So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

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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.

Review of How To Be A Better Restaurant Customer

How to be a better restaurant customer –  stop sabotaging your own dining experiences. 

A simple compound sentence that forms the title of a provocative eBook by Marta Daniels, who began this project as a blog. Daniels, who has been in the business for over 10 years, has seen it all and has a great storytelling sense.  Using examples that waiters everywhere have experienced time and time again, Daniels’ goal is to educate the dining public about the ways that they make waiters’ jobs far more difficult than they need to be.

Everyone complains about bad service, but they don’t realize how much of the experience they hold in their own hands. Waiters aren’t robots  that automatically turn a diner’s presence in the restaurant into a super experience.  They are bound not only by the circumstance of the restaurant but also by the behavior of the guest. I think that the average diner would be amazed about how often waiters must deal with diners who come in with chips on their shoulder. Sometimes it’s because they’ve had a bad day, sometimes it’s because they have always sabotaged their own dining experience because of the way that they were taught by their parents or by unreasonable expectations that they’ve held for one reason or the other. We as a modern American country have become a “have to have it now”, “want to change the product to suit my needs”, “the customer is always right” and”I am entitled to have things ‘my way’ ” society.

Daniels challenges that paradigm by showing ways to actually turn dining from a zero sum game into a win/win proposition. It doesn’t have to be a “I only win if you lose” or “I have to rank you lower than me to raise myself up” sort of deal. she does this through concrete examples of self-destructive psychoses that we sometimes see with the dining public. She starts at the host stand and works her way through the ceremonial paying of the check and the leaving of the restaurant.

She covers the importance of reading the menu, the abusing of free stuff like bread, the sense of entitlement that some guests have, the modifying of the menu, the coming into for dinner moments before the restaurant closes, the wage structure and tipout responsibilities of the waiter, cell phones, unattended kids, would-be comedians, delusional types (like the people who have to ask you multiple times if the kitchen can do something that you have clearly said that they can’t do) separate checks, pen stealing, and numerous other behaviors that tend to drive waiters of all stripes crazy.

I’m hoping that some people recognize some of these behaviors and gain a new understanding about how these behaviors can impact the dining experience.

I do have a couple of quibbles.

The first is that a reader can get the idea that waiters don’t have any control of their circumstances and the second is that they aren’t psychic.

 To the first, great waiters can triumph even through double-seats, kitchen going down in flames, bad management (up to a point, that is), being so weeded that they can’t see straight, kitchen meltdowns, etc. I realize that this isn’t the purview of this book, but I would have liked to see some acknowledgment that waiters have some responsibility in service, even when faced with obstacles. After all, it’s true to a certain extent that these problems aren’t the guest’s concern, that they are there just to eat and have a great experience. I’m not sure how you would fold this into the theme of the book, but I wish that Marta had tried. After all, if you read my own blog, you know that waiters have strategies that they can employ to turn a potentially distasteful dining experience into an uplifting one.

To the second point, we might not be psychic, but great waiters are mind readers to a certain extent. We read body and facial language and we have to read between the lines sometimes.  I understand Marta’s point in that, if something is important to you as a diner, then you need to be specific about it and not leave it to waiters to figure it out for themselves. If you have a certain quirk or a hot button issue about dining out that really ticks you off if it occurs, it’s best to address it with your waiter, not assume that they should know about it. I guess that I would like an acknowledgment that great waiters are psychic to a certain degree and this is one way that a guest can judge the competency of a waiter, i.e. if they ask the perfect questions in order to determine the exact nature of comments that you make. For example, if Mary M. Q. Contrary asks, “How hot is Rattlesnake Pasta?”, she might be asking for one of two reasons – she either doesn’t like hot food (the usual reason), or she loves hot food. It’s up to the waiter to ask, “What is your heat tolerance”? If the waiter assumes that’s she’s scared of hot food but it turns out that she actually loves hot food and the waiter says, “It’s quite spicy” because most people find it pretty spicy, she might very well be disappointed in the Rattlesnake Pasta that the chef has been careful to season to give the semblance of heat while being able to be enjoyed by the greatest number of people possible.

