The New York Times recently gave Bruce Buschel, a contributor who is opening his very first restaurant, carte blanche to create an exhaustive list of things restaurant staffers should never do (and by “restaurant staffers” he really means “waiters”). As someone who’s been on both sides of the dining equation, waiting tables for more than a few years and eating out in and around Manhattan very frequently, I was taken aback at Buschel’s unrealistic (and irrational) expectations. I suspected other industry professionals shared my reaction so I reached out to one of the most famous of all — Steve Dublanica, the man behind the popular Waiter Rant blog and author of the book Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip — Confessions of a Cynical Waiter (HarperCollins).
“First, I would be terrified to work for this guy! Mr. Buschel has never run a restaurant,” Dublanica says. “This list puts a muzzle on waiters, personality wise and salesmanship wise. It’s dehumanizing.” The list is also clearly born of ignorance as wait staff usually do not dictate policy. Says Dublanica, “They hand these things down from on high that you, as a waiter, have to do.” To wit, many of Buschel’s ideas are verboten at restaurants I’ve worked at as they would have violated rules set by the owners or management, including seating a table when all members of the party are not present; offering a complimentary drink or amuse bouche if there is a delay in seating; not asking if a table wants tap or bottled water; failing to announce one’s name; refusing to hustle lobsters (or any other special of the day); and not acknowledging regulars and repeat customers.
Some of the items that truly ticked off Dublanica include Buschel’s suggestion that a waiter steam the label off a bottle of wine if the patron likes it and present it to her with the bill. “Steaming the label off the bottle and handing it to somebody? That’s never going to happen – unless you’re the person who ran up a $47,221.09 check at Nello in New York. For THAT guy, we’ll steam the label off.” For everyone else, he suggests snapping a photo of the wine label. “Take a picture. You’ve got it and you’re not going to lose it!”
He also takes issue with Buschel’s assertion that a waiter should not interject personal favorites when listing the specials. “When I dine out, I ask the waiter, ‘What do you like?’ Part of the whole dining experience is having a conversation with the staff. They know what sells, what’s going out the door, what people are enjoying.” He reminds Buschel, too, “Some folks want to be told what’s good and put their experience in a waiter’s hands.”
Regarding not saying, “Good choice,” he counters, “Sometimes a diner really HAS made a good choice. If you’re asked for a recommendation and you say, ‘The osso bucco is spectactular,’ and she orders that, you should say ‘Good choice!'” He also has no problem with servers saying, “No problem.” “It’s an accepted colloquialism in our culture,” he points out.
Dublanica reveals that as a diner, he’s fine when waiters do some of these don’ts. “Don’t bang into chairs or tables when passing by? I was at Les Halles and they literally had to pull the entire table out for my date to sit down. I think the waiters bumped me three times, but there was no way around it. It’s just a by-product of how close together the tables are,” he notes.
“All his suggestions – in a sterile, perfect world, they may make some sense. But the reality of a restaurant is far different,” says Dublanica, who promises to pay a visit to Buschel’s restaurant when it opens. “I think I’ll sneak in.”