Dishing it out

October 14, 2008

Spitting in food is so passe. A book of waiters' rants lifts the lid on their revenge tactics.
By Kirsten Lawson.

EAT, drink and be wary. Waiter Rant is the kind of inside expose that can put you off eating out. It paints a picture of an industry rife with rip-offs and insincerity, where waiters are not so much out to look after you as to extract money, hoodwink and exact revenge.

Waiter Rant is a book by New York waiter Steve Dublanica, which grew out of his popular blog, It gives the lowdown on the upmarket end of New York eating, where the main preoccupation of the waiting staff at his Italian restaurant seems to be how much they can make in tips.

And if you upset your waiter, watch out.

Waiters do spit in food, Dublanica writes, although he prefers psychological revenge and power plays. Like embarrassing you by pretending your credit card has a problem, engaging in subtle put-downs in front of your dining companions, losing your reservation, seating you next to the men's room and much worse. These tactics are usually reserved, it seems, for truly objectionable, abusive customers. But if you don't tip properly, watch out.

More commonly, it's a game of subtle manipulation. When you ask what's good in a restaurant, the waiter will point you to the dish that the chef wants to move - because there is too much of it, or it's in danger of going off.

"A good server can make a customer order anything he or she feels like selling," Dublanica says, recounting an exchange with a customer who wanted pollo cardinale.

" 'Pollo cardinale's usually served in autumn, sir," I explain. 'To celebrate new year's, the chef's offering the traditional winter dishes he grew up with in Tuscany.' My explanation is complete and utter bullshit." The most difficult customers are foodies, who want to know whether the salmon is farmed, the fish frozen, the chicken free-range, the balsamic fancy.

"Foodies are usually middle-aged people who fancy themselves (as) experts on food, wine and the finer points of table service," he writes. "There's nothing wrong with being a gourmand, but foodies are not gourmands. They're gourmand wannabes. Foodies think they can watch one TV show and become the food critic for the New York Times."

Another revelation in the book is the amount of information restaurants hold on their diners. Their databases help them track not only birthdays, favourite waiters and special requests, but also record addresses, credit card details, and allow staff to keep notes on people - how good you are at tipping, how long you take to eat, whether they like you or not.

"Here's a dining tip: if you never get the table you want at your favourite restaurant, or if reservations on a special day are always hard to come by, someone at that restaurant doesn't like you," he reveals.

How to be a good customer:

- Make reservations and keep them. On a Friday or Saturday night it's not unusual for 20% of a restaurant's reservations not to show up. Not only is that rude, it hurts the restaurant's bottom line, forcing management to overbook. If you've ever wondered why your table's never ready when you show up for your reservation on time, that's usually the reason.

- If you're going to be late for your reservation, please call. After half an hour you might not get the special table you requested, but you'll still get in. An hour late? Don't even bother.

- Never say, I'm friends with the owner. Restaurant owners don't have friends. This marks you as a clueless poseur the moment you walk in the door.

- Leave your children at home if possible.

- Be polite. Say please and thank you.

- Never say, Do you know who I am? "Why? Did you forget who you are?"

- Do not snap your fingers to get the waiter's attention. Remember, we have shears that cut through bone in the kitchen.

- Do not use your mobile phone in the restaurant. Unless you're a heart-transplant surgeon on standby, turn it off.

- Please make your server go through the specials only once.

- When ordering wine, don't sniff the cork.

- The secret to being treated like a regular customer? Be a regular customer.

- If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to eat in the restaurant.

From Waiter Rant. Behind the scenes of eating out by A.Waiter. John Murray. $35.

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