knowledge of what amounts to centuries of tradition and etiquette, and — beyond just the needs of others — awareness of the interactions of the needs of others.

    In other words, people who have lost the art of being “civilized.” In the extreme, these are the same sorts of people I talked about in my post “Shaken.”

    There’s no point at all in trying to talk to those people. Like the old man said, “you can’t get out of ’em what they ain’t got in ’em.”

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