So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Monthly Archives: April 2010

Great service is like porn…

…you can’t precisely define it but you know it when you see it.

Also, it’s in the eye of the beholder. What might pass for great service in one dining situation might not pass for it in another. And, two people confronted with the exact same service might not agree with the characterization of the quality of the service.

There are other ways that great service is like porn, but we won’t get into those because this is a relatively family friendly blog.

“Hi, I’m your server. What’s your pleasure”?

“Hi, I’m Todd. I’ll be your server tonight. Can I give you a buttery nipple”?

Wine of the day – Shiraz

Shiraz – named after a city in Iran of all places. It’s also known as Syrah, which is the name of the grape. The name Shiraz is courtesy of our Australian friends and it used to be that they were about the only ones who used the term. But American vintners have seemed to have started riding the Australian coattails because they have been really successful in calling it Shiraz and we Americans certainly will ride any successful marketing coattails. So now you’re seeing such wineries as Beringer, Francis Coppola and Geyser Peak marketing their Syrahs as Shirazes. I predict that the trend will continue to accelerate. In fact, I think that Syrah will eventually be the rarity. The French refuse to budge though because they are known as the premiere bottler of Syrah in their Rhône region (named after the great river which runs through it). No new world marketing trend will change that fact.

The Aussies also pronounce Shiraz a little differently than the rest of the world. They pronounce it Shir- AZZ, whereas we pronounce it Shir-OZ. The latter is the more “correct” pronunciation, if you are trying to pronounce the name of the city. The latter is what you will hear mostly in the US unlike you’re like me, who likes to pronounce an Australian Shiraz the way the vintners pronounce it. I use the American pronunciation for Shiraz produced anywhere else. But that’s just me.

So, what is Syrah/Shiraz?

The grape comes from hardy rootstock which is late budding but doesn’t ripen too late.  According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, it is “conveniently late-budding and not too late ripening”. According to the same reference, “Its deep, dark, dense qualities are much reduced once the yield is allowed to rise and it has a tendency to lose aroma and acidity rapidly if left too long on the vine”. This explains the wide price variation between, say, Penfold’s Grange (at hundreds of dollars a bottle) and their Thomas Hyland Vineyard wine (which only costs tens of dollars). Another good example is Hermitage (please pronounce it air-ma-TAHZE, as the French do). This is one of the most expensive bottlings of the great Rhône region. It’s only a 311 acres region in the Northern Rhône and there are a handful of producers who produce it. However, Syrah is the predominate grape in all Rhône regions, from Côtes-du Rhône to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You will also obviously find it in the famous “Rhône Rangers” of the West Coast, like Tablas Creek of the Central Coast.

So how would you describe Syrah/Shiraz? Well, to me, it’s similar to Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of body. Full-bodied and dark, it’s more fruit forward” and juicy. It’s usually firm and well-structured and not quite as tannic as Cab Sauv. It’s got lots of dark fruit, especially fruits like blackberry, plum and black cherry, and they tend to be fairly spicy. They can be peppery or chocolatey or both; they can have clove, licorice and vanilla. Leathery notes aren’t uncommon.

Cool climate Syrahs tend to be more “elegant” with a richer flavor profile (read Northern Rhone,  coastal and higher altitude California and the extremely rare Australian boutiquey vintner), while warmer climate-grown Syrahs are generally “bigger”, “jammier” with some “lighter” fruit flavors like blueberries and raspberries. This is the predominate style of Australian producers due to the fact that their growing regions tend to be hotter. 

West Coast producers have generally followed the australian model, since they are the most familiar to the US consumer, but there is an increasing trend to go after the Northern Rhône style. Since California has both types of climates available to it, the vintners there can produce according to their geographic and topographic constraints. Syrah works in both warm and cool environments, and each offers advantages that should be factored into the production. Cool climate Syrahs have been more of a challenge because US consumers have been conditioned by the success of the Aussies as well as the fact that more people can afford to drink wines from the southern Rhône and are more familiar with the style.

