So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Monthly Archives: May 2010

Single Malt Scotch

http://tinyurl.com/Single-Malt-Map

Before we get into our thumbnail sketch, I’d like to note that you can find a lot of specific information if you click the above link., it will take you to a very comprehensive site, http://tinyurl.com/Scotland-Whisky-Distilleries.

There are five main regions, Highland, Lowland, Islay (pronounce it EYE-lay, please). Speyside, and Campbelltown. As you can see from the map, there are smaller subregions. The Highlands is subdivided by the compass, plus, it includes the “islands”, although Islay is considered its own region.

Let’s talk about the characteristics that you will find in single malt scotches. Some of them will be totally absent in some while some scotches will have many of them in abundance. For instance, if you compare a scotch like Glenkinchie with Taliker, you’ll find that Glenkinchie will be tame in comparison. It’s heathery and light, while Talisker is fiery and bold. while Glenkinchie reflect the heath, Talisker reflects the sea, with salt, smoke and peat. If you compare Talisker with Lagavulin, the differences aren’t nearly as profound, because Lagavulin has smoke in spades, as well as peat and salt. Talisker is an Islay, while Lagavulin is Isle of Skye, so it’s natural that they would share many of the same characteristics. However, they are quite different, as Lagavulin is like a fistful of smoke (a good thing, in my view).

The main flavors that you will encounter are peat, smoke, salt, heather, and malt. As with wine and beer, there are dozens of other notes that fall into these categories.

Peat. This is the fuel that is used to provide the heat for drying the malt. It is cut in squares out of the bogs and moors, dried and then used in the malting houses. When you burn peat, it obviously gives off smoke. Malters control the amount of smoke in order to match the level of smoke desired in the final product. Not to pick on Glenkinchie, but, as a milder “heathery” scotch, you want to minimize the amount of smoke, whereas, if you are distilling a smoky scotch like the king of the smokey monsters, Lagavulin, you’ll let a lot more smoke hit the malt.

So, what do we mean by “peaty”? It’s the smoke that is the key. A scotch can be peaty but not have a lot of smoke. But there needs to be some smoke; otherwise, there’s no peat character. Without the smoke, peat is just a heat source.

Salt. This is a key component of island malts. The salty air that you find on the ocean is naturally incorporated into the distilling. Another component of the ocean is iodine, and this characteristic is often passed along as well. Sometimes you can sense seaweed and other complex ocean aromas. 

Malt. This is the food source for yeast; the “engine” of scotch, if you will. Malt provides sweetness and how much sweetness will depend on how the distiller uses the malt. Just as pilsners don’t have a lot of malt character while ales are full of it, you’ll see a wide variety in the amount of malt “flavor” in scotch. I would also group notes like mocha, chocolate, leather and other “earthy” flavors similar to the ones that you might find in a big cabernet. 

Heather. These are the grassy notes. Under heathery, I like to add notes like dried fruits, honey, mown hay,violets and other “floral” notes etc. You usually find milder scotches offer these notes as a main feature of their flavor profile. This is to be expected as they are more delicate notes that are easily overwhelmed by peat and smoke.

I didn’t mention “wine” notes initially. I consider this a specialty category. some distillers, like Glenmorangie and Macallen purchase used wine, sherry and port barrels in order to impart those types of notes. When they do this, they include the flavor in the title, such as Glenmorangie Sherry Wood Finish. I think that this is pretty self-explanatory.

As a waiter, you usually only have to deal with a dozen or less of the most popular single malts. If your restaurant has more than just The Glenlivet (and its different ages), Glenfiddich (pronounced Glen-FIDDICK) and Macallen, it would be good to learn the basic characteristics of the ones that you have. If a novice expresses an interest in trying single malt for the first time, it won’t do you much good to offer them Lagavulin because, it’s possible to put them off of single malt forever. It’s a big, powerful scotch that takes some adjustment.

So you need to group your scotches from mild to robust. Since I don’t know your product mix, you should go to the above link and take some notes. For example, you can generally assume that Lowland scotches are going to be milder than Speyside or island malts, but this is a BIG generalization.

