So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Daily Archives: April 11, 2010

So, I was watching The Masters last night after work…

…and one of the leaders (it might have been Lee Westwood, but it could have been someone else) his a 160 yard 8 iron (I might just be making up the club and the distance) onto the 17th green (it might have been one of the other post Amen Corner greens). The ball hit wonderfully about 12 feet from the green and bit with a really nice backspin. As it settled to a stop, presumably a damn fine shot, it started to trickle slowly first, then speeding up a bit to camera right. It must have rolled about 30 feet, finally settling on the edge of the green about 45 feet away (I might be making up the distance, but remember, I was watching a DVR’d replay of the CBS coverage last night about 12:30 after a pretty busy Saturday night at work).

Anywho, announcer Jim Nantz and Sir Nick Faldo were commenting on how many times they had seen golfers suffer the same fate on the same hole. Nantz said something to effect, “Yes, the landing area is about the size of a blanket”.

Now, anyone who plays golf or follows golf understands this about the Masters – the course, named after its Georgia city Augusta, has inherited more than its name – it’s inherited its topography. It’s a wickedly undulating course , full of odd elevations, funnels, valleys, side slopes, ridges, mounds, bumps, swails and lots of tall pines, azaleas, dogwoods, redbuds, and the wicked Rae’s Creek, which alone has cost many competitors a chance at the championship. The greens have also inherited these characteristics, sometimes having “false fronts”, oblique ridges, odd grades and plateaus that run off in all directions. And they can be wickedly fast. This means that if you have a 5 foot put downhill, you could end up six feet past if you’re not careful.

All of this depends on each day’s pin placement. Every green can be simple if they place it on the safe area. And virtually every green can be almost impossible to reach unless you hit it “in an area the size of a blanket”. It all depends on the spotting of the pin each day.

Well, this particular shot suffered from the fact that about 12 feet from the hole, the green starts to angle down to the edge. If the shot hits 1 foot closer to the hole, it sticks and is a brilliant shot. This shot missed “the blanket” by about a foot. Now, you have to understand, most of us who struggle with the game of golf would just like to get it on the green.

But these are professionals. They are looking to put it on the green within the size of a blanket every time from whatever distance they are confronted with. It doesn’t matter if they’re hitting a 5 wood 230 yards over two guarding bunkers in the front and water on the left.

However, they aren’t always placing “the blanket” over the hole. There are times where they’re playing for a safe part of the green if the water, the bunkers or the green setup is too dangerous to attack directly.  There are times where they’re trying to hit the ball outside the blanket but allow it to check up to “the blanket”. Sometimes “the blanket” is the size of a king sized blanket, sometimes “the blanket”  is the size of a beach towel. It always depends on the greens and the weather conditions.

“So”,  I hear you ask, “what does all of this have to do with waiting tables”?

Hello. Have we met??!!?? Have you been reading this blog? Don’t you know that I try to draw absurd analogies from everyday experiences?

For most of us most of the time, waiting on a particular table is pretty easy because, let’s face it, most people are pretty reasonable with their expectations and are a treat to serve. They come into the restaurant wanting to have a good time and waiting on them is a pretty simple affair.

But we all know that occasionally a waiter will have to confront a challenging, demanding, unruly table. If you read some waiter’s blogs, you’d think that we wait on nothing but malcontents, sadists and rude people, but fortunately that’s the exception, not the rule.

When you address such a table, you have to find “the blanket”. I mean this not only in the sense that you have to find “the safe part of the green” where you can avoid a three putt and possibly get an eagle or a birdie or, at a minimum, save par, but you can also see “the blanket” as Linus from Peanuts sees it – a security blanket that provides comfort and relief from a sometimes harsh world (and his sister Lucy as well).

You start by reading the table correctly and then tailoring your approach from there. If you don’t sense that the table has come in with a chip on their shoulder, how can you get that chip from their shoulder into their back pocket? If the table seems to feel out of place because they usually don’t eat in your type of restaurant, what can you do to make them feel more at home. If someone is obviously troubled by life’s circumstances, how can you use the dining experience as therapy?

It’s hard to talk about specifics because people are different, and moods vary widely. You might see someone being hard to connect with. They might seem moody and uncommunicative. It might be because they were reamed at work by their boss, they might suspect that their spouse is cheating on them, they might have had to talk to the principal about their troublesome 15 year old daughter who was caught smoking behind the gym, or they might be getting over the recent loss of a parent. The actual reason might or might not be communicated to you. The important thing is to recognize that this is one of those tough Augusta greens  and “take an extra minute over your shot”. This isn’t the flat practice green by the clubhouse – this shot could cost you a metaphorical $100,000.

If a guest is asking “stupid questions” and you are condescending, well, I suppose you’ve got a funny story to relay to your fellow co-workers or a blog. However, you’ll probably end up in 15th place instead of in the top 5 because you didn’t “hit the blanket”. If the guest is rude and you respond in kind, you’ll find yourself in the metaphorical water, taking a drop and a one stroke penalty.

Sure, there are times when you’ll even hit “the blanket” and still three putt for a bogey. That’s just golf (and life). The great golfers (and waiters) put it aside and move on to the next tee (and table).

There are shifts where the pins are in easy positions. You don’t have to be a surgeon to get close to the pin. We all have those shifts where everything just flows. Every table is a treat. The kitchen is rolling with the efficiency of a Rolex watch. Everything you do just turns to gold.

And sometimes, you are rolling along until you get to the green that has an “impossible pin”. It’s at that point where you have to step back, survey the wind, the landscape and the green, take a deep breath and play your best shot. when you get a table where you absolutely must stick your shot, do everything in your power to choose the right club in your bag. This means not taking anything for granted. This means getting away with “business as usual”. This means tailoring your approach, biting your tongue, employing creative psychology, submerging your ego, and yes, putting yourself in the place of the guest. You might be the most entertaining and witty waiter anyone has ever seen, but if the host is trying to cement a million dollar deal, your “best effort” will be losing the entertainer and summoning the strength to be as efficient, unobtrusive and businesslike as possible.

Or, on the flip side, if you are generally straightforward and less personable, you might need to summon your inner Oprah Winfrey in order to reach a table that is desperately reaching out for some comfort in a storm.

I can’t tell you exactly how to read a table – this is something that a tiny few have naturally. For the rest of us, it’s something that we learn through repetition, through trial and error, and, as i said, it’s really hard to give exact examples. sometimes one approach might work and other times a different approach is called for. The fact that it’s trial and error shouldn’t deter you when your attempt falls short. It’s just another experience that you put in your mental rolodex for future reference. It’s a matter of tinkering, fine-tuning and  learning.

So, the next time you are faced with a challenging table, I hope that I’ve given you enough food for thought to hole a 140 yard shot for an eagle three like Phil Mickelson did yesterday. It was his second eagle in a row. So, in the span of 20 minutes, he went from 5 strokes off the lead to one stroke back. And on his next hole, he came within about 6 inches of a third eagle in a row (which might have never happened in the history of professional tournament golf). The ball ended up skirting the hole by six inches and ended up about a foot and a half from the hole. with that simple putt, he tied the tournament leader. This from a man who’s had to deal with the burden of both a wife and a mother battling breast cancer. so, no matter what’s going on your life, how tired you are from two doubles in a row, no matter how much you are battling life’s difficulties, both large and small, don’t ever forget that you too can “stick it”.

And not where the sun don’t shine either.

PS, I’m a lefty golfer too…