So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Monthly Archives: July 2010

New link added – Tip20!

The exclamation point is theirs, not mine.

Tip20! is a sefvice industry, ad-intensive advocacy site. There’s a front of the house, back of the house, managers, bartenters and consumers plus an area for Shoes For Crews, and a couple of generic ad aggregation pages. The BoH tab is useful if you want to keep up with the National Food Days (did you know that today is National Jelly Bean Day?) I wish that there was more about actual BoH issues. the same goes for the bartender, manager and consumer areas. Most of the posts are shared with all.

The content is weighed heavily toward waiters. There is information about IRS issues, justification for tipping, and passalong articles like the one that I highlighted in my previous post.

It’s a useful site that all waiters can benefit from. I’d like to see a lot more depth, because you can get all of the information you need from just a couple of visits. But, other than that, and the preponderance of advertising, I recommend this site and welcome it to my blogroll. Let’s all sip a Shoes For Crews slipperful of champaigne and raise our shoes to Tip20! Welcome.

From Tip20! – a customer’s perception of what will cost you a tip

Most of these things are pretty common sense, although I have to say that the tone is a big haughty in some cases. She also seems a bit paranoid about germs, which is OK, I guess.

Some quick comments:

“Proper etiquette, not to mention common sense, dictates that when someone is finished eating a dish they will move the plate to the side. If a plate is still in front of me, then don’t ask if you can take it. Not all of us inhale our food. Some of us enjoy savoring our food, chewing it up, and periodically pausing for conversation, etc”

The problem is, not everyone actually moves their plate to the side. Also, it is not “proper etiquette” to push your plate to the side (maybe it’s Mississippi’s revision of Emily Post). “Proper etiquette” (in the US) demands that you place the utensils parallel with each other (tines up) on the right side of the plate. It is common to push the plate to the side, but many times, especially if you’re eating in a booth, this is impossible. So cut us a break, will ya. I agree that we shouldn’t be all grabby, but there are ways that you can indicate that you are still eating. When you see us coming, simply pick up your fork. After all, you say this:

“For some reason most servers fit into one of two categories. Either they come by every 2 minutes and ask if everything is good, refill, etc. OR they set your entrée down and you never see them until the bill comes. It is so easy to make yourself seen and accessible, without worrying someone to death”.

This works both ways. When we make ourselves seen and accessable, make yourself “accessable” as well, if possible. I understand being in a conversation and being fixed on a fellow diner, but at least have a minimum awareness of our presence please, especially if you’re going to demand that we’re seen and accessable. If you are admittedly a food-savoring, chewing conversationalist who routinely gets asked to have your plate taken away because you haven’t taken a bite of a 3/4s empty plate for the last 4 passes of the waiter while everyone else has been cleared, don’t expect your waiter to read your mind – be proactive. Grab your fork when you see the waiter or server assistant coming.

“If someone raises a finger, hand, or arm at you, that means they need your attention. It is not a wave goodbye or friendly gesture. So, don’t wave back, just come see what I need”.

It’s fine to discretely raise your hand to attract my attention. But don’t be a bloody waver yourself please. I will probably not “see you”.  And if I have done what you ask previously and make myself “seen and accessable”, hopefully you will never need to raise your hand because really, is there anything that you need that you won’t be able to get 2 minutes later when I pass by and you catch my eye? Yes, as long as you have an attentive waiter, you should never even need to raise your hand. You should simply make eye contact. I understand that if you’re a “conversationalist”, this might be hard. But surely you can use your Spidey senses to detect my passing presence now and again.

“Once you get the bill, don’t ask if I need change. Just go pay the bill. If I do get change, then bring it to me. This is my biggest pet peeve and I can not tell you how many times I was going to leave my server 20-30% tip, but instead answered: “No, I don’t need change anymore” and the server only got the dollar or two left over from the bill*.

