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An Honorable Profession

October 18, 2009

by Monsieur Anton

So, you think it’s easy being a server?  You’ve been out to dinner and shared with your companion that the server sucks.  Why can’t this place find any good help?  Anybody can do this job!  Anybody?  Glad you think so.

I even had a long time regular once ask me, “so you’re the manager here?” using his best four finger air quotation marks.

“Yes sir!” I cheerfully responded.  And why not?  I was the proud manager of a fine restaurant with a first class staff I regularly bragged about.  “Well what is it you want to do with your life?” he asked as if being a restaurant manager was not an honorable enough profession for him.

“Let’s see you try do this, you piece of crap,” I said (to myself), all the while smiling.

“You try dealing with morons like you all night,” I proclaimed (in my head), still smiling.

“How about you get off your fat butt and run around all night putting untold wear on your feet, and knees, and back,” I stated (being sure to keep the voices in my head to themselves), the smile fading away.

You see, the restaurant business is the one profession that everyone thinks they can do.  Make great lasagna at home?  Then I can cook in a restaurant!  Everyone calls you the “Hostess with the Mostess?”  I can serve 150 people a night!  No problem!  Big problem!  Cooking and serving at home for your friends and relatives is a far cry from doing so for the hungry, unforgiving, money paying masses.

When people start handing over their hard earned cash, their perspective gets a bit different.  That lasagna may now be too salty.  Please take it back and  bring me another.  It’s taking awhile for that new lasagna to come to the table?  Try regaling them with the story about your lovely daughter making honor roll in her third grade class.  Nice story lady.  Now where’s my food!

A restaurant is a complicated business with professionals…yes professionals…doing tremendously hard jobs in a highly stressful environment.  What makes them so good at their jobs, when done well, is that they do not make it look hard.  They keep their composure and smile.  Except for in the back of the house where they let off some steam.  On occasion, they may even make a mistake.  We are all human after all.  When they do, don’t demean them so you look important in front of your friends.  They’ll probable see you for the jerk you are anyway.  Just politely point it out, and ask for it to be fixed.  If they are a true professional, they will smile right back and have it fixed.

When I think back to that regular who seemed so concerned with my future well-being, it takes me back to my first boss in the hospitality business, a pro’s pro who had been in the biz for 40 years at the time.  He used to tell us that in Europe, servers and bartenders were the aristocracy of the working class.  To be held in high esteem, not spoken down to like servants as they are here.  Maybe it’s the way we as a society look at dining in a fast food, instant access, drive thru America.  An evening out for dinner should be a relaxing affair.  Let the server do their job with respect and admiration, and you might be surprised with the results, and we diners may even get the professional servers we deserve.  On the other hand, if we do not, we might get the poor service many others of us deserve.

Chef Gusteau: “Well said Monsieur Anton.  I will be the first to admit that a major part of how my food is perceived by guests is based on how well the servers interact with the guests.    People will always tolerate great service and average food over poor service and great food.  We all want to be treated with respect…and both guests AND servers deserve that respect until they show otherwise.  And just like in my kitchen, when service is flowing well, it is perceived by the guests as a well orchestrated dance of rhythm and precision. “

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 11, 2009 10:54 pm

    I enjoyed this post very much. My grandfather, until the day he died, was convinced that working as a server, whether at Applebee’s or 5-star dining, was and will always be a “transitional” job. While I tried to convince him that many people decide to make food and hospitality business their career, I don’t think he ever fully believed it. Maybe not so much as a manager, but as a server, I think that the perception is that because they are generally younger (early 20’s) that they haven’t made a solid career decision yet.

    But you are absolutely correct in saying that the reason professionals make it look easy is because they work hard at getting all of the little details right.

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