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Professional waiter question

We hear a lot about professional chef in the media and our boards but what about the professional waiter? People of my parent's generation would speak in revered tones about professional waiters they encountered yet my generation seems un-phased, unless they get bad service. Are there still a lot of waiters who love the business so much they wait tables their entire lives?

I apologize in advance for my naivete. I don't get very many high end restaurants so I need to be educated.

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  1. I can't speak for any place other than Phoenix, but we have a classic restaurant here in Phoenix that has had professional waiters for years. That place is Durant's, one of the best restaurants in Arizona. Some of the waitstaff have been there for decades.

    If you go to www.durantsfinefoods.com and look at the "Faces Behind the Legends" section, you will see several people who have been waiting tables for a very long period of time and probably will work waiting tables until the day they die.

    1. Yes, there are still professional servers around. Unfortunately, the art of fine service has been supplanted by those who only wait table for the quick buck or to get through college. There's nothing wrong with that but when I tell somenone that I am a "professional server" I get weird looks. It's like "What? Don't you have any REAL skills?"

      I don't know when being a server became a second string profession. I enjoy waiting tables and have been in the restaurant business for over twenty years. I hope to be doing it for a long time to come.

      2 Replies
      1. re: kimmer1850

        i'm with you. recently i was pouring wine and one of the men at the table, trying to make conversation i guess, said "this can't be the only thing you do. you've gotta be in school or something.". it was pretty insulting. i just stopped and gave him a "why would you assume that you stupid jerk" look. i think it worked because he was incredibly nice to me for the rest of the night.

        1. re: rebs

          When I used to wait tables customers would often ask if I was a student, not an uncommon thing for servers to be. Sometimes they would ask more, about what sort of degree I was getting, etc. Once, a table asked me if when I finished grad school I was going to "actually work" (as opposed to waiting tables). I told him I was actually working at the moment (i mean, I was wearing a uniform, clocked in, and waiting on him), and he said, "you know, like real work."

      2. Free Sample, I have a theory about this. Have you ever noticed how trendy restaurants come and go so quickly? Meanwhile, every city has just a few restaurant "institutions" that have survived for decades. (Often never changing the menu.) While the food and menu certainly play a role, I believe the restaurants that make it to "institution status" do so because of their professional waitstaff. That staff is the key element to consistency, customer care and long term success.

        1. Definitely a dying art.

          One or two places in our area have OLD SCHOOL professional wait staff (the kind that can work a whole shift clad in a tuxedo, professional as can be) and you can tell the type right away, unfortunately the ones I see most often have been working for many years and are getting on in age.

          However, as someone said above. there is all too much LACK OF TRAINING and people who just wait tables while looking for a real job (the old joke about all the waiters being "artists" trying to make a buck is often true).

          I've seen one or two more modern restaurants with a younger staff, but with absolutely excellent training. The other nite we ate at a place where the service was darn near perfect... I watched waiters bring dishes to the entire table at once, in a line, all set down on the table at the exact same moment, and dozens of other "fine points" of professional service.

          Of course, the nite after, we went someplace where the waitress could care less to be bothered, never said hello or thank you, and barely brought our food without looking like she really wanted to be home watching reruns on tv and chain smoking.

          *sigh*

          1 Reply
          1. re: Sethboy

            Well, there's certainly sometihng to be said for Carlton Club style service, but very few places do it these days.

            TT

          2. There are some out there, sure. However, most restaurants don't make it easy for waiters to stay in the business. There are very, very, very few restaurants that offer health insurance to service staff. Even fewer still offer other benefits that tend to come with "professional" jobs--retirement plans, paid vacation, maternity/family leave, sick days, etc. It's hard to stay in a position (permanently)where you have to either pay your own health insurance or do without (which is what most servers I have known have done), when if you get sick you lose a day's pay, and when taking a yearly vacation means losing a week's pay.

            I know there are some restaurants out there who do provide these benefits for service staff and I would guess that they are rewarded with some long-term, loyal, professional staff. Though none of the dozen or so restaurants I have ever worked at, nor the ten or so my husband worked at, have ever provided them. To be honest, I don't actually know anyone who has ever had a serving job that came with basic health insurance. (though, as I said, I'm sure there are some.)

            management positions usually come with some of these benefits, so it seems (from my experience) that those who want to stay in the business end up managing, in large part due to necessity. (It's one thing to forego health insurace when you're twenty-two, it's yet another when you're thirty-two or forty-two.)

            1. Even in Canada where we all have health insurance, the career waiter is not that common. I love them when I find them. The big hotels are often unionized I believe, so they do keep their staff for years and they have a professional demeanor. My husband's club also holds onto staff, which is really nice, people who worked my wedding now get to meet our baby etc.

              I know someone who has been at the Hard Rock Cafe for many years - got a Rolex for one service anniversary! But still makes minimum wage.

              1. I also think money has a lot to do with it. I've found that the level of service improves as the minimum amount a waiter must be paid DECREASES. In any state or country where the waiters are paid too high a set wage, say $7 ph plus tips, the service is bound to suffer. But pay them $2.13 ph (plus tips) and suddenly the bad ones are weeded out.