This seems a bit harsh and an odd “pet peeve” (although I guess it takes all kinds).  Yeah, I know, it seems like grassing for a tip, but it’s a bit of a pet peeve for me as well for a guest not to tell me that they don’t need change. They’ve just made me waste a trip, which can impact someone else’s service (that someone else might very well be you because when you complain that I’m not being accessable and seen, I might be making unecessary trips for guests who can’t tell me that they don’t need any change. and it seems weird to me that you might actually withhold additional money when you were planning to add to the change. Why didn’t you just put the extra money there in the first place. Seems like you were hoping that somone would ask you if you need change so that you could withhold the extra money.

“You put the bill on the table and you see me digging through my purse for correct change, don’t come stand over me. My purse and wallet are none of your business. When the bill is ready for your attention it will be pushed to the side of the table or handed to you”.

That’s fine. Just make sure that you have money (or the credit card for that matter) sticking out of the top, indicating that you have paid. Just because you’ve moved the check presenter doesn’t mean that you have paid. Many people move the check presenter without paying.

As I said, the rest of the list is pretty commonsense.

“NO! I’m NOT finished”!

Reading tables pt.3

What to do with the couple that’s seated in your section?

First, you group them roughly by age. Are they middle-aged or young? Are they elderly or in their early 30s?

This will help you form a strategy.

If they are well-dressed and middle-aged or in their 30s, you might ask them what their plans are for the evening. Are they going to a theater performance? Are they going to the big concert that you know is going on in town? Are they having a “date night”? Sometimes they are getting away from the kids for an evening and they’ll be quick to tell you that. If that’s the case, try not to move them along too quickly. Believe it or not, more often than not, they’ll stay a normal or slightly normal amount of time. You’d think that they’d be campers, but in the back of their mind, they’re envisioning their babysitter throwing a wild party in their absence or worried about the kid sneaking out with the keys to the convertible. they usually don’t stay as long as you fear. You might offer champagne with something like, “Wow, not that’s a special occasion these days, isn’t it? This calls for a couple of glasses of champagne or some wine, wouldn’t you say”? Be there for them but try not to interrupt too much unless they need you to. Be watchful but not intrusive.

If it’s a really young couple, it could be a first or second date. Unless they’ve worked in the restaurant business already, don’t expect too much from them. Remember when you were 17? You barely had money for gas, much less the expected “nice dinner” and a movie. Nowadays, this is money taken away from iTunes, Aeropostale and the latest Twilight movie and paraphernalia. and have you priced the cost of going to the movies lately? So, you’re really not going to have a lot of disposable income available for your tip. There’s also the fact that they haven’t had a lot of dining out experience so, unless their parents have taught the correct way to tip, you can expect 10  – 15% at best. Of course they deserve good service, but this isn’t a table that you’re going to jump through hoops for. First of all, they going to stick with the cheapest entrees. They aren’t going to get very many appetizers or other “add-ons”, so it’s not really worth the effort to try. But this doesn’t mean that you write them off or ignore them. You are one of their initial impressions of dining out and you should reinforce what a privilege it is to be able to have someone else cook and server your food for you. While it might not pay off for you, future generations of waiters will thank you. I suspect that some of the cheapskates of this world were moved in that direction by less-than-caring service in their formative years.

So, what tack do you take? Try to be sympathetic and informative without going into a lot of detail about the cuisine. They don’t care that confit is something low cooked in fat, although telling them that confit is a French preparation might add to their experience. If they seem to stumble over something, gently help them out. Remember, you were young once. You didn’t always know all about food either.

The saving grace for this table is that they probably won’t be campers either. They either have a movie to go to, a gathering with their friends or the desire to find a dark cul-de-sac with daddy’s car.

Elderly couples can be hit or miss. Obviously, some elderly people are pretty miserly with tips. Either it’s because they’re on a fixed income, or they’re just past caring. They also are hung up on 15% because they’ve lived with it most of their life. 20% is a far more frequent tip these days than it was in the 60s or 70s. However, not all elderly folks are cheap. don’t assume that they are just by appearance. You can usually tell by the way that they interact with you. If they are warm and friendly, then you’ve got a good chance of getting a better than average tip if you return the attitude. If they seem curmudgeonly, oddly enough, you might get a decent tip if you play along. It’s the disengaged, slightly sour elderly folks that will stick you on the tip (but isn’t that the case with all tables?)

