So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Tag Archives: Charlie Trotter's

And now…the rest of the story

Yesterday, I talked about , Laura Martinez, the blind lady who wanted to, trained for, and became a chef.

Don’t ya just love a happy ending, especially one as juicy as this one?

Charlie Trotter job offer makes blind chef’s dreams come true

Tribune profiled woman’s quest in December

By Rex W. Huppke, Tribune reporter

January 27, 2010

In late December, the Tribune profiled a young blind woman chasing her dream of becoming a chef. Laura Martinez will finish her work at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary program at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago this spring, but she was worried her disability might make it difficult to find work doing what she loves.

Passionate about food and, according to the head of the program, tremendously skilled, Martinez’s worries are now over.

A producer for CBS “The Early Show” read the Tribune story and decided to send a crew to report on Martinez. To add a twist, CBS arranged for renowned Chicago chef Charlie Trotter to come with them to watch Martinez at work in the cafeteria kitchen at the Chicago Lighthouse, a center for people who are blind or visually impaired.

“We thought he’d go, he’d offer some encouragement and that would be that,” said Robert Kozberg of CBS.

Instead, the chef offered Martinez a job.

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chicago/ct-met-blind-chef-20100127,0,6107489.story

Behind the scenes at Charlie Trotter’s, from the very fine, and ironically named (at least in this case) blog, “Taste With the Eyes”, from Lori Lynn. Visit her blog here:

http://www.tastewiththeeyes.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.

Designing and building the perfect dining experience

I was watching Charlie Rose interview the famous Italian architect (and builder, as he would insist) Renzo Piano. You know that Pompidou Center in Paris? It’s his. The new Modern Wing of The Art Institute of Chicago? Yep – that’s his as well. And it occurred to me that the waiter is a combination of architect and builder, only the edifice that’s erected is a great dining experience, not an impressive housing of humans, art, commerce or science.

It’s hard to be an architect without the knowledge of structural engineering.  And, it’s hard to build a building without blueprints. As a waiter, it’s your job to supply both.

First of all, you have to have the knowledge of what makes a great dining experience. And, guess what? It isn’t necessarily fine china, a world-renowned chef and a glittering array of wines, opulence and accouterments.

It’s the feeling of satisfaction that the guest has when they take pen to credit card slip to fulfill the social contract that he or she has accepted when he or she has allowed the waiter and the restaurant that he or she works in to provide them with The Meal.

The Meal can be as humble as the perfectly cooked sunny-side up eggs, crisp bacon and an always full cup of hot, steaming coffee combined with a wise-cracking server with a heart of gold that sees you three times a week and asks about your daughter that’s getting ready to graduate. Or it can be dinner at Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia, replete with the invisible but always present service that seems to whisk the detritus of your day away and provides a wallet-busting culinary extravaganza to boot.  As long as it’s presented by great culinary architects, it doesn’t matter. And guess what – you’re one of those people if you’ve chosen to wait on tables. The chef is important in the building process because, without good food, the framework and foundation of the building is suspect. The management is important because, without a good management team, nobody would ever want to live or work in the building that you’re trying to construct.

The waiter is the associate  that has to stand up to Frank Lloyd Wright and say, “You’ve got to make sure that this cantilevered balcony won’t fall into the creek  – shouldn’t you add this strut here?”  The waiter is the subcontractor that makes sure that the taped seams of the drywall are invisible.  The waiter is the humble drywall worker who has to hold that drywall panel up so that it can be taped. The waiter is the codes inspector wrangler. The waiter is the person who notices that the almost invisible marble panel at the top of the lobby has a slight crack and must be replaced. 

Yes, you’re probably tired of hearing this, but we will be discussing all of this in future posts. Believe it or not, there are many parallels between architecture and dining and we will be hitting some of those similarities down the road.

But my goal here is to stop you from thinking of waiting tables as “less than”. It’s a noble profession and it’s time that not only restaurant guests, but you, understand this and take your job seriously, whether you’re Flo the gum-snapping waitress or Angela, the multi-lingual captain at Charlie Trotter’s.

You build the foundation with your spiel, you erect the framework with your constant care of the guest and yes, you actually help design the building through your reading of the guest, the interface with the kitchen and your solving of the problems that pop up to delay the completion of the project.

Not every dining experience is going to be the Guggenheim.

But you can sure try.BTW, here’s some inspiration:

TheGuggenheimMuseumBilbao

Image and caption from:

http://www.artknowledgenews.com/files2008/TheGuggenheimMuseumBilbao.jpg