Waiting on Tables

First, I learn the menu… 
Second, I learn the wine list…


I do think it is a matter of choice for any waiter to be:

a) An order taker and plate carrier! Or
b) A professional waiter well respected by the customers

In the restaurant industry, nowadays, there is no such thing as absolute standards of correctness – only a general and sometimes highly disputed agreement of how people decipher the different standards set in Europe, Asia or the New World. For that reason it would be a blunder to follow slavishly any one given set of rules to perfection. Still, The Waiter’s Digest with its collection of short stories provides more than just a vague idea of what working as a waiter in a fine dining establishment is like – especially the waiting on tables in the U.S.A.

Whatever the rule might be, it is save to assume that the owners of any given establishment have their very own set of precepts to serve certain food. It is therefor practical to follow these established standards suggested by the individual restauranteur. Gastronomes all over the world have their own way of doing one and the same thing, all slightly different. They call it personal touch.

The waiter’s actual job title and description – the word waiter wherever used throughout the text always includes waitresses too – differ from restaurant to restaurant. May it be front-waiter, back-waiter and captain or in other places cocktail person, food server and sommelier, each of these aforementioned crews are typical three-men-teams.
In a three-men-team each waiter specializes in one area only, but helps his colleagues if he is not busy. At some restaurants each station is covered by a two-men-team: One waiter stays always on the floor, while a second waiter much like a “go and getter” delivers all the food and drink orders. It is actually the same system wherever we have a waiter and a busser teamed up. Again other restaurants have the waiter do everything and I mean everything.

To work any place, a waiter should know what he is doing. Thus helps. A waiter should be able to handle any task of a waiter’s complex and demanding job. A waiter should be experienced in seating, greeting, cocktail preparation and service, wine serving and sales. If he knows something about accounting, the better for him. A waiter has to be able to explain the menu! He has to be able to write fast and legible. He has to know how to serve any and all the guests’ orders! A good waiter is expected to handle himself in any situation, never to get angry with a guest and never to start a fight with coworkers. A waiter should be well groomed and able to stand long hours on his feet.
Waiting on tables: What has been helpful to me, over the years in different countries and restaurants, is simply the following:
FIRST, I learn the menu. “With learning I mean I read up on whatever menu-feature I don’t know.” I use cookbooks, the ones which nobody dares to question, well known worldwide as authorities, like my trusted Escoffier-cook-book. After I know what the French master chef has to say, I ask the chef how he prepares his dishes. I never tell the chef what I know but do make mental notes about how close his description is, to the French cookbook. Talking with the chef I might use phrases like “That is a great idea” or “Really? Whose idea was it?” to find out how on earth the chef came up with any mind boggling concoction. And usually he will tell me.
SECOND, I study the wine list. “There are plenty of great books on wine and it’s more helpful to read about wines than to attempt to taste them all. There is no way that any one person will ever be able to sample every wine ever produced on this planet. Asking questions helps too. Wines play an important roll in fine dining and I do make it an important issue to learn what wines go best with the house’s menu.”
There is no perfect standard of correctness as to what food and which wine have to be served with each other. However there are standards which I set by offering my guest what I feel fits best together. Nonetheless any guest may choose what he or she wants. Within my abilities I share my knowledge with my customers.
I am no expert on wine making, but I give advice to my guests as I would do to a friend. The matching of food and wine is part of my job as a waiter. I make it my business to learn by reading, listening and asking questions. Food and beverages are my livelihood. I do think it is a matter of choice for any waiter to be: a) An order taker and plate carrier! Or b) A professional waiter well respected by the customers, who not only treats his guests like good friends but also knows to tell them what they should order to make their dinner the special event, which it ought to be.

by helmut schonwalder