Another slightly anal quibble is the discussion of t-bone vs. porterhouse. Porterhouse is a t-bone. As she rightly goes on to discuss, it’s just a larger version of the t-bone, with the size of the filet portion of the cut and the thickness of the cut being the determining factors. Yes, it’s a “different cut” with a different name, but she misses an opportunity by making it sound like they are completely different cuts (well, technically they are, but not really, if you get my drift). Where she misses her opportunity is by not telling the guest, “We offer the Porterhouse, which is a large t-bone” and then going on to explain the difference. Instead of scolding the guest  for not wanting the Porterhouse because they want the t-bone (after all, not everyone has experienced a Porterhouse or knows what one is), she should let them know that the Porterhouse is a t-bone, a “super t-bone”, if you will. If they are annoyed that they can’t get a Porterhouse for the price of a t-bone, that’s their problem (I suspect that this might be the cause of any problems that she might have with this) They can’t get a 15 oz filet for the price of a 10 oz filet either. I don’t think that there’s enough responsibility placed on the waiter in this book, but it is written to educate the diner, so perhaps my quibble isn’t really fair when it comes to this point.

I hope that restaurant diners read this book with an open mind. The tone is one of tough love, of chiding and scolding done to emphasize the points that she’s making. that can be off-putting to some people, especially people who don’t recognize their own dining behavior. But much of this is stuff that needs to be said. There are already plenty of complaints, some richly deserved, about the level of service in the US. This book, through outlining situations that every one of us waiters have been through over and over, shows the other side of the coin.

I think that the idea is a novel one. Most of the time, when you read about restaurant service, it’s either from the aspect of improving service from the service end (like my blog), a waiter’s rant sort of blog, or critical comments from diners about the horrible experiences that they’ve had or complaining about the tipping system that has developed in the US. Daniels has found a unique angle to dining and this should be required reading for anyone who dines out in restaurants. Just understand that there is plenty of waiter ranting, but it’s done to help you, the diner, have a better experience and become a more understanding consumer.

Here’s another, possibly better, review of her book:

http://technorati.com/entertainment/article/how-to-be-a-better-restaurant/

You can get the book here:

http://howrc.com/

As of this writing, it’s available for $2.99. It’s a steal at twice the price.

                                                                                               Marta Daniels.

PS Marta, it’s tomatoes, not tomatos. But I’m not one to talk, considering how many typos and misspellings escape my careful editing of my own blog.

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.

Cookbook of the day – The Seducer’s Cookbook

Seducer's cookbook

The Seducer’s Cookbook

by Mimi Sheraton

Publisher Random House (1963)

This was a gag gift given to me by my GM one Christmas. I’m not sure what the message was supposed to be or what his image of me was, but I’m glad to have received it because it’s a cheeky little product of pre-Kennedy assassination America.

This was the time of a freeing of the mores of the 50s and the promise of a more urbane and worldly US. Jackie Kennedy was the hostess and style editor of America and, although we didn’t know it at the time, JFK was working his way through the distaff Washington and Hollywood elite while his wife was seducing America at large.

This book bridges both of those themes with humor, panache and a nod and a wink by famed food critic and writer, Mimi Sheraton.

It’s illustrated in that wonderful line drawing early 60s cartoon style by Paul Coker. You might not know the name unless you’re a MAD Magazine freak, but his sparse style helped define the cartoon style of the early 60s:

Coker 007

His artwork really establishes the time, place and atmosphere of the book.

Oh yeah, the book – it’s very witty. You get little bon mots as How to Seduce Your wife – “A good rule of thumb here is to keep thinking what you would do if you were after a woman who was not your wife and then stick as close to that program as possible”. It’s not quite Oscar Wilde, but it’ll do in a pinch.