Australians probably grow the highest percentage of Shiraz to the rest of their output. It’s ubiquitous. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because there is plenty to choose from. It’s bad because yields are often too high and the varietal loses some of its character and it can be flabby, “underspiced”, overcooked in hot years, etc. Look first to established producers like Penfolds, Wolf Blass and D’Arenberg. This isn’t to say that others aren’t good, but these producers tend to be pretty consistent within their various niches. However, if you want to hit a home run virtually every time, look to Mollydooker (usually one word but even the winemakers make it two words on occasion). The name is Aussie slang for a left hander (and can be used to describe a “left hook”) and that’s what the wine will give you. Big, juicy, spicy and never “flabby” or tired, the various bottlings have never failed to satisfy. They are certainly “in-your-face” but never in a bad way. The winemakers, Sarah and Sparky Phillips, they first became well-known outside of their home country with the famed brand,  Marquis Phillips. The Phillipses are clever marketers, creating memorable names for each of their specific blends, and they tie a cartoon version of the name on the label. Some of their most famous offerings are “The Blue-eyed Boy”, “The Boxer” (there’s that left hook thing working for them), “Two left Feet”, “The Maitre D’ “, and “Carnival of Love”. If you’d like more info on this up-and-comer, here’s their website where you can click on each of their offerings and the labels and bottles.

http://www.mollydookerwines.com.au/web/trade_info.cfm

They have various blends of Shirazes and Cabernets, so you might need to google the specific wine that interests you, since it’s hard to find specifics on some of the wines at the Mollydooker site itself.

So, what should we pair Shiraz/Syrah with?

Think Cabernet Sauvignon. You want to pair the average Shiraz or Syrah with fatty meats, stews, lamb, game, etc. Obviously, if you know your various styles, you can fine tune it even further. For instance, you might not want to pair a big jammy Australian Shiraz with a rare tuna steak, while you might handily recommend an Hermitage or Cornas (a region close to hermitage in the northern Rhône) because the jamminess won’t overwhelm the flavor of the tuna. I’m not saying that you can’t pair a warm climate Syrah with tuna. For instance,  Côtes-du Rhône is blended with at least 40% Grenache, which tends to soften and reduce the body of the wine.  Therefore, it can pair nicely with something like tuna or salmon.

But, in general, you should recommend Syrah/Shiraz as you would for any other full-bodied red. Believe it or not, it’s great “picnic wine”, especially if you’re eating BBQ, ribeyes or juicy burgers. Fat and Syrahs work well in concert with each other.

So go forth and sell Syrah/Shiraz with confidence. I’ve only scratched the surface, but I hope that I’ve given you the right thumbnail sketch to help you when someone is looking for a good red wine to go with their prime rib.

Quicksand

Every waiter who’s been in the biz for any length of time knows what I’m talking about.

It starts like this:

You get double-sat. No big whoop except that one of the tables needs a song-and-dance and some hand-holding. Still, it’s not that big of a problem. But the second table needs hot tea along with the shots of Cuervo, iced tea and 3 sodas. So, you collect the drinks, but when you get to the hot tea pitchers, they haven’t been stocked (or you can’t find underliners for them, or there aren’t any small tea spoons…take your pick…) You finally get it all together and you’re back on track when you get your third table. You’re not technically triple-seated but it’s close enough where you feel like it.

So, after you greet the new table and get a drink order, you’re back to the first two tables, getting the orders and getting them settled in for the ride. Now the new table would like for you to bring crackers in addition to the bread ’cause they have a little one that would like to have something to teeth on. So, off you go to get the crackers, but you find that there aren’t any where you normally keep them. So you go to the Chef to find out if there are any crackers in the house. There are, but they’re in dry storage. So you have to go to dry storage, pull out an unopened box, get out your wine tool and open it up.

