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Would-be chefs routinely blow $60,000 for half-year courses at the city’s cooking academies. Afterward, they stage at restaurants, spend years as prep cooks, work the line, and finally function as sous-chefs before donning the chef de cuisine’s toque. How much training do waiters usually get? About two hours.
This is why the service is often the weakest part of a restaurant. And when a new dining establishment — over a period of months or even years — perfects its package of premises, décor, menu, and beverage program, often the last thing thought of is hiring waitstaff. Indeed, restaurateurs complain about the difficulty of recruiting experienced waiters, but do little to remedy the problem.
Yes, talented front-of-the-house staff is in great demand, and many waiters perform brilliantly at their jobs. But too many waiters I’ve had lately have no idea what they’re doing, and don’t seem to care. I’ve seen waiters in full view of the dining room texting and goofing off, while my entrée grows cold at the pass-through. I’ve had waiters upselling the hell out of me, while leaving the water glasses unfilled and ignoring simple requests, like, “Can I have another napkin, please?”
Don’t get me wrong, I love good waiters, and consider the job co-equal in importance to chefs. Or even more important. How can you enjoy great food if it never gets to the table in good shape, or some small problem prevents you from fully savoring it? I can’t tell you how many dishes have arrived on my table without the proper silverware, or indeed any silverware at all. I’ve recently had waiters sit down at the table with me as they take my order. They’re ready to be my chum, but don’t want to be my waiter.
The solution is so simple that I can’t believe no one’s thought of it before: a professional school for waiters. The basic skills could be taught in a week — though it takes a lifetime to perfect them. This school would have a rudimentary wine class, and another that taught the basics of French cooking and how to pronounce the terms. The same course could also include the fundamentals of Italian, Chinese, and South American cooking.
Other sessions would address table settings, the methods and mathematics of tip distribution, the job of the maître d’, service ethics, and the respective duties of greeters, bussers, and wine stewards. Yes, the week of coursework would be jam-packed with interesting material, including a final day of dining-room simulations, in which waiters would learn how it feels on the part of the consumer to be waited on well or badly.
Really, such a school would not be difficult to put together, and some of the city’s great restaurateurs — those known for their service — would hasten to sit on the board. One of the current cooking schools in town might even incorporate such a course of study into their curriculum. I believe restaurateurs would be glad to pay the tuition for their waiter-recruits, because these new employees could hit the ground running, and would have to undergo a fraction of the on-the-job training that they do now.
Another benefit might be the codification and standardization of front-of-the-house procedures, making it possible for any waiter to work in any restaurant. And having undergone such a concentrated course of study would go on a waiter’s resume, and give them an advantage over other candidates, and ultimately lead to better jobs and higher pay for the most dedicated.
And no more would I have to watch runners work their way around the room, inquiring at every table, “Is this the entrée you ordered?”
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