Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: The Waiter Rant

The Waiter Rant
Written by Steve Dublancia
Ecco, imprint of Harper Collins
302 pages (with three Appendices)
Reviewed by Melissa

The restaurant industry is an interesting business. It's providing us food -- something we need to survive -- but it's also a luxury. Going out to eat is something that, for the most part, is really only available to those of us middle class and above. And yet, we rarely give a thought to the people who work in the industry: those who are making, and serving, the food that we are paying for and eating.

If Anthony Bourdain gave us an insight to the restaurant kitchen with Kitchen Confidential, then Steve Dublancia has done the same for the waitstaff in this book: a long-time professional waiter at an upscale restaurant in Manhattan, Dublancia wrote a blog for years under the pseudonym "The Waiter", eventually turning it into this book.

It's a brutally honest one, too. Dublancia not only doesn't mince words about bad owners, crappy working conditions, and -- most of all -- the customers. He's full of stories from the working conditions of his first place -- the owner was an overbearing jerk, the manager was corrupt, the working conditions horrid -- to the stories of customers from The Bistro, the place where Dublancia was headwaiter for six years. These are the most entertaining stories: from the sweet, to the famous (the ones about Russell Crowe are priceless), to the inane, to the outright obscene, Dublancia doesn't spare anything or anyone. Perhaps I'm just sheltered (or perhaps Dublancia's exaggerating), but it's amazing what goes on at, and what people really expect from, restaurants.

As an aside, Dublancia doesn't have much respect for people who watch Food Network and assume they know everything:

Gone are the days when patrons blindly ordered off the menu and took the chef's word as gospel. Things like free-range chicken, organic fish, and the stuff hemp-sandaled hippies ate was unheard of. Kobe steak? A sybaritic rarity. Nowadays customers armed with information gleaned from the Internet and television shows fancy themselves as apprentice chefs. Just because they read chef biographies and watch Bobby Flay, they think they know everything there is to know about restaurants and cooking. Trust me, they don't. In my seven years as a waiter I haven't learned a tenth of what there is to know. Do you watch Grey's Anatomy and think you can perform surgery? I hope not. Customers often think they're entitled to second-guess a chef's judgment.

It's not just the dish on the crazy bad lifestyle of a waiter or the weird and cheap and rude customers, though: it's also a reflective piece about a man who, while he is good at what he does, is coming to terms with the fact that being a waiter is not the world's best long-term career. These sections felt more forced, and were ultimately less interesting; perhaps our expectations when reading books like these are only for the dirt, so we can feel superior and anything else is a let-down. Then again, Dublanica did get his degree in psychology, so maybe a large helping of self-reflection was inevitable, even if it didn't quite fit in with the snarkiness of the rest of the book. The other quibble -- something else that didn't quite fit -- was his use of language: every once in a while he'd throw in a word -- like sybaritic in the above quote -- that just made me do a double take. They felt out of place, almost as if he was trying to make the book more upscale, and it just didn't work.

Even with the defects, though, the book is quite an enjoyable read. And, I promise, it'll make you rethink the way you treat your waitstaff.


Heather said...

Oh, this sounds fantastic! I was a waitress for about 5 minutes in my teens and I knew right away it wasn't the job for me. But I saw all that stuff, the "bad owners, crappy working conditions, and -- most of all -- the customers." The customers can be so horrible. I've made it a point to be an excellent customer, even to those waitstaff who are obviously not having a very good day. I'm going to get this, it sounds fascinating!

April said...

This sounds like a good gift for all friends who've been/are in the service industry :)

Taminator said...

I *almost* picked this one on the clearance table a couple of weeks ago. I wish I had now! Sounds great, Melissa. Wonderful article!