1. Bit random, but does anyone have any idea how the waiters for the world's top restaurants (el Bulli, Per Se, Alinea, etc.) get chosen? From some of the pictures I've seen, many of them look pretty young, so I'd imagine it's not decades of experience. What, then? Glowing reviews from past employers? Great people skills? Attractive?
2. Does anyone know if these waiters are...passionate about waiting? I mean, are they people who just wanted to be the best waiters out there, or are they in it for the money? (I've heard high-end waiting is surprisingly lucrative, though not easy). In other words, would they said they'd always wanted to be a waiter?
I guess these might only be answerable by people with experience here, but I'm curious. Note that I'm distinguishing between waiters and sommeliers, though.
I was just about to suggest that book!
It's one of my favorites and I've read it three or four times. It goes through the selection and training process in quite a lot of detail. I've worked in the industry (FOH) for years and I learned quite a bit from reading it that I've been able to apply to training my servers and in my own comportment with customers.
High end service is indeed a very lucrative career and, in many countries, is a respected profession at all levels of the industry.
As with any business, the employer will have her/his own recruitment policies. That said, at the top end of the industry, chefs will work for free on "stages" and, I imagine, serving staff will often offer themselves cheaply to get that sort of experience on their CV. For info, here's the link to the recruitment page at the Fat Duck:
Noting you weren't thinking of sommeliers - but here's a link for a commis sommelier position at the Michelin 3* "Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road" which may give an idea how that company recruits front of house staff:
Also worth adding that here in the UK, and in a number of other European countries to my knowledge, school leavers will attend college from the age of 16 to train in that aspect of the industry. They'll leave with nationally recognised qualifications.
The college in the town where I live runs catering courses, both for chefs and front of house. It operates a not-for-profit training restaurant, open to the public, so the students are practicising their craft from an early age in a supervised environment.
In the UK, the work of the Academy of Food and Wine Service is significant in raising the professionalism of front of house staff.