Remember that we should venerate our elders and try to especially respect them and their needs, even if it means eating a bad tip along the way. Remember, there are plenty of generous, friendly warm and “just glad to be anywhere” elderly folks. Don’t correct pronunciation because, let’s face it, they’ve been saying it that way all of their lives and there’s nothing gained at this point. Don’t snicker when they order a “Chablis” because, frankly, they’re more correct than they sound; while Chablis is a specific place in Burgundy, it is Chardonnay after all. You might say, “We don’t have a true Chablis, but we do have a nice California chardonnay. Would you like it”?

Some of us tend to look down at singles or couples, especially if they’re sitting at a larger table. But remember, dining with a significant other or a friend is part of the glue that keeps dining out an important lubricant in our lives. We can’t always dine out with lots of people, not should we. this is part of the fabric of the customer base and we should know how to manage them, just as we need to know how to manage an 8 top. Besides, it’s a good percentage of the tables that you are likely to see, right?

It’s the little things…

…that make the difference between average service and great service.

The guest might even notice these small things, but they will feel the cumulative effect.

Here are a few of them that spring to mind:

Leaving room in the coffee cup for cream. Sometimes we get into the habit of filling the cup to the rim. This is understandable since people might complain if you “short” them. However, leaving a little room is something that makes it easier for the guest to enjoy their coffee. It’s good to leave a little space. Plus, it makes it easier to carry cups without spilling.

Speaking of spilling, if you do spill a little coffee on the saucer, don’t serve it to the guest. Clean the saucer and the bottom of the cup before you deliver it to the guest. You don’t want coffee dripping on a nice shirt or blouse.

Another thing involving the coffee is to place the handle of the cup at the 5:00 position. The allows the guest to grasp the cup without turning it. While there might be the very rare person who holds the coffee cup with the left hand (I’m a left-hander who still holds the cup in my right hand), most people are right-handed when it comes to holding a cup with a handle.  Obviously, if you know for a fact that someone holds their coffee cup with the left hand, you’ll place the handle at the 7:00 position.

When you hand a menu to the guest, have it already open.

Write “Thank you” and your first name on the check.

If it’s not against house policy, ask if they would like bread instead of bringing it automatically. There are some who are on special diets or don’t want to get filled up who might decline.

Ask tea drinkers if they’d like a refill instead of doing it automatically. If the glass is almost empty, feel free to refill but if they haven’t drunk that much, you might ask. Some people get their tea sweetened just the right way and don’t want the glass to be kept absolutely full at all times. Once again, if house policy demands that all glasses be kept full, then you should comply. But you can ask someone if they’d like more tea right before you fill it up. Obviously, you just have to use your best judgment here. If they’ve said that it’s OK the first time, then you can probably forgo asking them in the future. If they say that they’ve got it just the way that they want it, wait until they’re 3/4 empty if possible.

Ask groups of 6 or more if they’d like for you to put together an appetizer assortment. If it’s possible, try to get the kitchen to put them together on larger platters so they can be shared “family style”. Not only might you sell more appetizers, it’s easier than selling individual appetizers, and it’s more fun to share. Just don’t use this as an excuse to oversell them. If you find that you are bussing platters with half of the appetizers left, you’re selling too much. You’re also filling them up before the entrée and this is something that you don’t want to do. The appetizer should whet the appetite, not dampen it.

When selling appetizer assortments, if you are offering things that are known for being allergy triggers like crab or shrimp, ask if anyone is allergic to those things and tailor your quantities accordingly.

These are just a few of the small things that create the foundation for great service. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

SYWTBAW now in Italy!

I’m grateful to have been added as a bloglink on 


Diario di un albergatore della riviera romagnola

Not speaking Italian, I’m not sure what the blog is supposed to be about, but there are many of the usual server blogs listed in one of the blogrolls. So, how cool it that?

Anyway, I’m grateful to have been added and you can go here to discover the mystery that is Italy:

Let’s raise a glass of prosecco and toast our incursion onto the Continent!

Reading tables pt.2

A continuation of my post, “Reading tables, pt. 1”.