I’m a big “big scotch” fan myself.

My favorite scotches are Oban, Talisker, and Lagavulin. So, you can see that I’m biased against the milder scotches. That’s my own particular preference and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with preferring one of the more delicate scotches. 

I like Oban. A lot.

Why? Because I find that offers a nice balance of some of the most distinctive scotch flavors. It’s big without being too big or “in your face”.

If you want to give a novice a taste of a nice single malt scotch that isn’t “dumbed down” or mild, might I suggest Oban? It’s sometimes hard to keep in stock because the distillery output is small, but it’s widely available in the US.  It’s almost like a super Glenlivet.

How do you drink single malt? A purist will scoff at even the hint of ice. But no less an authority as the late Michael Jackon (the writer, not the singer) says that there’s nothing wrong with placing a single small ice cube in the scotch. He said that it actually stops the scotch from hitting the tongue with a shot of pure alcohol, which can actually mask the flavors. The single cube will “unlock” the flavors by mitigating the “hot” alcohol and it will smooth it out without dilluting it too much. I agree with him on this and that’s how I drink it myself. I think you get a better measure of the scotch by doing this. However, one thing you shouldn’t do (in my opinion) is serve it “on the rocks”. The ice will dilute the scotch too much as it melts. If someone orders a single malt, you can show your wisdom by asking them, “Neat, light ice, or normal ice”? If they say “light ice” only put a couple of small cubes in it, although you might bring a few more cubes on the side. Whenever I’m asked my opinion, I tell them about the one cube thing. but I’ll never look disapprovingly at someone who wants it  “on the rocks”. If that’s the way they want it, so be it.

This is only a quick primer. I hope that it encourages you to do your due diligence. Here are a few links to help you out, in no particular order (and don’t forget the link that started this post out):

http://www.maltmadness.com/

http://www.scotchwhisky.net/malt/index.htm

http://www.charm.net/~kmarsh/scotch.html

http://www.wikihow.com/Taste-Single-Malt-Scotch

http://whisky.com/

Happy Memorial Day

I’ve always found the phrase “Happy Memorial Day” to be a bit weird.

After all, the day is intended for the most somber purpose, to pay homage to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

While I’m glad to be honored by others due to my status as a veteran, I prefer to reserve my homage to those who have lost their lives in defense of their country.

I’m one of those vets who doesn’t find a lot of glory in war. This makes me a pretty small subset of those who have served in uniform. I wish for a day when Memorial Day honors those who have died in the past, not in the present or the future. The only “war” I ever served in was the Cold War. As I was stationed close to the East German border while it was still a border, it was more than just theoretical, because, at the time we had no idea that the Soviet Union was essentially a toothless tiger. We basically trained to die in place; to give the US a handful of days to get forces from the States in the event of an invasion. As a unit, our life expectancy was around 72 hours, although they didn’t exactly tell us that at the time.

And the thought that I’d be in a real war was made even more real by the fact that I was an Infantryman. I dug foxholes, manned a .50cal Browning as a Track Commander (“commander” being an honorary title for a Corporal), lugged a backpack radio (making me a pretty clear target for a sniper) and, yes, watched a fellow soldier die in a tragic training accident during a night live fire excercise.

But that’s nothing compared to those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, not only do I honor the fallen, I honor those who are putting their lives on the line as I type this. They deserve our thanks regardless of how we stand on the politics of the conflicts, and so I think of them now.

Here’s to absent friends and comrades.

A short primer on Scotch

There are pretty much 5 major categories of whisk(e)ys that waiters need to be familiar with – Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, Bourbon whiskey, Tennessee whiskey, and Canadian whisky.

Note that the spelling of whiskey is different. this isn’t a typo, just a result of the vagaries of language.

Here are some examples:

Bourbon – Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, Buffalo Trace, Evan Williams, Old Charter, Blanton’s, Woodford Reserve, Baker’s, etc.

Tennessee Whiskey – there are really only two – Jack Daniel’s (the worlds best selling whiskey) and George Dickel. 

Irish Whiskey – Bushmill’s, Jameson’s and Tullamore Dew are the three that you are likely to see.

