So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Tag Archives: book of the day

The book that you have been waiting for is finally out!

No, not my book.

Sorry to get you all excited.

No, it’s Tips²: Tips For Improving Your Tips by David Hayden of the Hospitality Formula Network.

Let me be blunt – if you are a waiter/server/bartender and you don’t buy this book, then you really don’t care about how much money you make. This book is a multiplier of skills and bank. It’s written in a clear, concise yet comprehensive style. It’s laid out logically and covers just about every topic that a waiter needs to know in terms of maximizing his or her earning potential.

The book is broken down into 10 sections and 41 chapters. With sections like Before Your Shift, Starting Your Shift, Interacting with Your Guests, and The Mechanics of Serving, the book puts lie to Hayden’s statement that “This book is NOT a training manual. Due to the fact that you picked up this book, it is assumed you know how to wait tables”. Those preliminary sections cover much of what the rank amateur waiter needs to know to make his or her descent into the maelstrom of waiting tables a smooth and unbumpy one. This book should be part of the training package of every restaurant who hires people who have never been waiters.

But it doesn’t stop there – with subsequent sections like Selling and Serving Wine, The Pitch, The Key Times, Selling as a Server, Special Guests, and The Intangibles, the main intent of the book becomes clear – waiter make money, guest get good experience, manager get smooth shift – everybody happy.

My blog covers many of the same points. In fact, you’ll get a sense of déjà vu when you read Mr. Hayden’s book if you’ve spent any time with my posts. The main difference is the clarity of vision and training. I tend to ramble, go off-the-cuff, go off on tangents, and generally get parenthetical (sometimes). You’ll find little of that in this book. What you’ll find is  a book full of practical hints, tips and directives that aren’t just theoretical abstracts; they can be applied on a daily basis.

Do I think it’s complete? Hell no! There are valid points that this very blog have made that are left out. Anyone who has waited tables for a long time has had situations that have given them insight that could be valuable to the waiter-at-large. But, all in all, the book is probably the most practical and valuable resource that a waiter could find on any bookshelf (either real or virtual) in North America. I say North America because other restaurant cultures have different standards and practices that might be at odds with the North American restaurant culture.

In a perfect world, this book would be the core of the book that I had intended when I first considered starting a blog on the subject of waiting tables. I wanted a book that was lavishly illustrated with photographs, filled with sidebars of interesting factoids and footnotes, brimming with information about everything from rapini to Calvados. I envisioned parts of the book that would be considered reference material for the ages – a book with the heft of a wine atlas, the look, feel and knowledge of a Thomas Keller book, the practical and accessible wisdom of a “…for Dummies” book. This book would be part of the curriculum at Cornell, would sit on every restaurant book shelf, would grace the coffee tables of the rich and poor alike, and my name would be whispered with a measured awe in the break rooms of restaurants for years to come.

Well, sorry. The bones are there; the framework sitting in the archives of this very blog. Until the storied day when a literary agent looks at my concept, knows just the perfect graphic designer to create the cheap equivalent of the Nathan Myhrvold “Modern Cuisine” $625 cookbook, my dream of the ultimate book on waiting tables is just that – a dream.

Until then, this book by David Hayden does what I hoped to do – make it possible for a newly-minted waiter to avoid the usual pitfalls of “learning on the job”. This is a dual goal; not only does it mean that waiters can share the knowledge necessary to maximize earnings, it means that fewer restaurant guests will have to suffer the fumbling of such “on-the-fly training”.

It’s lean, it’s mean – it’s the opposite of what I intended. And just what the world needs.

BUY THIS BOOK.

Buy my book or I'll make you look like a fool in front of your date.

Book of the day – The Essential Wine Book by Oz Clarke

Oz Clarke’s New Essential Wine Book: An Indispensable Guide to Wines of the World

by Oz Clarke

  • Publisher: Fireside; 3 Rev Upd edition (December 20, 2005)
  • ISBN 10: 0743286685
  • ISBN 13: 978-0743286688
  • Note: all comments forthwith are based on the 1996 edition of this book.

    Robert Parker says it best on the cover of the edition that I own – The Essential Wine Book…is the best introductory text to wine and the most enjoyable to read.

    My edition is over 15 years old, having been published in 1996. Clarke, a wry Brit who’s not Australian despite his nickname, has found a format that really makes it easy for the wine neophyte to get a handle on the oft confusing world of wine. The book is small enough to be easily handled and large enough to offer space for nice color photographs and numberous sidebars.

    The book is quickly outdated as he gives specific vintage recommendations and specific wine choices. That’s part and parcel of a book that tries to be a consumer guide in addition to a reference work. Even some of the editorial commentary is outdated, but that’s the nature of a rapidly evolving wine trade.

    But what makes this a standout purchase, especially for people who need some brushing up on their wine knowledge, is the ease in which he throws open the curtains to an often complex and arcane wine world.  The book is logically designed and his observations are clearly personal and somewhat idiosyncratic. He doesn’t just plug in the generic tasting notes for the various varietals and regions that some volumes do. It’s clear that he’s describing the various products from his own tasting perspective and when he hasn’t tasted something, he’ll tell you, as in the case of Château Le Pin, the Pomerol winemaker who has surpassed Château Petrus as the world’s most expensive wine due to its tiny output (the output has tripled to ~600 cases a year from the ~200 cases per year at the time of my edition’s publication).