The business table. These folks are doing business first and having dinner second. Dinner is just a conduit to The Deal. Generally, people are dressed in sharp business suits. Overwhelmingly, I’d say this type of table is male. Sure, there might be a female, but I’m not being sexist to say that males like to do business at the dinner table more than women (as a group). Some of this is the continuing disparity toward males in the corporate world, but some of it is just conditioning. I’ve seen a lot of business tables in my time, but rarely have I seen four businesswomen doing deals at the table, whereas I’ve seen plenty of 4 top males at a power table. Increasingly, you’ll see more casual dress as well. The attire usually features a polo shirt with a company logo, especially if the table is in town at a convention. Some of the more hip industries like the music business or internet concerns can be quite casual in attire and demeanor but don’t be fooled. They can be just as “businesslike” as any other. Just because one of them has a fauxhawk or a tattoo sleeve or earrings, don’t make the mistake that they want to be treated like any old table. A lot of it is just trying to follow the conversation as the table gets settled. If they seem to be doing business, just mentally dress them in power suits and expensive hairdos.

There are several keys to the business table.

The first is to determine the ratio of business to simple social or networking  interaction. If it’s purely business, then you should be strictly business. They aren’t there to be entertained, they’re there to do business. If you can, sometimes it’s a good idea to ask the host “Is this strictly business or are you socializing as well”?  They might tell you, “No, this is just a get-together. It’s casual. We’ll probably talk a little business”. If this is the case, you can be more informal. Treat it like any other table, but be aware that if they shift into business talk, best to hang back. Try not to interrupt. Now is the time to make a little drinking motion with your hand and point to an almost empty drink instead of asking “Would you like another drink”? If they nod, get them another. Otherwise, feel free to conduct your service normally.

If it’s strictly business, your service should be as unobtrusive as possible. As with any even remotely business table, movements should not be flamboyant. Quiet and reserved is the best policy. Serve and remove tableware, plates, entrees and detritus with as little fuss as possible. Interrupt a conversation only whenever not interrupting would severely impact service. Always do it as low-key as possible.

Courses should follow with a reasonable pace – not too quickly or too slowly unless they tell you that they want time between courses or they want the dinner to flow quickly.

Which brings me to another suggestion. Whenever possible, ask the host how they’d like the flow of service to proceed. They’ll tell you. Also, if you’re waiting on a group that has a presentation or a mini-award presentation, be sure to ask the host if they want you to serve through any talk, presentation or other obvious business talk such as working over reports. If you are asked to serve through, try not to rattle plates, drop silverware or otherwise be a distraction.

Don’t be overly disappointed if you’ve given them outstanding service but they only tip 15%. Some of them have strict constraints from the corporate bean counters to only tip 15%. However, you’d be surprised how many 20% tips you’ll get if you do your job professionally and efficiently.

I’ve waited on tables where literally millions of dollars were being discussed. I know someone who worked at a restaurant where Bill Gates was dining with Warren Buffett (I kid you not, both were in town for a bridge convention!) According to this person (told through a third party), it was simple two people with shared interests enjoying dinner at the end of some serious bridge. Gates didn’t drink Lafite, he drank Diet Coke.  I have waited on CEOs of multibillion dollar corporations where you couldn’t tell that any business was being done at all. It might have been simply networking with others, but I never let my guard down no matter how friendly or casual it seemed. You never know what coded messages or strategizing might be going down. 

Business tables are usually good for the PPA (per person average) especially when people are in town for conventions using company plastic. They are expected to be a bit extravagant when it comes to food and drink, especially if they’re courting business. As I said, it doesn’t always translate to a nice tip percentage, but when a 4 top spends $200 at a restaurant that normally has a 4 top spending $100, a 15% tip is better than a 20% tip on the smaller bill. Try looking at it that way.

I was going to start writing about another type of table, but it’s getting late and I’m winding down after a Saturday night shift, so I guess there’s be a pat. 3 in the next day or two.

It’s hot!

Here in the Mid-South, it’s hotter ‘n a tick on the back of a yard dog sleeping on a WalMart parking lot.

