Sunday, July 11, 2010

Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica

Steve Dublanica never dreamed of wanting to be a waiter when he grew up- he actually wanted to be a priest, but the things that were going on behind the scenes in divinity school when he went to college turned him off both religion and the priesthood. Instead, he got a degree in psychiatry, and moved into that field. But that, too, proved not to last, and he worked at several facilities, including one that was closed down due to criminal malfeasance by the hospital administrators.

Finally, burned out and looking for a new job, Steve got a job at a restaurant where his brother worked, Amici's. This was his first brush with real customer service and the kind of people you meet in such a job. To cope with the pain and deal with the people he had to deal with, he smoked more, drank excessively, and eventually started a blog called Waiter Rant.

But Amici's had some very questionable people working there. The manager expected to be paid if the waiter wanted any of the shifts with good tips, and the owner was the worst- paranoid and angry most of the time. He treated his servers like trash, and it was obvious that this was exactly how he felt about them. Turnover at the restaurant was tremendous for both waiters and cooks, and when one cook, Flavio, left, he had realized that Steve was good, and when he opened his own restaurant, he hired Steve to be a headwaiter/manager.

And mindful of the faults of the manager at Amici's, Steve decided to be a better manager and a better waiter. But the way that ordinary people treat waiters is a crime, and the tips they leave behind are often criminally small. Dublanica chronicles the stresses and strains of working as a waiter, from the way customers often treat them (snapping their fingers at the waiter as if they are calling a dog), and the "verbal tip", when customers praise the waiter to the skies, and then leave a very substandard tip. The waiters, obviously, would rather have the money. Praise doesn't pay the rent... or their health insurance!

Dublanica blasts rude and nasty patrons, waiters who do drugs on the job, and owners who make life difficult for their waitstaff and cooks. Or worse, who treat them all as if they are thieves, when most employees are anything but. After working at his new restaurant, which he calls "The Bistro" for over six years, Flavio, the owner and former chef at Amici's, decided to open a second restaurant. Because of the tensions of opening that restaurant, he freaked out and began thinking the employees at the Bistro were cheating him and went to extraordinary and absurd lengths to prevent it, including installing cameras in several areas of the restaurant.

Other factors, which is to say, the other employees, also led to Dublanica's decision to leave. Because he was the manager as well as the head waiter, they thought he should give them all the lucrative tables and shifts at the Bistro. He did, but only after making enough tips to pay for his health insurance, a hefty $450 a month. The employees felt he was being unfair and backstabbed him and badmouthed him to Flavio, which led Flavio to put the head chef in charge and over Dublanica. And the stress of working some very bad days, and questioning whether Waitering was just his version of running away from a life of responsibility led him to quit very soon afterwards.

But he didn't stay away from waitering for long. After some time to re-evaluate his life priorities, he got another job as a lowly waiter. No longer head waiter, he didn't miss the stress of being head waiter or manager, and was able to simply devote his time to being a waiter. And in his new job, working less hours, he might be able to simply have time to have an actual life, with a girlfriend. Well, he can hope so, anyway.

I enjoyed this book precisely because of what it is. I've never been a waiter, but like many jobs, being in a service profession is right near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to pay, job satisfaction and how your customers treat you. I did work clearing tables at a steakhouse when I first started working, and not only was it downright disgusting (and I lost my taste for scrambled eggs forever when I saw them being boiled in 50lb plastic bags for the breakfast buffet), but $50 was stolen from my wallet in my first day on the job.

All of that sucked, but it sucks even worse to be a waiter. Dublanica points out every thuggish customer move, from claiming to be a friend of the owner (which never works- it just tells the waitstaff that you are a clueless creep), to the entitled idiots who think they can just drop in on a major holiday without any kind of reservation. But not all the stories are bad. Once, he helped a couple who were not rich enough to eat at the Bistro find a meal that they could enjoy and afford, which left a warm feeling in his heart.

But if you ever wanted to know what working as a waiter is like, or how much to tip, or how to really be treated as a big shot at your favorite restaurant- the secrets are all in here, from be a real regular- eat there at least twice a month, leave at least a tip of 15% and better 20%. Don't act like the servers are your personal slave- be polite. These actions and more will go a long way towards your being treated like someone special at the restaurants you go out to on a regular basis. Because if you don't, the servers can keep notes on you. If you get a reputation as a bad tipper or a difficult or abusive customer, you will be treated very coldly by the waiters and never get the best tables.

Part of the appeal of this book was finding out that "the Bistro" was actually in a town not far from where I grew up. It's easy to find on the web if you Google Steve Dublanica's name, and he has a new book coming out later this year as well that I am looking forward to. A very interesting book to read, especially if you like taking a look at things behind the scenes and seeing what things are really like working a restaurant. Highly recommended.

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