    Clarke has the ability to describe the characteristics of the land and environment that make each wine-growing region unique without sounding too abstract or scientific.

    This would be the perfect book for a waiter to keep in his or her locker or backpack at all times. You can pick it up, open it at any point, and learn something new about wine. His conversational style is refreshingly honest and colorful. It’s a delightful read and there are enough color photographs to give you a sense of the parts of the world that he’s discussing.

    All in all, for beginners, if there were one book that I would recommend, it would be the latest edition of this book, although, if you come across a copy of an earlier edition for $1.50 as I recently did, you should snap it up.

    You won’t be sorry.

    Clarke also has an informative and entertaining web site here:

    http://www.ozclarke.com/

    Book of the day – Lessons In Service from Charlie Trotter

    Lessons in Service from Charlie Trotter

    by Edmund Lawler

    Publisher: Ten Speed Press (November 28, 2001)  

    ISBN 10: 1580083153

    ISBN 13: 978-1580083157

    Value-added service. Attention to detail. anticipating the guests’ needs. Staff support. Intense quality control.

    These are the lynchpins of the dinner service that is offered at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago.

    This book drills down on these concepts and more as it combines an overview, an inner view and a biographical look at what makes Charlie Trotter’s one of American’s premiere restaurants. After each chapter, there’s a page of “service points” from the preceeding chapter.

    Charlie Trotter’s is different from the restaurants that most of us will work in.

    There’s an attention to detail that rivals a NASA clean room. If it’s chipped, broken, scuffed, slightly frayed, or otherwise less than perfect, it’s fixed or discarded. Most of us work in restaurants that have budgetary constraints that require management to push back replacement or refurbishment. How many times have we told management about rickety chairs or worn carpet or holes in tiles, only to see it pushed back to the next quarter. That sort of thing doesn’t happen at Trotter’s, at least according to this 2001 book.

    Waiters are on a form of salary there. Tips are pooled and doles out as a form of salary. They structured the pool to be close to what servers were making before tips were pooled. This is possible through the high cost of dining at Charlie’s place (in 2001 it averaged about $150 per person). It’s also possible because the staff is highly trained and waits on a limited number of guests per night. there is also intense scrutiny which precludes slackers to be allowed to stick around. This doesn’t mean that everyone makes the same amount of money. They’ve factored in current sales and sales of previous years, experience and customer feedback. A longstanding server might very well make close to double what a new server does. A 401(k) and health plan are standard, at least according to this 2001 book (certainly, all of these are somethings that might have been modified or changed at the time of this review). In fact, when you view the current menus at Charlie Trotter’s website, you’ll see that an 18% mandatory service charge is now being added.

    Waiters in more mainstream restaurants might not have the empowerment that are given them at Charlie Trotter’s. They are trained to accomodate the guest as far as possible and to never say no to any request (I’m sure that there are limits to this because, let’s face it, there are some requests that could not be honored, although it’s doubtful that there many patrons of Trotter’s that would push the envelope of what’s acceptable).

    Few of us work in restaurants that have breakage costs of $40,000 a year due to the use of fragile Riedel glassware and fine Wedgewood china.

    Few of us work in restaurants will work in a restaurant with 2 sommeliers and a massive wine cellar that offers bottles costing thousands.

    And few of us will work in a restaurant that doesn’t even have a service manual. All service is taught directly one-on-one and can last for months.  The standards are much more formal than many waiters experience in their careers. No “folks”, it’s always “ladies and gentlemen”. No touching the backs of the chairs or tables. Obviously, no kneeling and not even bending down to hear the guest better. Rather than a short list of “service commandments”, there are a myriad of service points that must be fulfilled at every table and these are addressed through direct management contact and training. Preshifts are more than a perfunctory recitation of the daily specials. Role-playing and wine tasting could be part of the agenda. Suggestions from the staff might be entertained. Past service issues might be dissected and discussed.

    Yes, there are many things in the way that Charlie Trotter’s staff choreographs the restaurant experience there are impractical for most waiters and their restaurants, and, as such, a waiter or manager reading this book must be cautioned not to necessarily read it as a “how-to” guide, but there are many principles that waiters can absorb that will raise their game.

    It’s not an expensive book and it can be read in a short time. It’s a fascinating “inside look” at one of American’s premiere restaurants, one which undoubtably would sport at least a Michelin star if it weren’t in Chicago (Michelin, which rates the best restaurants from one to three stars, doesn’t go to Chicago). Trotter’s restaurant in Las Vegas received its first star just last year, which sadly won’t be repeated in 2010 because, due to the economy, Michelin won’t be rating restaurants in Las Vegas this year.

    I’ve only scratched the surface about what you will learn about the restaurant and its service philosophy of value-added service and the exceeding of expectations. There are quotes from busboys to dining room managers, from Charlie Trotter to Ray Harris, “Wall Street financier who has eaten at Charlie Trotter’s over 300 times”. There are stories of the occasional glitches and the way those glitches were addressed and solved.

    Read this book and you can’t help elevate your career, even if you work at the most mainstream strip mall grill and bar. And if you are in any facet of the service industry, you would be well-served to pick up this book.

    Photo of Charlie Trotter’s dining rooms taken from official website.