What I wouldn’t give for a nice cold glass of rosé.

“Wait, Teleburst”, I hear you exclaim, “aren’t you always talking about quality??!!?? Why do you want to drink a white zinfandel”?

Well, dear reader, I don’t. I don’t want to drink a white zin at all, I want to drink a rosé, that wonderful light summer wine from the hottest part of France, Provence, or perhaps a Tavel from the Southern Rhone, also a pretty hot area.

A good rosé is a marvelous thing. Just as a Tom Collins is a rather ordinary drink that is transformed into the greatest thing since sliced bread if you’re sitting on a hot porch watching the sun beat down on your tomatoes, a true French rosé is a tonic for the soul.

What is rosé anyway? Some call it “blush wine”, for obvious reasons. It’s the color of a fair maiden’s flushed cheeks when she gets those primordial stirrings. White zinfandel is America’s McRosé. A pale imitation (pardon the pun).

Rosé is basically red wine interrupted. The skins of red grapes are removed before full extraction. This reduces the tannins and lightens the color and body. The wine is then finished in a similar fashion to white. Stainless steel is used to avoid the influence of wood.

I’m not a big expert on rosé and I haven’t drunk a lot of them. therefore, I’m not going to give a lot of advice only to say that, of the few that I’ve enjoyed over the years, I’ve never been disappointed. They are priced so that you can experiment without a lot of downside. Start with Tavel or any of the Cotes de Provence wines. They should be drunk young.

Cop a little of the Provençal lifestyle and take the afternoon off. Throw together a nice tapenade, some summer sausages, perhaps a nice ceviche, some crusty bread, a couple of nice cheeses, a nice arugula salad dressed with a light red wine garlic vinaigrette, a squeeze of lemon juice, croutons, diced heirloom tomatoes and watermelon, find a patio with a big umbrella, gather some friends, snag some Campari and ice, and chill a bottle of  Note Bleue Cotôs De Provence Rosé 2009 which I can pick up for you locally for 10.99.  Here’s the description, courtesy of Frugal MacDougal’s:

A wine for all seasons, but especially summer in the south. A blend of 80% Cinsault and 20% Grenache, sources from Provence. Versatile and refreshing with its fruit-forward approach, yet dry enough to work with a variety of foods, from spicy dishes to simple fare. The nose exhibits wild flowers and nutmeg, and the red fruit flavors are persistent throughout the glass. Serve it with a good chill.

Doesn’t that just sound delightful? Your next step is to imagine that one of your companions is Grace Kelly, your Austin Healy 3000 is parked around the corner and you are sitting on the Côte d’Azur amid window boxes of geraniums and bushes of rosemary. You can smell the sea air and the roll of $20 in your pocket slated for a couple of days at the Casino in Monaco is burning a hole in your pocket.


Sometimes I do a post that I have every intention of following up on. But then, it falls through the cracks. Here is that very post:

Last year, I wrote about brandy and cognac. I mentioned that I’d be getting a little deeper into the cognac thing, so, half a year later, here we are!

As I mentioned in that post, cognac is a subset of brandy. It’s named for a small mercantile town just north of the Bordeaux region of France. Cognac sits on the Charente River, which empties into the Bay of Biscayne at Rochefort , just north of the Gironde estuary, the site of the most fabled (if not the most “grand”) Chateaux in the world such as Margaux, Latour and Lafitte.

In the middle of the last millennium, the Charente was a somewhat significant river for shipping, sending barges laden with casks of brandy to the world and receiving spices and other exotica from around the globe. Cognac was a natural river port, but actually, the town further upstream, Jarmac, current home of Courvoisier, was on track to be the “home of cognac” that Cognac itself eventually became. According to Nicholas Faith’s great book on cognac, which, sadly, I can’t put my hands on at the moment, Jarmac was a more significant port, but a nobleman who had influence (perhaps it was Louis XIV) decided to show favor to Cognac over Jarmac (I’m going by memory here). Hence, most of the “houses”  ended up in Cognac proper, formerly a large salt distribution center. It’s quite possible that without noble intervention, we could all be drinking jarmac today.