Now you’ve got everything settled and you get your 4th table, which now has to get settled in. No problem, except that they want a Midori Sour and when you come back to get it, the bartender informs you that they’ve been out of Midori for a week. So now you have to go back, get a new drink order while informing the guest that you don’t have what they wanted. No problem. You re-ring the new drink and get them to the table. Only now, you have to make sure that the manager takes the drink order off of the bill. So you go chase down the manager, which takes a precious minute or so.

Meanwhile, the third table orders a bottle of wine. You ring it in, you grab it and take it to the table, the year isn’t the same as the one on the menu. So now, you have to take it back, have the bartender go through the stock to see if there are any left from the correct vintage. There aren’t any, so the guest wants to order a different bottle. No problem, except now you have to chase down the manager again to take off the original bottle.

And so it goes, the whole night…

Every time you have to grab for something, it’s not there and you have to chase it down. Or it’s the wrong thing. Or the guest thinks the food sucks/has taken too long/the soup’s cold, etc. The kitchen is getting slammed so your timing is off by about 10 minutes on everything. Every minute wasted compounds the amount of time that you’re behind by two minutes. Just as you think that you’re getting caught up, something else out of the ordinary pops up, and it keeps you about a step and a half behind. You’re in the weeds, but it’s a smothering sort of weeds, not an over-your-head panicked weeds. It’s not panic that you’re feeling; it’s rage and frustration every time you reach for a demitasse spoon and it ain’t there.

It’s like you’re stuck inexorably in quicksand. The natives’ spears are landing all around you, there’s an arrow through your pith helmet and your chimpanzee companion is not as bright as Cheetah, because he keeps trying to hand you a banana instead of a long stick.

I guess that you’re waiting for me to teach you how to deal with it.  Well, since I was stuck in just that situation last night for about 3 hours, I’m sorry but it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I’ve got all of the answers. I might propose some things later that you can do to help keep your pith helmet above the sand, but frankly, there was nothing I could do last night to wiggle out.

Just be aware that you can be in the business for almost 2 decades and you can get caught in such a mess that the only way out is for the shift to finally end.

I’m just sayin’…

I’m still here…sorta

Thus ends a very brutal three days (actually, the whole week since last Saturday has been fairly tough).

Wednesday was one of the longest doubles ever. Not only did I get home fairly late Tuesday night (around 1am), Wednesday started at 10am and ended at 1:30am Thursday with only about an 70 minutes break time in between.  While that sounds like a lot, I had to go to the bank and make a crucial deposit and my bank isn’t one of those with a branch on every corner. They have a huge building only blocks away from the restaurant, but it’s either walk the 5 or so blocks, or drive over there, have to go from my garage to theirs, get a stamp, etc. and then bring the car back and repark in my garage. Nahhhh, drove to the branch I normally go to near my house…tantalizingly near my house.

I only live about 15 minutes from my house, so, if I have more than about an hour and a half between lunch and dinner,  I’ll go home, kick off the shoes and relax. Usually I have around three hours turnaround time. However, this time there wasn’t enough time to have more than about 20 minutes to relax. So, back to work I went, and now I had to kill about 30  minutes at work before going back on to a closing shift were we had about 325 covers (this would be a busy Saturday night, but remember, it was only Wednesday).

Soooo, I didn’t get out of there until 1:30am but couldn’t really get to sleep until around 3:30. It was one of those times when your body feels beat up but you just can’t sleep.

Normally, it’s no biggie. I’m off Thursday and Friday so I get to recuperate.

