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Chefs & Waiters
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You have decided to cook for a living. Maybe you were brought up in a restaurant or you discovered cooking was a hidden talent that you could nurture and perhaps even make money doing something that you enjoy. But in order to share your art with the world at large, it has to pass through my hands. Little of what you produce will ever touch a personís tongue if Iím not there to serve.

Iím a waiter. I have been working at a ďfine diningĒ level of service for 10 years and before that I worked at the ďdeli and dinerĒ level for more years than I care to remember. I became a waiter because I was born into a restaurant family. Service is as natural to me as breathing. That doesnít mean I like it all the time. Letís face it, even the air stinks occasionally. But Iíve tried other professions and I have always come back to service.

The relationship between the front of the house and the back of the house breaks down to this, its most basic element: we need each other. In order to be a waiter, I need food to serve. I would prefer to serve food that I am proud of and can recommend without reservation. In order to be a chef, you need to have your menu represented and served the way you like. And if the communication between the chef and the waiter is as it should be, then the customer will be satisfied and will come back again and again. The waiter makes decent tips and the chef gets a glowing reputation and the business grows. What could be sweeter?

If only it were that simple. It isnít always easy to get information from a chef. Thereís lots going on in a kitchen as the line crew starts gearing up for service. So there should be a moment before the doors open when the chef is accessible and can go over menu items that any waiter might be unsure of. This includes tastings. Nothing is as valuable to a waiter as seeing the presentation and understanding all the important elements of a dish before the customer arrives. And nothing is more frustrating than a chef who doesnít do this on a regular basis.

But this means that the waiter has a responsibility to listen and remember the information when itís offered. I have known waiters who will get up from a pre-shift meeting and go blank. They have no idea what the specials are and canít remember the difference between sautťing and braising. How should you deal with them?

Iím sorry to say that the only way a chef can be sure whether the waitstaff gets the menu or not is by administering tests. This can be done in the few extra minutes before service with the entire staff or you can sit down with each server individually and quiz them verbally. It shows the waiters that you are serious about your food and want the same commitment from them. With the confidence that having the correct information gives, a waiter can then be an effective salesperson and offer complete service to any guest.

Amy Sunshine's first job in a restaurant was washing the glasses in her father's Kosher deli. Currently she is a waiter at The Dining Room of the Ritz-Carlton. Please direct any questions or comments to [email protected]

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