So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Tag Archives: uniforms

Advice about starching

If you are a waiter who has to have starched aprons and starched shirts/jackets/etc. and you’ve been disappointed with spray starch, you’re not alone.

Spray starch has some drawbacks as well as its advantage in terms of convenience. It tends to clog and it just doesn’t seem to give you the stiffness and crispness that you get from professional laundries. Even “heavy starch” just doesn’t quite measure up.

Professional laundries use liquid starch (some use powdered starch but it’s a lot harder to use at home) and that’s what you should use too.

The main liquid starch is Sta-Flo. It comes in big blue bottles and is mixed with water. You use a household spray bottle to apply it. Even if you use it at its maximum strength (1 to 1), it has the additional advantage of being a lot cheaper than aerosols and it’s much more environmentally safer. It’s harder to find than spray starch but many grocery stores carry it and you’ll find it at some department stores. If your local store doesn’t carry, you might ask them to carry it.

So if you haven’t tried Sta-Flo, you should give it a shot. You’ll be surprised how much better it is than spray starch. It doesn’t scorch as easily and it even works pretty well with older aprons that don’t take starch so well.

Halloween uniform check

No, I’m not suggesting that you wear a costume while working tonight. I’m sure that some of you will. I once wore a costume for a Halloween.

I was “The Invisible Man”.

No, I didn’t pull a no-show – I actually dressed up in the style of Claude Rains, the original 40s “Invisible Man” from film fame (he was the same actor who played CPT. Louis Renault who said the famous line, “Round up the usual suspects” in Casablanca).

I wasn’t an exact replica of the movie character. I didn’t own a smoking jacket. And I didn’t have the wide cloth wrapping that he used – I was forced to use three-inch gauze. A lot of it.

I went to the Salvation Army and found the most old-fashioned, thin lapel gray suit that I could find. I bought a fedora, some big old clunky sunglasses, a black cane with a white tip and white gloves. It was great, but it would have looked better with a smoking jacket, like this:

But I have to say that I wasn’t about to pop for an expensive smoking jacket, just for Halloween, especially as I had already paid a bunch for the other stuff (and this was around 1980, so i wasn’t making a huge amount of money waiting tables). Just getting enough gauze to wrap around my big head was about $10 (which was about a fifth of what I was averaging on a typical dinner shift).

Anyway, you can imagine what waiting tables while swathed in gauze and wearing shades was like. Fortunately, the restaurant that I worked in was small and easy to maneuver in. After work, I went to a big “Halloween party” held in a movie theater and sponsored by a radio station and I won second place!

Anyway, it’s not about wearing a costume but reminding you that it’s the end of the month and time to make sure that you your uniform doesn’t look like you’re wearing a hobo’s costume.

Look for the usual suspects – frayed, stained or tattered cuffs, faded blacks, impossible to remove ring-around-the-collar, worn out soles, etc. Once you get in the habit doing this either at the beginning and end of the month, it will become second nature. What you’re doing is looking very closely and critically at each piece of your uniform. During the month you’ll do spot checks but this is the time to determine whether a piece needs to be discarded, refreshed, put in the emergency stack or tended to.

This is called managing your appearance. Don’t let your appearance manage you. By this, I mean that there’s nothing worst than to have your manager tell you that you need a new shirt and you’re on your last shirt and you’re 5 days behind on your rent.

There’s something also to be said for keeping a brand new shirt in safekeeping for when a corporate visit is announced, especially if you have to order it through the company.

A couple of interesting things about the movie The Invisible Man – the movie was directed by James Whale, the British director of Frankenstein. And who’s that beautiful lady in the picture? Why that’s Gloria Stuart, the actress who played the Titanic survivor in James Cameron’s epic movie. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 100 just a few weeks ago.

Last day of the month

As regular readers of this blog know, I always remind all waiters to take the last few days of each month to take an especially close look at their uniforms.

A waiter should alway be checking their uniform pieces out, from shirts and pants to aprons, jackets, ties and shoes.

But it’s easy to let things go to the point of being threadbare. That’s why I susggest that they cast an especially critical eye to each uniform item at least once a month. This way, the waiter doesn’t let their uniform standards slide past the point of uselessness. Plus, it helps the server to be the one to replace uniform items in their own time before a manager has to intervene.

So, fellow waiters – check out your uniforms closely and replace items past their useable lifespan.