                TT

                2 Replies
                1. re: TexasToast

                  If it is true I bet it doesn't hold as you go upmarket. It's also illogical as the tip take is such a high proportion of earnings the minor variation in base rates isn't going to really drive the real take-home.

                  1. re: TexasToast

                    TexasToast: your speculation doesn't agree with my experience

                  2. $7 an hour is "too high a set wage" to be paid? I'm glad I do not work for you.
                    So your argument is that servers are inherently lazy and if are paid enough to almost get by--$7 an hour--they will have no motivation to work hard and provide good service.
                    And we no longer pay "them" $2.13. Federal mimimum wage for servers has risen to $2.83/hr. Perhaps that is the cause of a recent decline in service?

                    1 Reply
                    1. I love the skill set I have acquired in waiting tables. It is an opportunity to determine your finical status based on the of quality service you may provide. My hopes are to share my unique skills and establish a professional dinning experience for all guest..

                      And of course reap the harvest of money well earned :)

                      Jacob 26, TX

                      1. I suppose the question posed in the OP probably depends on where you are in the world. Where I am, it's regarded as often a full-time permanent job, albeit one usually not very well paid. The college in our town has a catering/hospitality department which trains chefs, servers and hotel front-of-house staff to nationally recognised qualificiations. With regard to the catering side, it operates a training restaurant, open to the public, where your lunch is cooked and served by the students. It's an important part of them learning their skills for employment.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Harters

                          John,
                          In New York State, (NYS) there is a now very famous college, called Culinary Institute of America, that was started after WW2, to help train returning soldiers. I do think they focus more on the food and management side and not on the lower level jobs in the restaurant industry. They do have four restaurants wherein the students do have to serve and manage as well as run the kitchen, during the course of their education.

                          Also in NYS, we have Cornell University, one of the Ivy League schools that has a Hotel and Hospitality Management school. Cornell is generally ranked from 10 to 15 nationally in the USA out of about 3500 secondary schools.(universities and colleges)

                          In light of the foregoing, I do not believe we have a school or specific standards for servers in the USA

                          1. re: PHREDDY

                            Phreddy

                            We've had the National Vocational Qualifications for various industries since the 1980s in sectors where more formal or academic qualification isnt really appropriate.

                            It's worked well, giving young people something they can use to market themselves to potential employers. For example, one of my favourite local Michelin starred place offers formal apprenticeships to folk wanting to become servers and expects them to also attend college to study for the NVQ. It's all about respecting employees and the contribution they make towards a successful business. Of course, you don't have to hold an NVQ to become a server but, if you're going to work at anywhere above, say, bistro level, you'll pretty much have one.

                            1. re: Harters

                              John,
                              That is very interesting..We here in the states need to do something like that. We do have structured training programs and standards for some of the construction trades, but nothing for the "hospitality' industry...maybe we should.

                              When I was in college, I worked in construction for the $$, with no intention to being a Plumber. Be as it may I had to join a trade union and go to school , even if I did not want to pursue the trade. I did both the trade school and college at the same time, when I finished I had both completed an apprenticeship and a college degree...It has served me well since I ended up as a Master License Plumber..

                            2. re: PHREDDY

                              Phreddy............
                              The history you post of CIA sounds a bit better than the truth.

                              It was founded right here in New Haven as a chance to profit from money available to educate returning GIs. The founders were altruistic, but by 1951 it existed soley to turn a profit venture. The two who started it quickly were pushed aside bu a local caterer (from Bridgeport) who I shall not name. For many years he used the student body as tuition paying free help in his business.

                              Our family clothing business had the contract to supply CIA logo uniforms and apparel until they moved to Hyde Park in 1969. After moving to Hyde Park it has become both a non-profit and a college.

                              Historically they did not train service personnel. Now that they operate very profitable dining establishments on campus they train students in front of house operations and they all take shifts waiting tables (as unpaid help). But Front of House is taught from a management standpoint>>>how to make sure the FOH of a restaurant you might own in the future operates smoothly. Professional servers are not trained by CIA

                          2. I think it depends on the restaurant. As others have said there are the golden oldies with the trusted old retainers who are part of the fabric, then there are the chains, hipster places etc that rely on the young who are both cheap and/or glamorous.

                            However, there is another type of restaurant. One that takes service really seriously, they can be Michelin starred fine diners, or places run by passionate food professionals. They recognise FOH often makes the place, and really good FOH staff get good (very) money and will stay with the restaurant group to open new places and teach staff.

                            Great FOH managers, senior waiters, sommeliers, and bar staff are in high demand. Good ones will feature as part of "the team" on the website and maybe cited in opening announcements. I believe I have even heard of these staff being poached by rivals as they add so much value.

                            Whilst this maybe a non-US model I have actually seen it at the finer diners, and hipper places I have been to in the US. Lots of top chefs spin off concepts these days and their FOH teams often help drive this brand extension. For example Mario Batali (Lupa NYC) opened in Hong Kong and he imported various FOH staff from his restaurants in other countries into the place for the first three months to train locals and kick start the place.