Most people aren’t aware that cognac is like blended scotch in that most of the cognac that we consume is blended from many different barrels. Each “house” has its own flavor profile that it keeps standard through the use of the cellar master (Le Maitre de Chai – yes, it’s still very much a man’s game), but it is based on as many as a hundred different sources. There are a handful of producers that make a product similar to a single malt scotch, but they are very rare.

Cognac was designated a wine growing region on May 1, 1909. It took another 30 years for Cognac to be declared a Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) or Controlled Appellation of Origin.

The region itself is broken down by zones  which roughly correspond to the geologic tendencies. there are six such “growing areas” ranked in order of quality and considered “crus” under the AOC –  Grande Champagne (GC), Petite Champagne (PG), Borderies, Fines Bois, Bons Bois, Bois Ordinaries. Finally, there’s an oddball designation, Fine Champagne, which is a blend of the top two crus.

Don’t be confused, the word champagne has nothing to do with the bubbly chardonnay drink that we pop on special occasions. In fact, cognac must be made from at least 90%  Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanché or Colombard. 

The four predominate soil characteristics of the region are chalk, clay, limestone and sand. Each of the regions has a specific composition that sets it apart from the others. This helps distinguish the flavor profiles as much as the blending does.

Here’s a map of the region. You’ll note that it looks roughly like a target:

Map courtesy of the Borderies distillers Domaine du Buisson and can be found here:

This is a small distillery that blends from their own vineyards, so they are closer to the spirit of the single malt scotch distiller, although they still blend from various casks. They just don’t buy from a variety of producers like the major houses do.

Anyway, getting back to the map, you can see that the highest designation, Grande Champagne, comes from a roughly round region that would be considered the “bulls-eye”. Some call it “The Golden Circle”. This is the home of the biggest distillers and the source of the highest quality raw stock. Its soil is mostly chalk, clay and limestone. It is this composition that gives the best cognac its renown for consistent quality. However, as in the case of Domaine du Buisson, excellent cognacs can be found outside of the region, although they can be hard to find in the US. Also, there are some blends that rely on grapes from outside this region, such as Martell’s Cordon Bleu, which relies on the nutty and floral characteristics of grapes grown in Borderies.

Now that we’ve briefly discussed the regions, lets delve into the various quality designators and the production of cognac. 

First of all, you should know that if there’s an age designate, the age refers to the youngest vintage used. the minimum age requirement is two years, but this is virtually never used. Distillers usually start at 12 years and go up from there. Until it’s blended, the wine is known as eau-de-vie (waters of life). Cognac is twice-distilled, normally in pot stills, also known as alembic stills. These are onion shaped copper pots.

The ratio of eau-de-vie to cognac is roughly 9 to 1.

The various initials that are supposed to designate quality are sometimes confusing to the novice. The lowest quality cognac is called VS, or “very special”. I don’t know what makes it “very special”, since there’s no S rating, but there ya go. Here they are in order from bottom to top:

VS – very special. This is the “youngest” of the cognacs. Minimum age of the eau-de-vie is 2 years old.  Technically, you could have 95% of the cognac being 50 years old and only 5% 2 years old, and it would still be considered VS. Theoretically, this could be far superior and pricier than a VSOP or XO.  Obviously, a distiller would be out of his or her mind to do this. VSes are generally made from the youngest of the usable vintages. The fact that it’s the lowest designation doesn’t mean that it’s bad, just that it won’t have the distinctive and rich flavor profiles of headier blends.

VSOP – very special old pale. Sounds very British, doesn’t it? I suspect that they are responsible for the designation, especially since the acronym refers to English words. This is the next step up in quality and price. The minimum age of the  eau-de-vie is 4 years old. Generally, you’ll see the average age of the eaux-de-vie ramp up as we go up the rungs.

XO – Extra old. Minimum age is 6 years old. Now we’re talking mostly old vintages, some of which can be a half a century or more old. This is going to change to 8 years in 2016, assuring an even more exclusivity.

You also have other qualifiers. Napoleon falls somewhere between VSOP and XO. It must be as old as an XO, but presumably, the average age will be lower, so it won’t be quite as expensive as an XO, but it demands a premium above VSOP.