Canadian whisky – Crown Royal, Canadian Club (also called CC), Seagrams, Seagrams VO (usually only called VO), Hiram Walker and Barton’s (this is about 99% of what you are likely to find in any restaurant).

And now we come to our subject – scotch.

Scotch has a checkered history. As with most whiskeys with any history, it really started partially as a bootlegger’s product; perhaps bootlegger is too harsh of a word since laws were sketchy back then. Originally, it was mainly a product produced by monasteries, although surely, there were small distillers working in their own communities. It was enjoyed by patients and, presumably, doctors and barbers (who acted as doctors at times) but it got its first real break when it was embraced by the Scottish King, James IV. After this, the Scottish Parliament got greedy and started taxing the product which caused no end of distress to the distillers of the product. Much like the bootleggers of the  US Appalachians, some of them went to ground rather than pay the excessive taxes. This trend accelerated as England decided to clamp down on Scotland in the first decade of the 1700s. Smuggling was rampant and tax collectors were often met with violence.

In 1823, after years of battling bootleggers in almost warlike conditions, the British Government passed the Excise Act, which legitimized the making, bottling and sale of Scotch whisky. This ultimately made it possible to commercialize the product and the foundation of the current industry was born.

As the 19th century progressed, refinements in both ingredients and equipment made it possible for Scotch whisky to be accepted by a wider audience. When the Phylloxera louse virtually wiped out the French wine and cognac trade in the late 1800s, Scotch got another boost.

What does all of this mean to the waiter? Not much.

But it gives you a context.

The main things to know about scotch are the idea that there are two main categories of scotch that most waiters need to know about – blended scotches and single malt scotches.

Blended scotches include Johnnie Walker, Cutty Sark, J&B (which incidentally stands for Justerini and Brooks), Chivas Regal, Dewars, Grant’s and the very common well brand Vat 69. For my money, the best of the blended scotches, and the one which comes closest to the depth of flavor of many of the single malt scotches is Famous Grouse. Perhaps it’s because it’s blended from some of the most distinguished single malters like Macallan. It’s a good Scotch to offer to someone who wants to experience single malt for less cost or someone curious about Single Malts but isn’t sure they’d like the more robust flavor profiles often found in them. It’s still a premium brand, so it’s a good upsell. Chivas is also considered on the best of the blended scotches because it has a certain amount of “snob appeal”.

Keep in mind that blended scotches are blended for consistency from many different sources (even some of the most famous names in single malt as noted above). They tend to be smoother and milder than some single malts. This means that they tend to be blander as well.

An interesting fact is that many of the barrels that are used to age blending casks are the discarded barrels of bourbon and Tennessee whisky makers, barrels which are only used once by those makers. Those whiskies get their character more from the charred barrels than they get from aging. Scotch is more dependent to aging than it is to the barrel itself, although the barrel character imparts character and color as it does with American whiskies. Old wine barrels are used as well. Barrel character is more important in single malt bottlings and we’ll address that in a separate piece on single malts.

As a waiter, make sure you know your brands and which ones have higher end bottlings such as the various colors of Johnnie Walker (Red, Black, Green, Blue, etc.). Some of the more “generic” brands such as Dewars have followed the single malt trend and offer “aged” versions such as Dewars 12 year. If your bar has them, they should be a routine offer, just as you routinely offer Grey Goose or Absolut. For example, if someone orders Dewars, simply ask “Dewars or Dewars 12?”. You won’t upsell them nearly as often as you upsell vodka, but that shouldn’t stop you from offering them. 

There are a lot of scotch drinkers out there and so it’s important as a waiter to be knowledgeable about the product. Stick around in the next couple of days to learn about the  wonderful world of single malts. Speaking as an occasional scotch drinker, once you go single malt, it’s hard to go back. Of course, this is hard on the pocketbook, but great on the income possibility of us waiters.

A toast:

 Here’s to the heath, the hill and the heather, the bonnet, the plaid, the kilt and the feather!