However…

My ABC (Alcoholic and Beverage Commisssion) card (some call it a TIPS card, TIPS standing for Training Intervention ProcedureS) expired sometime in the middle of April (since I lost my personal copy, I asked the powers-that-be last February when it expired since I knew it was coming up shortly). I meant to take the class a week ago Thursday but just plain forgot. So I went to the FIVE HOUR course Thursday night at 6pm, thereby chewing up most of my precious day off. Not only that, I was so beat up from the previous few days, that I slept until 9 am (unheard of for me), got up  and then decided around 1 that I’d better take a short nap to make sure I’d make it through the course. I was already feeling like a radiator at a demolition derby and my joints felt like they had been ground into so much sand, except for my right knee which looked and felt like a golf ball had found its way into the back of my leg so I ended up waking up around 4:30 feeling sleep drunk and punch drunk. Of course, the class was being held way across town in a place where you absolutely have to fight rush hour traffic (which I usually don’t have to do) so I had to leave an hour early just to be sure that I was there on time. The class lasted until 11pm – I finished the test in about 10 minutes, so I was back home around 11:30 (no rush hour traffic at that hour) and, once again I couldn’t get to sleep until around 3am, partially because I had  to take surreptitious drinks from a pint of brandy during class to dull the pain of taking a 5 hour course on alcohol awareness – ironic innit? It would have been super ironic if I had blown a .08 on my way home from getting my alcohol safe serving certification, but I think that the 5 hours took care of my liver’s elimination of one drink an hour (as we learn in the course, time is the only thing that can reduce your blood alcohol level).

So, after taking my fifth such course and receiving my fifth ABC card (and spending the requisite $55 to boot), I was ready for Friday.

I’m off Friday because I have volunteer work that I do every Friday afternoon, work that requires most of the afternoon for prep. Only this Friday, turns out that I had put off doing laundry during this rather brutal week and I had to do 2 loads of laundry on top of everything else that I needed to do.

And now it’s Saturday and it’s my Monday.

Where did my weekend go?

And why do I still feel like a dog at a butt-sniffing convention?

Anywho, it will take me a little time and energy to get back in the game. Thanks for bearing with me as I prep for tonight’s 250 covers. My thoughts are with those hardy souls running today’s Music City Marathon. Hopefully, we have no tornadoes for them to worry about.

Yes, there’s that possibility.

My ABC instructor. A real hoot.

New link added – Tips On Improving Your Tips

Be an early adopter to this new WordPress blog.

But only if you want to improve your tips.

http://tipsfortips.wordpress.com/

It’s pretty cool so far. You’ll find it a nice companion to this very blog, especially since it’s a lot more tightly edited than mine.

Some interesting concepts so far, some that I’ve covered in the past, others that are fresh. Anyone want to take odds on how many I steal for my own blog? <g>

It can’t help but help you explore new ways to approach your table.

Let’s welcome our newest member of Ye Olde Blogroll with a hearty IPA and a big pretzel!

Big bucks.

Get it? Big bucks.

I crack myself up sometimes…

Why waiting tables isn’t like your job…

One of the things that anti-tip trolls always trot out is, “I don’t get tips for the job that I do – why should you”?

Well, let’s compare your job.

Are you paid minimum wage or less for your job?

Are you required to read the mind and mood of your customer? Do you even have a customer or are you simply beholden to a boss in an office? If so, is your day to day income dependent on the the mood of your boss? Obviously the job itself could be be dependent on that, but very few jobs are in jeopardy if you piss off the boss on any particular day.

Are you sometimes told that you aren’t needed that particular day and you should just stay home and not make any money? Or are you told halfway through your shift that you aren’t going to be needed anymore that day and you should just go home and not get paid?

Does your product have the cost of your employment folded into the price of the product? Or is the customer expected to make up the difference between the selling price and the raw cost of manufacturing, shipping and warehousing and are they expected to pay you directly for your service to the company?

Could you go to jail for selling your product to the wrong customer?

Could you accidentally kill someone by simply selling them your product?

Do you serve your customer the entire time that they use your product? In other words, if you sell someone a TV, are you available a year later when something goes wrong with the product? Are you held personally responsible when your product doesn’t satisfy the customer?

Are you required to serve 20 customers simultaneously? Or do you get to serve them one at a time?

Do you get a paid vacation? Is it paid at your full salary or is it paid at minimum wage for only a portion of a normal 40 hour week?

Does your job require standing, walking, and carrying during the entire shift? Or are you allowed to sit down and take breaks?

Do you get enough tax withheld from your check so that you don’t have to pay the IRS large amounts of money out of your own pocket either quarterly or at tax time?