It’s not just for the sleazy male seducer with the cravat and bearskin rug either. There’s plenty of tricks that the evil woman will pull off to bag her prey, both sides of the equation being represented by a lot of perfectly good 60s recipes, some obvious and some not so.

So, I’m really lucky to have this First Edition library covered treasure from a time almost forgotten. I’m eternally grateful to that GM for enhancing my bookshelf.

BTW, this edition is dedicated to Dick.

I think it’s fortunate that she was married to a guy named Richard, whom she apparently seduced well enough to still be married to him lo these 50 years.

MimiSheraton

Cookbook of the day – The Barbecue! Bible

barbecue_bible_lg

The Barbecue! Bible

by Steven Raichlen

  • Publisher Workman Publishing Company (January 6, 1998)
  • ISBN 10: 1563058669
  • ISBN 13: 978-1563058660
  • This was the first of the big barbecue books from Steven Raichlen. This is more in the style of BBQ USA than How To Grill. In other words, rather than being a photographic step by step pictorial tutorial, this is more narrative. The only photographs you’ll find are of people, places and things, not dishes or ingredients. You’ll find some illustrative woodcuts peppered throughout, but this is as much travelogue as it is recipe book. Don’t get me wrong – there are hundreds of recipes. But there are also descriptions of famous restaurants throughout the world, good tips on things like larding meat, and , of course, the obligatory section on the nuts and bolts and coals of grilling and barbecueing. He starts by acknowledging the difference between the two terms grilling and barbecueing and by no means is this intended to simply be a treatise on barbecuing. It’s clear that we Americans tend to use the terms interchangeably anyway, even if they aren’t strictly the same thing. How many times have you been invited to a “barbecue” where the only things served off of a fire were steaks, hot dogs and burgers? Technically, you should have been invited to a “grilling”.

    In any case, while there’s some redunancy if you already own the other two books that I’ve mentioned, all three books are reasonably enough priced where you should get all three (you’ll end up with about 1500 pages of recipes and information about the world of cooking over flame, coals and wood). You should even check out some of his other books as well. The only other book of his that I have is his very early volume Miami Spice, and I’ll be reviewing that in the future.  The three books that I’ve already reviewed and mentioned in this post are definitely must-haves. The others are optional.

    The great thing about these books is the care that Raichlen takes in highlighting barbecue and grilling techniques and recipes from around the world and different barbecue styles right here in the US. You’ll find many exotic and wonderful creations here, whether you want to reproduce Afghan styled chicken, actually an Indian dish, or Saigon street kabobs. 

    Oh yeah, you can watch him on some PBS stations as well.

    saigon grill

    Image from “noodlepie” at Flickr:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/noodlepie/7276397/

    Cookbook of the day – How To Grill

    How To Grill

    How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques

    by Steven Raichlen

     

  • Publisher: Workman Publishing Company; illustrated edition edition (May 1, 2001)
  • ISBN-10: 0761120149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0761120148
  •  

    Perhaps you’ve seen Steven Raichlen on his show Primal Grill. If you liked it, you’ll love this book. Lavishly photographed, with step-by-step photographs, you’ll learn by watching, almost as if he were over your shoulder. You’ll learn how to barbeque a whole pig, how to build different types of fires, how to judge the temperature of the grill using the hand technique (no, you don’t rest your hand on the grill!).  He covers pulled pork (one of my specialties), and does a reasonable job of covering the world’s different grilling techniques, from jerk to churrasco to yakitori. Even experienced grillmeisters can benefit from this colorful book. This isn’t an “artsy” book – the photographs are instructional in nature, not evocative, although there are some shots of grilled meats and veggies that are likely to get your pulse racing.

    It seems appropriate on July 1st to recommend that everyone pick up this book before their 4th of July festivities. You might find something “out-of-the-box” with which to dazzle your guests.

    Raichlen_backyard_sm