The image comes from http://artofmanliness.com/2009/04/05/the-art-of-manliness-guide-to-scotch-whisky/

This page has a good description of the distilling process that you should find informative. There is also some great information on the enjoyment of scotch. I hope that my distaff readers will go there as well, even though it’s a “manly site”.

Lull in the action

For those of you who have gotten used to my voluminous posting habits, I can reassure you – I’m very much still around.

It seems as if many in the restaurant blogging world have been taking a bit of a break lately. It could be coincidence or just a defense mechanism to deal with putting experiences to paper (so to speak). It could just be the season. It is Spring after all.

In my case, it’s been a confluence of things – switching phone services, wanting to have a blog shelf life of more than 15 minutes, avoiding redundancy, and, most importantly, simply losing the plot a few weeks back and not getting back to the rhythm of the two to three daily posts that I used to inflict on you.

Oh yeah, there was this little thing of a flood in my city. I personally wasn’t flooded, but Nashville took a kick in the groin and we are just now re-catching our collective breaths.

Rest assured – there are plenty of culinary books to highlight, waiter’s terms to explain, news to aggregate, and funny stuff to make fun of. I will roll these things out in good time. In the meantime, I hope that you’re taking this lull to visit the dusty archives. There is a lot, and I mean a lot, of content and much useful information hidden in the excessive verbiage. You might find some of your questions answered, especially if you’re new to the waiting tables game.

So, bear with me while I get my mojo back…

Waitress loses job at Brixx Pizza in Charlotte, NC over Facebook post – from Well Done Fillet

From across the pond, a story about a waitress in a pizza parlor losing her job at Brixx Pizza in Charlotte, NC (not the savviest of operations from a PR standpoint) – thanks to our British War Correspondent Manuel for this one:

http://welldonefillet.com/2010/05/19/facebook-post-costs-waitress-her-job-oh-dear/

Oh dear indeed…

Just a reminder:

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/tips-on-dishing-on-guests-and-work-and-co-workers/

Perhaps I should go back and add a section on actually posting comments on Facebook. I talked about promoting your blog on FB, but didn’t cover this specific instance. Until I do, take this lesson to heart. Remember, there is a difference between dissing a guest over drinks after work and dissing them on a network shared by 200 gazillion people. At least you can be comforted by the fact that your new Chinese overlords will probably never see it, plus, for now, you’re safe in Pakistan.

PS, if you haven’t noticed, Well Done Fillet is permalinked in Ye Ole Blogroll. When you go there, you have to click the above graphic as he has recently moved his blog from point A to point B. You should visit him…alot.

PPS, if you live in Charlotte, you might want to consider whether Brixx Pizza is the sort of place that you’d like to patronize.

From Android with love

This is just a test to see how easy it is to post from my new Eris.

Well, it’s not the worst thing in the world I guess, and it took a little while to figure out how to get to the post screen (this one).

It won’t be replacing my normal posting from the desktop, but it’s cool to have a mobile alternative…

Disposable

So, I was cutting my grass yesterday with the almost new lawn mower that I purchased from the pawn shop and was thinking about the fact that this is the 4th lawnmower that I’ve owned in 10 years. The other three were stolen. I’ve actually been without a lawnmower for around 4 years, so this tells you a bit about my neighborhood and the fact that I don’t have a lockable storage area. For the past 4 years I’ve had a guy in the neighborhood do it, precisely because of the theft factor, not because of laziness. However, he has turned sick and can’t do it this year. So I trudged out to the pawn shop to find another cheap lawnmower.

I found a really good one that the pawn shop apparently had mispriced and which I got it for around $100. It’s a pretty nice one – a Troy-Bilt with a Honda motor. Normally, $100 lawnmowers from the pawnshop are the cheapest possible generic  movers with rusting decks and sputtering motors. Not this one. It’s a mulcher with the bag and an actual choke that resets itself when the motor gets running. No pushing the little primer rubber nipple and no continual lanyard pulling over and over until it finally starts (or not). Starts up pretty much with a single pull. Yes, there are more expensive and fancier mowers out there, but I was glad to get a mower that wasn’t just a cheap stamped deck and a motor barely strong enough to cut a dandelion (yes, I’ve got them too).