The answer to these questions, and even more, will tell you why you don’t get tipped at your office, retail, engineering or other “conventional” job.

Another thing that people trot out (but it’s a funny thing – you never hear these questions in real life, only on the internet) is”You are already paid to do your job. Why should I pay you for doing your job”?

Well, no, we aren’t “already paid for doing our job”. Actually we are paid just about enough to cover some of our tax burden, but only a portion of it – for instance, I only get about 1/5th of my Federal income taxes covered by my “paycheck” (which, in my state is ZERO). The hardest thing for “civilians” to understand is that the cost of their meal doesn’t cover very much of the actual payroll. It’s this fact that keeps menu prices where they are. If restaurants had to pay a full wage, the price of your food would skyrocket.

Additionally, we aren’t given a certain number of hours a week like the majority of workers are. We aren’t “40 hours a week workers”. We work according to the level of business.

Don’t get me wrong – waiting tables is satisfying and rewarding and one can earn a better than average wage. But it’s an often challenging job. It’s not a job that “a monkey could do”. Many people aren’t suited for it for a variety of reasons. 

There’s a reason why waiters generally make more money than other service jobs. We earn it. Every day. 

For those who say that it’s insane for a waiter to make $15 – 25 an hour while other “service jobs” might only make up to $15 an hour, don’t forget – the market has spoken. This is what the very consumers of our services have determined that we are worth. the fact that there are a tiny fraction of lamebrains who let others subsidize their dining shouldn’t deny the effectiveness of an employment tradition that has lasted for many many decades.

And finally, there’s something interesting about people who write things like, ” Why? Who cares? EVERYONE’S job is hard! EVERYONE has to deal with crappy customers… no special treatment!”

or “Tipping is just another example of the uneducated working classs trying to rip off the public because they’re too dumb to have a job that contributes in a meaningful way to society. Having to serve a
meal to someone for a living is obviously a low class way to get by, so servers desparitly try to appeal to our sense of empathy to solicit as much money from us as possible. It’s like they are
trying to take revenge upon us for they’re own shortcomings.If you ask me, I say if it’s going to be like that then two can play at that game. I recommend that all of you out the who are tired of
being victimized by greedy servers do the following:

Go out to the nicest restaurant in town and run up a huge bill.

When you are finished, leave without paying. Most “fine dining”
establishments don’t watch for this kind of thing, so it should be relatively easy to slip out unnoticed.

Servers are required to pay for “walk-outs” at most places” 

or

“uh, what? the waiters are already being paid!
more like, you don’t tip your
doctor or your mechanic do you”?

…yes, these are verbatim anti-tipping trolls…there’s also the classic generic, “If you don’t like making 2.13 an hour, get another job”.

What’s the interesting thing, you ask? Well, eventually, you’ll get something like:

i took my Girl out for a nice supper, steaks, wine…the whole shabang! i noticed the waiter was slightly irritated and not keeping tabs on our table (not really doing his job) he only had about 6
tables to keep tabs on!

i gave him the benefit of my doubt and left him 10% on a $200.00 bill…

So, here was a guy who was expecting a special dinner with his “Girl”. He dropped a couple of bills on it. Seems like dining out is more important that even the trolls think it is. Who do they expect to serve them dinner if we all take a powder and “get another job”. Do they really want their special dinner or their “lunch in 30 minutes so that I can get back to work without being late” served by someone making $7 an hour? How easy do they think it is to wait on “only 6 other tables” while trying to provide a $200 dinner to a deuce? What do they really think “keeping tabs on a table” means, especially in a place where you can spend $200 on  “steaks, wine…the whole shabang”? I’m not dissing the last commentator for leaving 10% on the bill because, perhaps the waiter deserved it. But he “gave him the benefit of the doubt”? Nah. If he had “given him the benefit of the doubt”, he would have tipped 15% (or more). Leaving 10% on a table where you didn’t get reasonably good service is what you should do.

