Yes, I said books.
But not just any books.
You have to calibrate the type of book with your favorite waiter. If your waiter friend works at Applebees, they might not need a huge wine book. If you are only a casual friend who’s giving a small gift, you might not want to spend $30 for a really nice book, but you still want to find them something useful. And if you know that your particular waiter is a foodie, it makes it easier to choose a book that might pique his or her interest.
So I’m going to break this down into different categories. Almost everything you see here has been the subject of a short review right here on SYWTBAW. Just plug the name in and see a picture of the cover, snatch the ISBN and read a bit about the book.
Stocking Stuffer/Secret Santa/Casual acquaintance. These books are fairly inexpensive and useful in the day-to-day world of a waiter, no matter what kind of restaurant they work in:
The Food Lover’s Companion – Sharon Tyler Herbst – compact and comprehensive dictionary of culinary terms and ingredients.
Waiter Rant – The Waiter – now out in paperback, every waiter will appreciate this great collection of “stories from the front”.
Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain – it’s possible that your waiter friend already has this one, or has at least read it. An inside glimpse into the making of a chef and how restaurants really work. Long available in paperback.
Books for waiters with culinary pretensions. Some are pricey in any format:
Larousse Gastronomique – Considered a foundation book for foodies, chefs and anyone with an intense interest in classic cuisine.
The French Laundry Cookbook and Bouchon – Thomas Keller – A pair of lavishly illustrated books that achieve the remarkable – equally at home on the coffee table or the prep table.
Jeremiah Tower Cooks – Jeremiah Tower – Another chef-written book, penned by a pioneer in modern American cuisine. Many of the recipes are practical and can be used in daily cooking. Has a beautiful coffee table cover but isn’t really a coffee table type book.
Splendid Soups and Sauces – James Peterson – Not one book but two different volumes. Foundation books for any level chef. If you really like your waiter friend, and you have deep pockets, presenting them as a set would be a grand gesture.
La Technique and La Methode – Jacques Pepin – Foundation books for any level chef. First written and published in the 70s, these practical “step-by-step” volumes helped spur on the increasing interest in fine cooking in the US. Can now be found as a combined volume.
If your gift recipient has a particular interest in a specific type of cuisine, it’s easy to use the Internet to find great books in any category. I have reviewed multiple books in Thai and Japanese cuisine. I can highly recommend any of those volumes. I have also reviewed quite a few barbeque and grilling/smoking books as well.
Wine geeks/fine dining waiters/waiters moving up the employment food chain:
Wine for Dummies – Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan – This book is perfect for waiters who are working in restaurants with fairly limited winelists or are young waiters who don’t have extensive personal experience with wine. It’s not a bad gift for more experienced waiters either because, as is the case with the “…For Dummies” series, a lot of information is covered in a breezy yet authoritative style. You can also find “…For Dummies” books in wine subcategories like Italian as well.
The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson – This hefty and pricey tome is for the true wine geek. Filled with maps of famous vineyards and wine-growing areas, there are copious amounts of background info on regions, vintners and well-known properties.
An Encyclopedia of the Wines and Domaines of France – Clive Coates – a specialized volume for wine geeks and waiters who have extensive French wines on their restaurant’s wine list. Highly recommended.
Frank Stitt’s Southern Table – Recipes and Gracious Traditions From Highland Bar and Grill – Frank Stitt – This book could belong in the “culinary category” but I include it here because it kills two birds with one stone – it updates Southern cuisine with an emphasis on seasonal and locally procured products but it also pairs specific wine with specific dishes.
The Oxford Companion for Wine – Jancis Robinson – Written by a Master of Wine, this is a typically deep and broad Oxford reference work. Essential for any wine geek that doesn’t already have it.
I hesitate to recommend reference books from Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator. They are certainly handy but they are almost obsolete by the time they are published, especially Parker, who only updates his every few years. His books are designed more for the collector and purveyor, but even I have an older edition simply because it offers a very personal look at the various winemakers, gathered from years of personal barrel tastings and interaction with vintners large and small. As an alternative, you might want to give the wine geek waiter in your life an on-line subscription to The Wine Spectator or Robert Parker. In the case of The Wine Spectator, buying a subscription unlocks the entire wine database, offers mobile access (handy when you’re standing in front of rows and rows of wines), and allows you to keep track of wine collections or wines of note. The Robert Parker online subscription offers much the same thing. I’ve found both of them useful for getting very specific capsule reviews of the very wines on my wine list, which I have copied and pasted to handy guides that I maintain. This is very useful for finding the proper adjectives to describe specific wines to my guests. Robert Parker costs $99 a year and The Wine Spectator costs $49 a year. parker also offers short term subscriptions for $12for a month and $29 for 3 months.
Obviously this is just a short list of valuable resources. The more you know about the waiter that you are buying a gift for, the more appropriate a gift you can target. The internet offers a great way to search for very specific items and you can also find reviews from people like myself or at big sites like Amazon.com. I suggest that you provide the receipt in case your waiter already has the book that you have bought or would rather exchange it for a different book.
Image courtesy of http://www.dreamstime.com/book-with-bow-imagefree4321885