Sunday, August 9, 2009

This waiter has a lot to say

Whenever I eat out with friends and family and get crappy service from a restaurant, I always tell them to complain only at the end of the meal. I warn them that, if they raise hell before our food is served, we may end up consuming bodily fluids from the kitchen staff and the waiters. After reading Waiter Rant: Behind the Scenes of Eating Out, I knew that my suspicions were true. The author, however, tells his readers that he didn't do such things, but he exacts revenge on annoying customers in very ingenious ways.

Waiter Rant is a memoir chronicling the experience of Steve Dublanica as he waited on tables in three different restaurants for about 9 years. Dublanica actually kept a blog called Waiter Rant, where he wrote about all the hilarious and sad happenings in the restaurant he was working for, which he hid under the name The Bistro. When the blog became popular (receiving more than a thousand hits every day), he got a book deal out of it. The result is one hysterical, heartwarming, and insightful memoir about the lives of waiters working in the fine-dining establishments in the US today.
Since waiters shouldn't be nasty to the customers, they develop a customer-friendly armor to protect the soft parts of their psyche from emotional assault. You can wear that armor for a while, maybe a long time, but eventually the cracks begin to show. You can't hide forever.
Dublanica's writing is vivid from the start. You wonder why he never started his career as a writer in the first place. But he's quick to point out that financial circumstances have led him to become a waiter, a profession which ranks the lowest in terms of satisfaction and fulfillment. He exposes the unglamorous lives that waiters and even the kitchen staff lead. Lives that, because of all the stress and unsatisfaction that it brings, can become effed up with drugs, booze, and other vices.

While we all may have an idea that it probably isn't the best job in the world to take people's orders and listen to them complain about the most trivial things, we're never prepared to find out how difficult it is to be a waiter. Waiting tables is a physically demanding job, sometimes requiring you to carry trays that come straight out of the oven and being on your feet for 8 hours straight.

Still, despite these downsides, Dublanica makes light of several situations that have the potential to result in disaster. He recounts the time when Russel Crowe walked into The Bistro and a waitress was so starstruck that she sniffed the chair Crowe sat on. He writes about how people have become so finicky with their orders that they won't order poultry that's not free range or fish that isn't organic. When a customer insults him in front of a group of people, he bides his time to come up with the perfect retort; when the customer pays for his check with his credit card, Dublanica accepts it but returns a few minutes later saying a bit loudly for the others to hear, "There's a problem with your card, Sir. Perhaps if you have another card?"

I think one of the reasons why the blog (and also this book) has become widely read is that some of the things Dublanica mentions about customers feel too close to home. We've all experienced complaining to waiters how our plates aren't too clean, that our food isn't hot, that the service is too slow, etc. These complaints are valid and should be brought to the attention of the restaurant management. Dublanica, however, writes about how customers have become rude, forgetting that waiters also do not wish to have these unfortunate situations come up.
Most customers care about only one thing -- getting what they want when they want it. They watch celebrity chefs on the Food Network and think that restaurants are magical places designed to jerk off their taste buds. They don't realize restaurants are places where people struggle to make a living. I've found that most people are cravenly indifferent to what happens in the back alleys of affluence -- whether it's behind a restaurant or a Wal-Mart.

In Waiter Rant, Dublanica also shares his thoughts about several things to his readers -- from the mundane to the profound. He provides his two cents worth on how much to tip waiters, how the statement "I'm friends with the owner" can do more harm than good, and how the words "please" and "thank you" can lead to the most efficient service you can ever get. Also, one invaluable thing you'll learn from reading Waiter Rant is how waiters are some of the most observant people on the planet.
When people are stuffing their faces, they often let their guard down. Eating is a primal activity that triggers an array of emotional responses. Think of all the arguments that erupt around family dinner tables. Food and human condition are inextricably linked. Because of this, waiters often get to see the unpleasant sides of people. Yet, amid all the petulance, anger, and entitlement, the occasional crumb of human grace falls from the table.
Once in a while, the author also shows us his sentimental side.
I watch as the couple walk hand in hand into the cold night air. Outside the woman looks up at her man starry-eyed and gives him a "thanks for dinner" kiss. Somehow I know watching that kiss will be my best tip of the evening.
I must admit that I've a soft spot for well-written memoirs that are terribly funny and that have been written by an insider in a world or industry that I know nothing about. I laughed out loud while reading about prostitutes in The Secret Diary of a Call Girl. I still remember Augusten Burroughs' dysfunctional family in Running with Scissors. I can still feel all the angst and pain of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces. Waiter Rant is one memorable read that will surely come to mind every time you eat out and meet these people who are the first and last persons we come in contact with when we go to restaurants.

Read this book if:
  1. You've waited tables at one point in your life.
  2. You just love them funny memoirs.
  3. You haven't said "please" and "thank you" to people for a long time.
Steve Dublanica


Anonymous said...

Excellent review. Love your list of memoirs! I sympathize with the wait staff that have to deal with so many personalities in a day.

I read somewhere that a coffeeshop server gets even with nasty customers by giving them decaf instead of regular coffee. (Ow!)

Peter S. said...

Hi Harvee! Or the other way around -- customers who request for decaf get double shots of espresso. I can just imagine!

Cathy said...

I really enjoyed your review, and now I'll be looking for a copy of this book to read. I've got one here about working in retail which I'll be very interested in, since that's the sector in which I work! :-)

Peter S. said...

Hi Cathy! That book you have seems interesting. What's its title?

Sheila said...

#1... I waited tables... oh the stories...LOL

Th review is excellent!

Unrelated topic - I have tried to follow you on Twitter but your Twitter button says "does not exist" when I hit it. Is that just me or is it not working?

Patrick said...

Let me also echo the other comments in saying that your review is really very well-written. You really made me want to read this book now. Seriously.

About the book, this is why I've always practiced being kind to service crew people ever since I worked in a call center. I know how it feels to be on their end serving people so I always make it a point to be considerate of them. I have this friend though who's usually very rude to service crew personnel. I have a feeling I've already eaten more than just human hair in the times I went out with her. Oh boy... <_<

Peter S. said...

@Sheila: Thanks! I'll check the button.

@Patrick: I think you'll enjoy this book, Patrick.

Cathy said...

The book I referred to is The Customer Is Always Wrong by Jeff Martin. The title makes it sound as though it's filled with nothing but complaints, but it's not.

Anonymous said...

I've seen this book, but thought if I read it I may never want to eat out again! But after reading your review I think I might give it a try. Thanks for the recommendation :)

Peter S. said...

Hi Stacy! This book is a very heartfelt account of a person's several years of waiting tables. You'll really like it.