Hors d’âge (beyond age) is basically a premium XO.  Louis XIII de Rémy Martin and Hennessey Richard (pronounce it ri-CARD) are examples of this. For example, Louis XIII uses 1200 different eaux-de-vie, some of which are 100 years old.

Extra – older than XO, you might think of this as an XXO. This can command a premium double that of an XO.  Rémy Martin even has an “Extra Perfect” that almost  doubles the price of Extra.

There are a couple of other more obscure designations that we’ll let slide.

There is one maker who is famous for ocean maturation – Kelt. They send barrels on a 3 month tour (as opposed to the three hour tour that Gilligan and his mates made). Unlike the Skipper and Maryanne, these barrels come back at the end of their voyage. This is done to pay homage to the origins of brandy and cognac as well as possibly introduce the variations in temperature and the influence of the salty sea air.

Cognac is traditionally served in a warmed brandy snifter, although Riedel and others have designed dedicated cognac glasses that look more like larger port glasses. Warming the glass allows the aromatics to be released, giving the taster a profound nose of rich scents. Whenever I serve a cognac, I give it a little swirl on the table to encourage this aroma. there are even nice devices that perform the function of warming that you are unlikely to see in most restaurants.

Cognac should be savored at the end of a meal and not drunk in conjunction with food, although any rule can certainly be broken. If you drink cognac with savory dishes, both will suffer. I really don’t even suggest serving cognac with sweets. That’s better left to sweet dessert wines. While some drink it with various juices, if you’re going to mix them, you should stick with cheaper brandies. It’s a waste of your money and the quality of the spirit.

Well, I hope that this very large thumbnail sketch gives you a better appreciation for this fine spirit. As a waiter, you should always keep cognac in your back pocket for those guests who clearly have an eye for quality. A little prompting could add another $10 – $300 to the check and provide the guest with a taste of luxury so often lacking in today’s dining.

Reading tables pt. 1

One of the most essential tasks a waiter can master is something that’s difficult to teach – the art of reading a table.

Some people are naturals at it. Most of us, not so much.

This is a skill that requires ongoing work. About the only way you get good at it is by trial and error. Even those in the business for years will occasionally misread a table.

Reading a table requires that you somehow get into the head of the guest. You do this by observing body language, inflection, tone and facial expressions.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to know that the guest is under stress if he’s sitting bolt upright, fists clenched, eyebrows furrowed and an unpleasant cadence to his voice. It’s harder when the signs are more subtle.

I’m not here to give you a tutorial on body language. I’m no particular expert when it comes to determining intent from the way a person is leaning or whether she crosses her legs or not. I can’t read a man’s soul by the way his eyebrows arch. But what I can do is to tell you to be observant and see how people respond when they are acting, sitting and talking a certain way. Eventually, you’ll start to see patterns and start to be able to predict behavior.

I’ve found that there are some general categories of guests and table behavior. Table behavior is ofttimes contagious. If the Alpha at the table is behaving a certain way, you’ll see people start to fall into the same behavior, if only out of self-preservation.

I’ve listed some of the categories I’ve found for general behavior. This could describe any or all of the guests at a table, but I’ll use it to describe an individual.

1. The relaxed pro. If you are reasonably competent, this is a dream table. This person isn’t hung up on formalities, although he or she expects top-notch service. They are happy to be dining out (actually they are probably happy to be wherever they are), are there for a good time, enjoy a bit of banter, and don’t “sweat the small stuff”. Entrees running a little behind? No worries. They don’t have a stopwatch and, besides, they’re too busy having an intelligent discussion about Doctor Who with their tablemates. They actually enjoy their food, not over-analyse or critique it (unless there’s something seriously wrong with the way that it’s been cooked, they ordered the food knowing what they were going to get based on the restaurant that they’re in). They tip properly, and will cut you a break if there’s a foul-up or two, as long as you express a desire to make things right. To give this type proper service, you simply have to do your job.

