So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Tag Archives: uniform

Quick tip – shiny shoes

If you have black shoes that are supposed to be highly shined, you can make them really shiny by rubbing on some olive oil. Extra virgin is the best (just kidding!)

Personally, I would only do this in a pinch as olive oil is organic and could be become rancid over time.

Army people know about cheating with Future floor wax. It mimics a really deep mirror shine. The downside to it is that it builds up and cracks over time.

The only way to get a really good mirror shine that holds up over time that I know of is the time-tested spit shine. A great spit shine looks like patent leather. While some military people love doing it, for most, it’s the bane of military life, mainly because it takes some practice and a lot of time.

Basically, what you do is get an all-cotton diaper and wrap it around the tips of your fingers. You get some Kiwi black shoe polish in the can and spit into the lid. You dip your diaper-covered fingers into the spit (very lightly) and rub the moistened tips of your fingers on the surface of the wax. You then swirl the damp wax on the shoe in a circular motion until the color on the diaper goes from black to gray. I like to huff on the shoe as a last step and give it a light buff with a clean part of the diaper. You repeat this as many times as necessary until you can see your face in the surface. For a new shoe, it can take 15 or 20 light coats to get this sort of reflectivity (hence, a lot of elbow grease and time). One you get the mirror shine, all it takes is a pass or two every day to maintain it.

As an alternative, I sometimes spit on the surface of the wax. It’s important not to use too much “water”. Once again, this is a “feel thing”.

It takes some practice to get the ratio of wax/spit/pressure. If you rub too hard, it doesn’t work very well. Too light and the layers don’t seem to build. Fortunately for us waiters, we don’t have a Drill Sergeant or Company Commander ragging us on the depth and level of our shine. Even a half-assed spit shine will put you heads and shoulders above everyone else (unless they cheat and wear patent leather shoes).

For a more detailed look at this process, here’s a good tutorial, designed to help a cadet achieve shiny goodness:

One takeaway from this tutorial is that you start with a lot of polish and gradually cut back. With an unshined shoe, the first few layers can be pretty crude. You’re just trying to get a good base of black. As you start to see the shine develop, you use less and less polish and less and less pressure until you are almost just kissing the shoe with the tips of your fingers. One other piece of advice that I didn’t know is that you should use regular Kiwi instead of the more expensive and cool sounding “Parade Gloss”. Even though it sounds like you’ll get a better shine, apparently it builds up paraffin over time.

If you want a mirror shine on your shoes, it will take hours of time. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it all at once since you don’t have a 6am uniform inspection tomorrow morning to worry about. If you spend about 10 minutes a day, by the end of the week, you’ll have a pretty deep shine that you can be proud of. After a couple of weeks, you’ll be shaving yourself using your shoes as a mirror. The neat thing is that maintaining a shine that has gotten to that point only takes about a minute or two a day once you get all of the layers set.

Do my shoes look like that? Are you fucking nuts? But it’s got me wanting to get them there so I”m going to start tomorrow. I promise.

Photo courtesy of

Uniform check

Well kids, it’s been a month or two since I reminded you to check your uniforms.

For newcomers, I suggest that you do a complete uniform check once a month.

You can either do it at the end of the month or at the beginning, since it’s pretty much the same thing. Whichever way is easier to remember is the way that you should do it.

Obviously, during the month, you should be spot-checking your uniforms as you wear them, but the monthly uniform check is more complete. You want to look closely at all of your pants, shirts, shoes, ties, jackets, hats and aprons. You’re looking for frayed edges, spots that refuse to come out, faded colors, etc. If you have some items that are still serviceable but on their last legs, you should consign them to your “emergency” stash. These are items that don’t get used during your normal work week. You’ll use these items in a pinch; for instance, if you’ve neglected your washing and find out that you need a piece of uniform that day or maybe you’re about to do all of your laundry but you get called in. This way, you have something clean that hasn’t been used.

This is the time that you make sure that you have all of your tools as well as backups for those tools. Check your lighters, corkscrew, crumbers, pens, check presenters, captain’s pads, etc. There’s nothing more annoying than to find out that you bent your last crumber. Crumbers aren’t something that you can pick up at the drugstore on your way to work. You should always have at least two of them, one of them kept in reserve in a safe place.

Why do I suggest doing this? Is this just bowing to The Man?

Not exactly.

It’s more for you.

Eventually all uniforms get worn out or trashed. We tend to keep using them until the day that The Man notices that the uniform item isn’t serviceable and then they say something to you and require you to replace it. Due to Murphy’s Law, this always happens when you’ve had a light week and you don’t even have enough money to pay your rent.

It’s much better to buy new shoes when you can afford them yourself. If you are checking those shoes every month, you’ll get a heads-up that you need to buy shoes shortly. This gives you a week or two to do it at your own leisure. Also, you might actually have to order restaurant specific items through the restaurant and this can take time if they don’t keep them in stock in your size. So, instead of only having two logo shirts instead of three for the next week, you’ll have some extra time if you catch the shirt before it gets noticeably trashed.

What are you looking for?

Aprons that don’t hold starch anymore or have a stain that just won’t come out.

Shoes that are looking threadbare, don’t hold a shine, have a cracked sole, etc.

