MEMPHIS READS: WAITER RANT: Thanks for the Tip- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by the Waiter

Andrea reviews WAITER RANT:  Thanks for the Tip- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by the Waiter, 978-0-06-125668-4, Harper Collins, 2008, 302 pages.

I honestly believe everyone on this planet should wait tables for at least six months or maybe just one year. I waited tables for 7 years so I don’t think I am asking too much. The tips I earned put me through school — I never had to take out any kind of student loan. And, unless you have actually worked in a restaurant, it’s hard to explain the adrenaline rush of waiting tables. You feel like you’re performing a one-person show, though there are lots of co-stars (fellow wait staff, cooks, bartenders, bus people, etc.) who can either help you make huge tips or ruin your performance. If you decide to take this challenge, and I really think you really should consider everything as a learning experience. You will appreciate the long hours on your feet (instant calf muscles), the dedication of the kitchen crews who are (often) there before sunrise and have to (always) stay after closing, and your ability to memorize while multi-tasking in a busy environment will be a given because you have to get paid, right? At worst your compassionate nature will kick in when you’re dining out from then on, and you will never tip less than 20 percent.

The anonymous Waiter didn’t plan to do this as his livelihood; we rarely do. The aforementioned energy, the idea of taking home cash every night, and desperation of a slow economy with few other job prospects kept him at The Bistro. The whole time he bemoaned his job — all he really wanted was to dedicate more time to this book. I mainly picked up and thoroughly enjoyed this book because, at the time, I could relate to what he was going through. I actually finished his memoir between the lunch and dinner shifts when I had to work a double that day. His ability to tell me a story using the language I spoke at the time- “restauranese”- and pulling from experiences I had also been through kept me reading until the end.

Like the Waiter, I never spit in anyone’s food but I did enjoy making certain condescending jerks sweat. I had one guy who would repeatedly come in at lunch, never get off his cell phone, and would always shoo me away when I tried to take his order. Hey, I have to make money, too, you know? So on the third day of Mr. Businessman’s rude behavior, I ignored the boorish way he waved me over (while still on his phone) and came to his table last. I had already taken everyone else in my section’s orders; some were already eating. He was the last person left in my section and was pretty miffed. I told him sweetly, “You always looked so busy when you came in that I didn’t want to interrupt you.  Would you like to hear today’s specials?” And there was a guy who literally growled at me when I tried to take away his menu. I told him, “Don’t growl at me, dude, I see your food before you do!” He laughed out loud and became one of my regulars. I called him “Growly” although he insisted his mother named him Dave.

Before you judge me or the Waiter, this is not an “us vs them” manifesto. We all had times we’re “peopled out”, no matter what our profession is. I admired the Waiter’s courage to tell about his experiences.

The chapter, “Heaven and Hell” is one that anyone who works with the public will be able to understand. The Waiter recounts the time he had a shit week- he was tired and cranky from working all the time and the tips were barely covering his bills. He was once again thinking about throwing in his apron and getting a “real job.” An affluent young family brought his attention to the homeless man who camped out around The Bistro. The Waiter’s heart grew three sizes (much like the Grinch’s) when the family bought dinner for the homeless man. After the Waiter takes him his dinner, he comments “Sartre was only half right. People can be Heaven, too.” The public is a weird, needy group — sometimes they will curse out their server if their eggs were cooked over medium instead of over well, and the after-church crowd will leave servers religious tracts instead of money. Jesus might be saving but I need rent money like yesterday! But on occasions, you will know camaraderie between the public and the staff, like when we all chipped in to buy Christmas presents for a co-worker’s family who had to choose between keeping the lights on or buying presents for their young sons

Anthony Bourdain exposed the dirty underbelly of working in the back of the house in Kitchen Confidential, but The Waiter definitely nails the climate of ‘front of the house”work. And, yes, restaurant visitors, be careful:  Any or all of you could end up in our memoirs.