The control freak. This person has to play waiter, chef, and GM. This person can’t let the chef design a recipe without modifying it somehow, will tell a waiter how to do service by constantly demanding that the waiter do things his way even if it will negatively impact service, and will demand a certain type of solution to a problem. There’s no fighting a person like this because you will lose. What  you can do is start to turn the tables by asking her about every little detail, assuming that you have time, of course.  If you play to this (you can’t fight it anyway), you can have some fun in your head laughing about how you are manipulating them. “How long would you like between courses, ma’am”? “Would you like a lot of dressing or just a little, or should I bring it on the side”? “when you say ‘On the rocks’, do you mean regular ice or light ice?” Might as well have a little fun and, by playing to their ego, you’re likely to get a good tip. If you try to impose your own will, you’re likely to get a mediocre tip.

The celebrity. As my friend Marta wrote about at her most excellent blog, “How To Be a Better Restaurant Customer” (see blogroll for link), there are people who think they are a celebrity. You should know who they are (“Don’t you know who I am?” is a question that I was recently asked, believe it or not!). These people are close personal friends of the GM/owner/mayor/rock star and they demand only the best. They also usually want something for free. How do you deal with them? With a bit of diffidence. “Really, that’s cool. what would you like to drink?” You want to maintain an air of awareness without being impressed that they hang out with Nickleback whenever they’re in town. You can be impressed but not too much. If you’re feeling bold, you can trot out the fact that you once waited on Cybill Shepherd back in the Moonlighting days, or whatever story you have in your back pocket for just that sort of occasion. Put yourself on more equal footing but don’t try to outdo them. Play to their ego just enough to keep the tip up because these sort of people think that 3% of your tip is worth the privilege of waiting on such a “celebrity”. Just don’t tell them that most real celebrities are quite generous. You will probably have to get them something for free. Make it as much of a token thing as you can.  No need in reinforcing their sense of entitlement any more than necessary.

The sourpuss. Never smiles. Always has had a bad day. Is married to someone who they hate. Has had the fun sucked out of life years ago. Will always find something wrong with the food, even if they have to work at it because they’re not happy unless there’s a problem. If there isn’t a problem, they’ll manufacture one.  Don’t try to cheer this one up – it won’t work. You might try the co-dependency route – reinforce his sense of gloom. “Yes, the weather has been way too hot”. “The gumbo’s too spicy? I know how you feel, gumbo should only be a little spicy”. “I’m sorry that it’s so loud in here – I can barely hear myself think. I wish they’d put some sound-deadening material on the walls”. You can actually turn a table around with this approach. You might save an average tip and I’ve actually seen some really good tips come out of a table like this if you don’t take the “Let’s try to cheer up Mr. Grumpypants” routine. They’ll appreciate it. Just don’t be as dour as they are. You want to let them maintain their level of dourness without sinking them into despair. You don’t want them hanging themselves in the coat room.

We’ll continue this in a future post.

I’m sorry that we don’t have your type of boutique bottle water sir. Can I get you a free appetizer to make up for it or do I have to let you eat my first born child?

New link added – The Bitchy Waiter

It’s been a while since I added a link. It hasn’t been on purpose. Some of the links that I’ve intended to add have been dormant for months. Some of the sites just haven’t compelled me to add them, but that might be as much my fault as any fault in the content. Mostly, it’s just been the general sense of inertia and ennui.

The name of this blog says it all. However, this isn’t just another waiter bitch site. There’s plenty of bitching about other aspects of life.

It’s witty, well-written and there’s usually a point to whatever carping might or might not be going on. I think that my readers will enjoy it to the max, so make sure you not only check it out, but subscribe or bookmark it.

Let’s welcome The Bitchy Waiter with a hardy, “Really”? (Fans of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update will get this reference). We’ll raise a glass of bitter tears as well.

Look for the link in Ye Olde Blogroll shortly.

Picture found at

this is a great site called “Freaking News” and is paert of their Photoshop contest. If you are a Photoshop wizard, you might want to sign up.

BTW, the fact that the Queen is pictured as a waiter is not intended to reflect on the author of The Bitchy Waiter. I just found it funny. Also, apologies in advance to any Royalists that might be reading this.