Pants that have frayed cuffs in the back where they contact the floor, are faded, don’t hold a crease, have tiny starch spots from being around kitchen cleaning, etc.

Shirts that have a perpetual ring around the color that has creeped over the top and is visible, collars that are pilled from contact with whiskers, collar points that roll and don’t stay flat, white shirts that have yellowed or dark polo shirts that are faded, etc.

Ties that are pilled at the knot or have permanent creases near the knot.

Hats that are all greased up or have bills that have lost their shape.

If you do the monthly uniform check, you won’t be caught with your pants down, so to speak.

You might want to live in a Norman Rockwell painting – just don’t be this guy.

End of month uniform check

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve reminded all of you waiters to do a monthly uniform check.

For newbies to the blog, I recommend taking a quick look at your uniforms every week or so as you wear them, but to take the end of the month to really examine all of your uniforms at one time and do it with a critical eye to every bit of wear and tear. This means looking at the cuffs of your pants to look for signs of fraying, especially at the rear if they tend to be a little long. I’ve found that the backs of the bottom seam of the legs of my pants can get frayed just from occasional contact with the floor. while you’re checking out the bottom of the legs of your pants, and you wear black pants, look for small bleach spots. They look slightly reddish. You get them because you work in a kitchen where people are spraying cleaning fluids on the floor. You don’t realize that the spray is hitting you with pin drops from 10 feet away, but you’d be surprised how often you’ll find these little spots if you look closely. If they are small, a Sharpie will make them less noticable. The stronger the solution, the better the chance that eventually you’ll end up with a hole there after you’ve washed your pants a few times. So file that away in the back of your mind. The last thing you need is to pull out your only pair of clean pants after washing right before a shift only to find that you now have a hole in them.

Check the cuffs of your sleeves if applicable. You’re looking for stains that won’t come out and early signs of fraying.

Check your tie if you have to wear one. For guys, we have to worry about the whiskers on our neck causing pilling around the knot. We can even wear through the outer lining to expose the white batting on the inside, especially if you keep your tie knotted in the same place so that you don’t have to re-tie it every time you get dressed. And speaking of pilling, check your collars. Not only do they get pilled, especially if you’re wearing an Oxford shirt, they get the dreaded “ring around the collar”. If you don’t treat them regularly, they can become permanent.

Do your aprons still hold starch? After a lot of cleaning, sometimes they look like limp dishrags that are paper-thin. They won’t even hold a middle crease. And you have to check them for black marks that won’t come out. These sometimes occur when you brush past a garbage can or rub against the foot of a chair leg that’s upside down because it’s stacked upside down on another chair in a hallway that’s too narrow to negotiate.

How are your shoes? Do they still hold a shine? If they are tennis shoes, are they showing signs of fading? How about the sloes? Close to cracking?

Do you have spares of all of your tools? An extra winetool? An extra crumber if you use one? Plenty of pens? A couple of lighters? You’d think that since many of us now work in non-smoking places, we wouldn’t need to carry them (hell, I used to have to carry a cigar cutter). However, if you have to put a candle in a dessert, you’re going to still need a lighter.

If you find uniforms that are still “serviceable” but are approaching the end of their functional life, you should “retire” them to the “emergency uniform” category. Separate them from your daily uniforms but keep them in reserve for the day that you got behind on your cleaning or have to pick up a shift at the last moment and you don’t have any clean uniforms. If you’ve got a clean “emergency uniform”, you’re golden.

Why is it important to do this monthly check? First of all, we tend not to look all that closely at our uniforms when we’re working back-to-back doubles and long stretches of work. Second of all, if a manager notices and calls you out on a funky piece of uniform, it’s always at the time when you don’t have the money to replace it. Or you’re stuck with a sub-optimal apron when the district manager comes for a visit.

So, the best thing to do is use the end of the month/beginning of the next month as a window to really get critical with your uniform. Do this regularly and you’ll be golden.

End of month, end of year, end of decade

Well, this is my last exhortation about uniforms this decade.

Now’s the time to take a close look at your uniforms from head to toe.

Shoes intact and non-skid? Check.

Pants not frayed at the cuff and in the back? Check.

Pants have oil stain that won’t come out? Put in emergency inventory. Use only when all else fails.

Shirt collars not pilled and stained? Check.

Hell, you know the drill. At the end of every month, you do what you don’t normally do day to day – give a close look to the uniform. Not only do you look with more of a critical eye than when you’re grabbing and going, you get a heads-up about uniform items that you are close to having to replace. It’s really bad when you’re broke and suddenly your shoes rip on the side and you’re forced to spend money that you don’t have. Better to buy new uniform items on your own schedule, not the waiting god’s vengeful wrath. 

No, you don’t have to be THIS put-together, but it’s something worth shooting for, I suppose. Just can the haughty look.

End of the month nag post

Yep kiddies, it’s that time again. Time to look over the old uniform with a critical eye. Tennis shoes just about split at the seams? Pants frayed at the cuffs? Shirts irrevocably stained?

If so, replace them and get into some fresh duds. With business picking up, you’re going to be needing to look good, plus, you should have a little money now to take care of the things that you’ve been needing to replace.

Here’s to a great and profitable weekend. Watch out for low-tipping ghouls.