Anyway, I was thinking about how some people treat a lawnmower as almost a disposable item these days.

Perhaps it’s a theft issue like me – you don’t want to spend anything but the bare minimum because you know that there’s a good chance that it will be stolen so you spend the least amount of money possible.

Perhaps it’s because the lifespan of many mowers isn’t all that great. Usually something goes wrong with the motor and it’s cheaper to get a new/used one than to get it fixed.

This last thing is the cause of the disposability of many items in our society, especially electronic ones. TV goes out? Better get a new one because it costs more to get it fixed. Dryer on the fritz? Same thing.

What does this have to do with us waiters?

Sadly, we are one of the most disposable workers on the planet. And part of it is our part.

When we treat it as a disposable job, we undercut our longevity. How do we do that, you might ask?

Many of us simply chase the dollar. When a hot new restaurant opens we migrate there, like Bedouins wandering the desert.

Some of us treat the responsibilities cavalierly by showing up whenever we want to, sleepwalking through shifts, not being team players.

Some of us don’t take our training seriously and just learn enough to be dangerous. Then, our only concern is where we’re going to meet after work to spend the money that we’ve made on booze and drugs.

Some of us look at the job as “something to do until I find real work”.

Management can be to blame as well, having been burned by waiters who have taken the above work attitudes.

Plus, there’s the whole “less than minimum wage” thing. It’s easy to get rid of a less productive or little-caring employee because they’ve got a stack of resumes “this high”. There’s a certain amount of culling that gets done in any staff over time. The weak sisters either get fired or get squeezed out of the prime shifts and sections. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to retrain someone else, although management would prefer to keep experienced waiters whenever they can because it takes a while for someone off of the street to “get it”. Once the training period for an experienced waiter ends, the real training begins, if you catch my drift. This last part is the saving grace for us waiters – this isn’t a job where you can hire a temp to come in to save some payroll and benefits dollars.

It’s also easy for a waiter to have a bad encounter with a guest. The law of averages dictates that this will happen eventually due to the extremely personal and varied encounters we have with a wide variety of guests that forms the core of our work experience.

If you’ve read this far, then you have the answers to the solutions to the problem of the disposable nature of your job.

Don’t be that guy. (guy used in a non-sexist way because that’s just the expression these days, just as I use waiter in a non-gender fashion).

Don’t do the things that I’ve outlined.

Don’t think of your job as disposable.

Don’t think of it as a placeholder until you get the job of your dreams. It’s your job now. Do it to the best of your abilities.

Don’t show up late just because you can (because you want to save those rare occasions for the times when you have a  legitimate reason to be late). 

Don’t slack on the training. Hit it head on.

Don’t come into work firing on only 3 cylinders. If you come in constantly hung over or tired, it’s time to take a good look at yourself, because you aren’t doing your body and mind any favors. I’m not saying that you have to abstain or that you won’t come in with the occasional hangover, but if it’s a constant state of affairs, you’ve got problems that you need to address before you kill yourself, either metaphorically or literally. You can’t stay in college mode forever.

Do be a team player. Often, it’s the opinions of your fellow workers that influence how disposable management sees you.

Do be productive. Be seen doing things like cleaning, not hanging out on the back dock smoking and joking. Don’t be constantly ducking running food for your co-workers.

Do be thankful that you have a job in this economy and remember that there are 10 people who want to take your place. And act like it.

If you do all of these things, you will make yourself seem indisposable when you have an unfortunate experience with a guest or you have a bad day/week. Don’t let something like that make it easy for management to get rid of you.

Managers are fond of saying that everyone is disposable, including themselves. This is true.

The key is in the degree that you can be tossed in the rubbish bin. Make yourself as hard as possible to be tossed away.

PS, I just cut my grass for the third time with this mower. Wish me luck.

How do I become a great waiter?

This is a question that every waiter should ask themselves.

Sadly, it’s a question that never crops up for many. Many waiters simply are trying to get through the day or are only waiting tables because it’s a stepping stone to another career; a way to put bread on the table while working toward a different career goal. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose.

