Friday, August 15, 2008

Serving in New Orleans

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Tray Jockeying
The Art of Fine Dining Service
Okay, you’re back, your britches are hitched up and you’ve done your bit as a loyal employee and returned to your old job. Your boss was teary eyed and there were hugs and kisses and ‘I missed you’, and all that jazz. Six months or so later you realize that your job still sucks.
Not only does your job suck; but, you have contracted the Katrina walking whooping eye, nose, throat, lung peritogingavitis-expialidosis mystery infection, it’s hard to get your laundry done and there’s no place to park. What’s more, none of your friends or bartender/hairdressers are back, most of the fun shopping is gone and your insurance and your mortgage company stinks (don’t get me started on landlords).
Well, there’s good news on the horizon; do I have a job for you! Fine dining service!
Now before you put your popcorn down and go searching through the personals….STOP! Consider this: you can carry home, in your pocket, six hundred dollars (cash) and up per week and keep your clothes on, work when it’s busy and not work when it is slow, get fed without fuss, do not have to worry about your wardrobe, work with the most lovable lunatics and it’s you against the world!
Training is no problem. Talent is, and here’s what I mean: not everyone can be a good waiter; fewer still can be great. There are a lot of poor to mediocre waiters, but guess what? They’re a lot smarter than you are. They own houses, raise children, take vacations and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. Waiters (bartenders and support staff) work in high stress, fast paced and physically demanding quarters akin to those professions that get to carry weapons or are able to dispense medications to unruly clients.
Being accepted into the profession has not much to do with experience, some of the worst waiters have the most experience and some of the best have little. It’s all in your attitude, and that’s what your interviewer will look for. Do you have attitude? Then forget it! You will not get far by flaunting your Laurels (or your Hardys) because the majority of interviewers have seen that all before.
Here’s the way in, the way about and the way around fine dining service. First of all: this is not about you. This is about your establishment (your house).
From the beginning you will be required to work when you are needed regardless of the day, the night, the holiday, the season or the other events that may be happening your life. You’ve got to agree to that immediately. Also, without question is to do things the way your house does them regardless of logic or reason. The way things are done are the way things are done. Rule of thumb: agree to everything and don’t talk back until you know who you’re talking to. Get the job by getting across that you don’t know, but have the ability to do, everything, can learn anything and don’t want ever to do anything but whatever you are required to do. Willingness counts! First… get the job.
Next (assuming that you’re in the door), comes your training. Usually after an indoctrination of some sort, you’ll be handed off to someone who is given the job of showing you the ropes. You’ll know them by how they roll their eyes at Heaven, inwardly asking "why me, Lord?” Listen to everything that they tell you, including the sentences that contain the disclaimer: “this is the way I do it”. Here’s why: if you try to take the reins away from your trainer, show that you think that you know it all, you will set yourself up to fail because you may get trained but you’ll never know the ropes, get the dirt or the lowdown. In short, you’ll be on the inside on your way out.
It is universal that anyone can bitch about their family’s dysfunctions, as happens on the job: but, a new person has got to earn the right to speak up/out until they’ve paid dues. Rushing that process is the fast track to exclusion. Not that anyone will do anything to hamper you; it’s just that you will miss out on all the information that can help you.
So, now you’re trained (and this is the cram course) and you’re on the floor. Now all you need to learn is how to get along with twenty other waiters, taking into consideration their various personality quirks, a dozen cooks that work hard, hot and fast with short tempers, deadly weapons and weird senses of humor, dishwashers and cleaners whose second language is discernibly not yours and management who are 95% older protective brother and 5% “shut the fuck up and do like I told you!” Remember rule #1: this is not about you.
Next the customers. Once becoming a server, you will never view yourself as a customer the same. Customers without restaurant experience (or experience in going to restaurants) may view a server as a sounding board, servant, confidant, tour guide, non entity, miracle worker, culinary expert and generally be able to answer, successfully, the question “why is my food taking so long?” The server may want to be a clairvoyant but generally is not, so the server has to be able to switch hats depending on the table. [It’s your job; it’s not about you]. Deal with the customers idiosyncrasies, get them fed, shine ‘em up, pat ‘em on the ass and get them out.{When in doubt get management involved.}
Oh, and love them with all your heart because that lovely couple from Des Moines that had Ice tea and left 10% (that you hate) will be balanced out by the self styled comedian with the $100.00 bottles of wine that leaves 20% (that you also hate).
What IS about you is the people that you get to work with; although, you may (from the owner to the cleaning lady) never share anything else in common in your life. At the end of a ‘balls to the wall’ Saturday night you know that ‘brothers in arms’ is a special feeling, it’s time for a drink and after all…it was only dinner.

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