Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Waiter Rant

Waiter Rant is one of those books I could not put down, but I started to wonder after a while if that was more because the book irritated me every few pages than because I was actually enjoying it. Steve Dublanica, who wrote this book anonymously as "The Waiter," has produced one of those books that might have unintended consequences because I doubt that I will be the only reader who comes away from it at least somewhat offended by the way that restaurant customers are presented in it as little more than gullible, vulgar, easily fooled, interchangeable cash cows (but then maybe I'm just naive about things like that). According to "The Waiter," customers are fair game and tricking them into buying the most expensive meal and squeezing them for the largest possible tip is just part of being a good waiter, something to brag about to the other boys and girls over drinks after closing time.

Dublanica never intended to be a waiter and only became one out of desperation to earn rent money and put food on his table when he found himself cut loose from a corporate job. He spent time studying toward the Catholic priesthood, and holds a degree in psychology, but struggled to find his niche in the corporate world and never imagined that he would spend so many years waiting tables in an upscale New York City restaurant. He was also a blogger - one of the lucky ones who attracted thousands of regular readers - and his ranting on that blog about life as a waiter led directly to the book deal that produced Waiter Rant.

The book is filled with revelations and claims involving aspects of the restaurant business that had never crossed my mind and, in addition, it addressed some of the fears I have always had about restaurant kitchen staff and food servers. Is there anyone who has not heard stories about waiters spitting in the food of irritating customers or picking food off the floor and placing it back on a plate? Dublanica covers both those fears and what he has to say about them will do little to quell rumors of that type of behavior.

Waiter Rant has the feel of an honestly written memoir in the sense that no one is exactly covered in glory by its end, especially the author himself. The restaurant's customers are shown as the uncaring, egotistical beings that many of them are, the waiters are exposed as drug and alcohol abusing slackers, and the restaurant owner as perhaps the biggest fool of the lot. Hopefully, what "The Waiter" has to say about "The Bistro" environment and work ethic is more the exception than the rule despite his assertion that it is typical of the industry.

Adding insult to an already insulted customer base, at the end of the book there is a list of "40 Tips on How to Be a Good Customer" (five of the forty suggestions involve the art of tipping your waiter). The list got me to thinking about a list of my own: "12 Tips on How to Be a Better Waiter and Actually Earn the Big Tip You Expect." I won't include that list as part of my review comments, but I did rather easily come up with a dozen things that many waiters do so poorly that they lower the percentage tip they receive at the end of the meal.

Waiter Rant is a thought provoking account of one waiter's experiences in the business but, if its goal is to make the reader into a more sympathetic diner in future, it is a failure because so few of the waiters it describes are even remotely sympathetic characters. However, the book does serve as a good primer on "defensive dining" and those who eat out on a regular basis will do themselves a favor by arming themselves with the information on offer here.

Rated at: 3.5
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