But shouldn’t the goal in any job to be the best that one can be? Should the day to day burdens of the job blind us to this basic premise?

First of all, despite all of my pompous and officious statements and insights on the job, I’m not a “great waiter”. I make too many mistakes, whether it be missrings, misreads of guests, shifts where I’m just going though the motions, lack of physical grace, etc. There are waiters where I work that seem to have a seamless waiting persona. They never have to struggle with missrings, they “look the part”, and they have an ease no matter what the dining world throws at them. Even when all around them is collapsing and weeds are growing well above the heads of fellow servers, they never seem to break a sweat, nor do they do anything but slightly increase their pace.

I envy them. They are what you might call “naturals”.

For the rest of us, we have to work at it.

Much of my blog is geared toward hints, advice and support to enable the rest of us to “up our game”.

There are some keys that I think that can move us toward the goal of “great waiter”, regardless of whether we work in the most tony establishment or the most humble meat and three. Obviously, god is in the details. There is a matter of degree when you are waiting on a table spending $1000 vs waiting on a clientele that’s trying to grab lunch in an hour while having to wait for a table for 30 minutes. But I think that there some broad stroke “global” things that every waiter should keep in mind.

These are in no particular order of importance.

1. Know who you are. This means, know your limitations and abilities and constantly strive to work toward your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses. You can be the greatest “people person” in the world, but if you can’t deal with getting quadruple-seated in a restaurant where this sort of thing happens regularly, you won’t be able to be a great waiter. You need to look less on refining your tableside manner and more at organization and focus. Why spend time trying to polish things that you seem to do well already? Better to devote the time and energy into where it’s needed. Why do you seem to melt down when others seem to easily deal with the crush? Is it because you panic when it comes to putting orders in while you know that you’ve just been sat with two new tables? Is this why you ring in the wrong meat temperature or forget to ring in an entrée? Is it just a matter of focus because you deal with the stress by developing tunnel vision, which leaves you breathless when you’re trying to deal with the things that you’ve put on the back burner? If you can identify these “flaws”, you can deal with them head-on and develop some strategies to attack them. It’s not easy, but you should make the attempt. Perhaps you could talk with some of the “superstars” at your restaurant, preferably over a beer or cocktail.

2. Know your menu. I’m constantly harping on this. You should know everything that goes into your dishes. You really can’t ever be a “great waiter” otherwise. You can have all of the personality in the world, but, let’s face it, people are there to dine. They have needs when it comes to the food, whether it be allergies, preferences, biases, or safety concerns. You need to be able to address every one of these needs, and knowing your food inside and out will give you the ability to do this.

3. Fine tune your ability to read body language and also be able to read what the guest is telling you even if they don’t themselves know. A few people have this gift naturally. The rest of us have to learn on the fly. You do this by trial and error. There’s nothing I can say to make it easier, except to say that every table adds to your “internal Rolodex”. Don’t discard this information. You have to absorb this like a sponge and retain as much of it as possible. Every table is different, but there is some commonality to the way that people react to social situations. Keep in mind that dining out is one of the most common social situations, and you are a part of this social interaction. You are the glue. How you interact with the table is of paramount importance. If you are just half-stepping through a shift, as most of us do on occasion simply because of preservation, you can never forget that you are the lynchpin to even the most anti-social and rude table. Yes, there are tables that you can’t ever turn around. But many of them are just dying for you to “make them whole”. They just don’t know it. This is the time for you to dig deep and try to remember those occasions where you were able to turn it around for a table. Maybe it will work; maybe it won’t. But you’ve got experience on your side.

