When I first started in the industry I didn’t have much regard for waitstaff. During my first stint in a restaurant, the owners made us rotate all of our positions after we had been employed there for a certain amount of time. I started as a dishwasher, graduated to prep cook and then line cook. Then to being a Tron! The owner of the restaurant, in addition to being a very talented chef, had also been the headwaiter at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. His theory was that everyone working in a restaurant should know all aspects of it. He was right.
After spending several months waiting tables, I realized what a difficult job it was and how hard it was to juggle customer orders, make drinks and keep track of everything. It made the job of being a waiter something to be admired instead of something as a kitchen person I had previously looked down upon. Waitstaff have to deal with the anger of a chef or cook when things get screwed up and then go and deal with the anger of the customer that is having the problem and vice versa.
Being a waiter is part psychologist, part actor and part Houdini. When I go to restaurants to train waitstaff, I like to use the following analogy. The best waiters and waitresses are actors and artists and the worst waiters and waitresses are actors and artists. Of course this is a generalization and most people look at me in puzzlement when I say this. My explanation of the analogy is the worst being people who look at serving as just getting by until they move on to something else. The best, are people who view serving as a profession and an art form. The very best waiters and waitresses I have worked with love their jobs, take pride in doing them and are a joy to watch as they wait on tables.
A waiter is similar to a psychologist in that waiting on tables is a skill that takes the art of listening to people to a very high level. Responding to customer’s needs, wants and emotions is something that takes practice and training. As a waitperson, you have to understand a little about how people think and respond appropriately.
Being part Houdini is being a dozen places at the same time and pulling minor miracles out of nowhere. I have worked with staff that amazed me by juggling multiple orders that they memorized without getting them confused. I have also worked with staff that have jumped onto the line when one of our line cooks went to the hospital mid-service with a burned hand and started to fry baskets of onion rings to help the kitchen get out from being buried.