So, boys and girls, before you make boneheaded statements on the Internet, think before you do so. If you are just trying to get a rise out of someone, that’s one thing. But if you really believe some of the stuff that I’ve quoted, then, shame on you. Walk a mile in our shoes before you make judgments like that (that will be about the first hour of a typical waiter’s shift, BTW). And think about the unintended consequences of eliminating tipping in the US. You think you’re unhappy now?

You ain’t seen nothing yet…

vs

New link added – “Crazy Waiter”

http://www.crazywaiter.com/

I’m adding a link to a very nice waiter blog from France called Crazy Waiter. Full of vim and vigor, here is the “mission statement” from the creator of the blog:

“This page is made by a crazy waiter working in an entertainment resort near Paris. There I’ve learnt that you’re part of the scene. You are to be expected to do more than bringing the drinks and taking away the dirty plates. There are several trainings to make people aware of this.

We want to inform you, teach you and entertain you! On this page you’ll find inspiration, (improvisation) techniques, fragments, information, anecdotes, useful (background) informations etc. etc. for those who want to become a CrazyWaiter, restaurant fanatics and other interested people”.

He says, ” English is not my mother tongue, so please forgive all errors in Dunglish“. His English is very good for a second language, so he really doesn’t need to apologize. I find that the Dutch are usually very fluent in English, and obviously, he’s also fluent in French as well. I’ll bet that his German is top-notch as well…

It’s nice to have a Continental perspective on waiting tables.

I hope that you will raise a glass of Cheval Blanc chased by a sip or two of Jenever and toast the arrival of Crazy Waiter to the fold!

Image courtesy of Crazy Waiter

Top Ten Things a Manager Doesn’t Want To Hear From a Waiter

10. Am I cut yet?

9. Why are you cutting me?

The previous two are often related to the waiter’s finances…

8. My battery’s dead (I’ve got a flat tire, there’s a wreck on the freeway and I’m stuck, I can’t find my car keys, ad nauseum).

7. I forgot to ring in 23’s entrees. Can you go talk to them please?

6. Sorry, I misread the schedule. I’ll be there as soon as I can.

5. I need to talk with you privately after the shift.

4. I was sure she said medium well, not medium rare.

3. Here’s the tip of Kelly’s finger. You might want to look in on her in the kitchen. She’s bleeding like a stuck pig.

2. Don’t you worry – corporate will be hearing about this.

And the number one thing a manager doesn’t want to hear from a waiter:

1. No, I can’t work Sunday brunch.

Top Ten Things a Waiter Doesn’t Want to Hear From a Manager

10.  I need to talk to you at the end of the shift.

9. Don’t worry – I’ll make up your covers around 8:00.

8. You’ve got a deuce on 24 (this is just moments after you’ve picked up the check for your last table at 9:30).

7.  The clock-in window ended 2 minutes ago. You’re late.

6. Smoking weed again, I see.

5.  I saw an interesting blog about waiting tables last night – I think we need to talk.

4. What are you bitching about – I only gave you two on-call shifts this week.

3. Yes, we need you to come in tonight (calling at 3pm for on-call).

2, No, we don’t need you to come in tonight (calling at 3pm for on-call).

The previous two things are income-dependent.

And the number one thing that you don’t want to hear from a manager:

1. Ummmm, where are you? (always heard through sleep-infested ears on a cell phone).

Top Ten Things a Waiter Doesn’t Want To Hear the Customer Say

10. Didn’t I sleep with you in 2006?

9. I’ve got these rolls of pennies…

8. Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas d’anglais.

7. You’re under arrest for serving a 19 year old. Could you please place your hands behind your back?

6. Your service was incredible.

5. Let’s see, all you have to do is move the decimal place over two places…”

4. I don’t care if it’s not on the menu – you don’t want to have this fight with me. You know I’m just going to go to the manager and he’ll let me do it. (I actually heard a variation of this fairly recently).

3. You’re a cute little thing, aren’t you? If I told you you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?

2. Wish I could rid of this damn head lice.

and the number one thing that a waiter doesn’t want to hear the customer say

1. Why yes, I am Tiger Woods.