4. Never assume that you’re better than the guest, even if they assume that they are better than you. Yes, that’s the curse of this job – people can look down on the waiter as someone beneath them. But we waiters sometimes judge as well. I guess it’s human nature. Just don’t let it be a roadblock to a great service scenario. After all, let’s face it, it’s the guest who suffers when service is substandard, even if it’s their fault. You’ll wait on another 30 people that night, but they only have one meal. You’ll move on, even if they stiff you. But they have lost a great opportunity for a great meal. Even if they put up roadblock after roadblock, it’s your job to knock them all down. Most of the time (excluding other variables such as problems within the restaurant itself), it might very well be their fault, but the “great waiter” finds a way to overcome these roadblocks. Sometimes it might even mean some humility and even taking the blame when it’s not even our fault. but you’d be surprised how many times it will pay off at the end. Instead of having a sour guest and a sour waiter, you might end up with a mollified guest and a waiter breathing a sigh of relief. Is it fair? Not really. But sometimes you have to remember that it’s easy to win the battle but lose the war. Remember Sun Tzu: “He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious“. He also said, ” If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles“.  Is the enemy the guest? No, the enemy is everything that keeps you from being a great waiter. Sometimes the guest is simply the manifestation of this.

5. Work on your poise. If you are awkward (as I often am), keep working on your body mechanics. If you are sometimes clumsy (as I often am), try to focus on your body awareness. If you stumble through your spiel, you need to work on it specifically. Don’t leave it to chance. Work out some key phrases that bind every spiel, regardless of content. One way to do this might be to take a public speaking class at a local institution. Another might be to practice in front of a mirror. The key is to make it seem natural and not like you’re reading from a teleprompter or cue cards. It should seem to the guest that you are speaking extemporaneously, that you are saying these words for the first time. Some waiters have an advantage – they might be unemployed actors or just natural public speakers. For the rest of us, we need to work on our phrasing, rhythm and pace. Try to duplicate the sound that you make when you tell your spouse about the day you’ve had.

There are obviously other things that I’m might talk about in the future. I’ve certainly covered other things in previous posts. Just remember that if you can attack these 5 areas, you will make great strides toward being a “great waiter”.

One other thing – a great waiter is a team player. You can have the most call parties, sell the most every shift, always have the best tip percentages, but if you forget about the things that the team has to do during the shift because you want to “concentrate on my tables”, then you aren’t a “great waiter”. You’re simply a “welfare waiter” who depends on your fellow waiters to pick up your slack. Shame on ya. It’s easy to be a great tableside waiter if you don’t have to do any of the things that the rest of the “mere mortal waiters” are dealing with. And myabe you shouldn’t be so proud as this might be the only thing propping up your “greatness”.

Tips for waiters about personal budgeting

The great blog, “Tips on improving your tips” (see ye olde blogroll for permalink) has a nice article on budgeting for waiters, which can be read here:

http://tipsfortips.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/budgeting-for-servers/

I just wanted to add one thing – it’s important for American waiters to always remember that for a vast majority of them, they’re going to owe taxes on April 15th.

For those who work in states that pay an hourly wage significantly lower than minimum wage, such as $2.13 – $4/hr, it’s especially important to remember this. Many of us don’t ever see a dime on our paychecks. But we don’t always remember that this is because we’re in the hole with income tax withholding and that each shift that we work puts us a little bit deeper in the hole.

I’ve written about this in the past, but it bears repeating – a good rule of thumb is to set aside 10% of tips for tax purposes. Money you never see is money that is saved and not spent.

This is easier said than done, as I can testify. It’s so easy to use that envelope full of cash for an emergency or some sort of impulse purchase. After all, it’s an envelope full of cash! It’s always whispering to you everytime you add to it.

But be strong. If you put aside 10% religiously, you might even find that you’ve got extra left over after you’ve fulfilled your tax obligations.

These days, you can make it easier to never see the money if you pay into the IRS’s EFTPS system. This is an electronic accont that you can access online. You can make deposits whenever you like. I talk about it more in depth here:

 https://teleburst.wordpress.com/?s=EFTPS

Another alternative to the cash-filled envelope is to open a separate savings account and try to avoid the temptation to plunder it. It might help when you see the amount grow “on paper”.

However you do it, budgeting for taxes is a very important part of a waiter’s budget decision-making process.

Kitchen tool of the day – cutting boards

Here’s something that’s surprising to most people, even experienced chefs – plastic cutting boards might very well be more unsanitary than wooden ones. Even health department officials aren’t really up to speed on this.

