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


  1. It sounds like no one is pretty in this book. And I hardly ever eat out at high-end restaurants. Yet I am still curious to read it. Perhaps because I once had a roommate who cooked in a restaurant kitchen, and used to tell me stories.

  2. I just read a fun NOVEL, "Turning Tables". about the restaurant biz, written by twin sisters with lots of restaurant experience. Although it was a tad predictable, it was a quick read and an interesting peek into a different world.

    I looked at "Waiter Rant", read some of his blog, and decided it was not for me. It seemed like a know-it-all book.



  3. I don't think he intended to make it a 'wait-staff are good guys/diners are idiots' book at all. He seemed to take a pretty open-eyed view at everyone, showing the idiots and some beautiful people on both sides. And one of his most well-known quotes opines that 80% of customers are just fine; it's the other 20% that give them a bad name. I'd be surprised if service staff left at the whim and mercy of customer attitude and tipping didn't develop an attitude as a result---I appreciated seeing the honesty and enjoying the observations and tales that went with that.

  4. Heather, I'm not saying that's what the man intended at all...if that were the case, the majority of the waiters he talks about wouldn't look like such asses, I suspect.

    But I sincerely doubt that 20% of the people who dine in that kind of restaurant are jerks...I don't eat out all that often anymore but I seldom observe the kind of behavior he talks about when I do. If it were anything like one-in-five, I would not be so shocked on the rare occasions that I do see something like what he describes.

    I appreciate the man's honesty, as you do. What irritated me was the overall lack of respect he showed for his customers...rating "good" customers almost entirely based on how much they tipped him or keep their mouths shut. I learned a lot from his willingness to expose that attitude and I thank the man for opening my eyes to the realities of dealing with people who depend so largely on tips for their living.

  5. Jeane, I do think the book is worth reading...and there are a few customers and waiters who come across as good people. The author, from his own point-of-view considers himself to be one of those good guys and he tells a couple of stories that do show him at his best, so maybe he is.

  6. Joann, there is some truth to what you say. The "attitude" in the blog is pretty much the tone of the book itself.

    I am very curious to see what the author will do next. I'm not sure at this point what kind of writer he will turn out to be or in what direction he plans to take his writing career. It will be interesting to see what he does in the next year or so.

    I wish him well.

  7. This book has been receiving some press at work, and I'd been waiting for it to come out, and really looking forward to reading it. I think it interests me so much because I've often considered writing a "rant" book about being a bookseller. I even have a "How To Be a Good Customer" Top Ten list - it doesn't involve tipping, but I'm not against the idea. ;)

    I guess it'd be hard to not make the customers out to be total idiots because those are the customers who drive us up the wall, the ones who provide the good stories, the ones we want to change... the ones we rant about. (And, to be honest, they're more prevalent than the good customers, too.)

    I've often thought that if everyone was forced to work retail for a month, a good majority of them would behave a whole lot differently when they were shopping.

    I'm interested in giving this book a read, though I'm worried that it'll make me not want to eat at restaurants anymore.

  8. This is almost completely unrelated to the book, but your post reminds me of a diner I used to frequent. One morning I ordered an omelet with bacon, I think. When it arrived I managed to grab my waiter (who had been fairly nonexistent until my food was delivered anyway) and kindly asked for some syrup (I like syrup on my omelet - don't ask). An

    Anyway, he looked at me then asked with an attitude, "For what?"

    Uhhh..., I'm thinking. Aren't you supposed to give me what I ask for without giving me grief? What does it matter for what?

    Suffice it to say, that if there's one way for a waiter to talk himself out of a tip, that's it. He didn't get one.

  9. I discovered the blog "Waiter Rant" in 2005 and mentioned it here on my "other" blog. Didn't realize he had written a book and haven't read the blog in a couple of years.

  10. Annie, I do think that you'd enjoy the book because of your perspective on dealing with the public every day. My main problem with it is the pompous attitude of the writer and his claim that 20% of his customers were "psychopaths." I even saw him say that in a Today Show interview linked to his blogsite. It's a stupid thing to say...but it might sell a few more books for him.

  11. J.S., that would have done it for me, too, no doubt about it. I think my pet peeve, though, is trying to actually snag a check and get it paid in less time than it took me to actually consume the meal. Why in the world do waiters seem to disappear during that part of the deal...slow to bring a check and slow to return the credit card...always irritates the heck out of me just when I have my pen in hand to add their tip to my tab...stupid behavior on their part.

  12. Jenclair, he claims to have retired from the waiter world now, though I am not sure what kind of follow-up book might follow this one. I wish him well in his next book because that one will be the true test for him.