Note that I said, “very well might”. Quibble words. that’s because the jury is still out on the subject. Only limited testing has been done.

One would think that an “inert” substance such as plastic would be safer than a porous, “organic” substance such as wood.

But if you think about it, it’s more likely that it’s the other way around. Have you looked at the surface of your plastic cutting board lately? Is is covered with minute gouges? Sure it is. Well these minutes cuts and scratches are like the Grand Canyon when it comes to bacteria. Do you think your formica countertop doesn’t harbor bacteria?

Bacteria is quite happy on plastic, especially when there are microscopic bits of decaying organic material to feast on. So, just because a cutting board is plastic doesn’t mean that it’s automatically free of contamination. But it “seems” safer than wood, doesn’t it? Plus, it’s easier to show that it’s “clean”, because it takes a while for discoloration to show up. This is one of the reasons why health departments like them so much – they “look clean”, until they don’t, of course. Eventually, every plastic cutting board gets discolored. This makes it easy on the health inspector to visually “inspect” the cutting board and dock a discolored one, since they usually don’t run lab tests on them.

But, as it turns out, wood has an interesting property. It seemingly has natural anti-bacterial properties. The thing is, bacteria has a harder time gaining a foothold on wood than it does plastic. Not only might wood retard the growth of bacteria naturally, it also dries quicker. Water is like manna for bacteria, which is why crackers rarely offer a health hazard, no matter how old they might be. Plastic has an advantage in that it’s disinfected and sanitized easier than wood. But once a plastic cutting board is “scarred”, which happens pretty quickly, it can be actually harder  to disinfect than wood, even wood which has been “scarred”. There’s something in wood that tends to retard the spread of bacteria, and there’s the moisture issue that I mentioned.

Here’s an article from the University of California/Davis that explains it:

http://faculty.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/faculty/docliver/Research/cuttingboard.htm

It’s odd that this information has been out there for a decade and it still hasn’t sunk into the collective consciousness. I think there’s just some sort of “hospitalesque” thing about a smooth piece of plastic that stays in peoples’ minds.

Obviously, the care of cutting boards is mission critical.

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between “disinfected” and “sterilized”. However, in any case, bleach is your friend. The key is to keep the bleach odor from sticking around to contaminate the flavor profile of whatever you’re preparing. Vinegar can help you with that. Remember that a 5% solution of bleach is sufficient to disinfect. A couple of teaspoons per gallon is good enough and the odor is minimal. A little bit of vinegar-infused water will counteract that.

If you choose to switch to wood, remember that you should have at least two of them, one for chicken and one for everything esle. Many professional kitchens actually keep color coded plastic ones for various uses – yellow for chicken, green for vegetables and red for meat (white ones are either dairy or sort of “catch-all” types that can be used for various purposes).  Here’s a chart that shows the accepted colors:

Once again, this is a nod to the health departement. It sends the signal that the chef takes cross-contamination very seriously. And it’s easy for line cooks to assure that they haven’t cross-contaminated as well.

For home cooks, I think that two wooden cutting boards are plenty, as long as you are firm on keeping chicken limited to a single, “chicken-only” cutting board. However, this post doesn’t excuse you from the normal care and treatment of your cutting boards, nor does it give you the license to blame me if someone doesn’t follow a strict segregation of cutting boards or follow prudent sanitary practices.

If you are using plastic cutting boards  now, you don’t need to throw them out unless they are really beat up. Just don’t use them thinking that, because they’re plastic, your automatically safe from contamination. As the UC Davis article points out, these cutting boards can be rendered safe. Just follow good sanitary practices and you’ll be just fine.

But keep this additional fact in mind – a plastic cutting board will dull a knife quicker than wood.

Plus, wood is just cool. There’s not much cooler than an inch-thick wooden cutting board.

Unless it’s a huge butcher block like this, of course.

 

PS, none of this information is intended to offer anything other than informal advice to the reader. I strongly advise any reader to do further research on the subject and I am not responsible for the outcomes of any actions that arise from following the information that I’ve presented. In other words, I am not responsible for you. Get it? Also, I’m not dissing your product. OK?