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Steve Dublanica – Waiter Rant

June 17, 2013

44. Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip – Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica (2008)

Length: 336 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Started: 30 May 2013
Finished: 31 May 2013

Where did it come from? The library booksale.
Why do I have it? Food-based memoirs are one of my weaknesses.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 20 April 2013.

Be nice to your wait
staff. There’s no telling what they
might do otherwise.

Summary: Steve didn’t ever imagine that he’d find himself starting out in the restaurant business waiting tables at the age of 31. He also didn’t imagine himself starting an anonymous tell-all blog about the ups and downs of the life of a waiter, and he probably really didn’t imagine that blog winning a bunch of writing awards, and eventually being parlayed into a book deal. But it did, and this is the book. Much like a front-of-the-house version of Kitchen Confidential, Waiter Rant provides a behind-the-scenes look at what’s really going on among the servers of your favorite restaurants. Dublanica suggests that people let their guard down when they’re eating, even when they’re dining out, and the things that your waiter has seen and heard range from obnoxious to outrageous to truly touching. He also covers topics like tipping and why you should do it (and how waiters can recognize bad tippers long before the bill finally arrives), tensions between the owner and the employees and how that can affect the service, and why people become waiters in the first place, why they stay, and what can happen to them along the way.

Review: This book was basically like literary candy for me. I mean, I loved Kitchen Confidential enough to convince me that I didn’t hate memoirs as a genre, and I’ve read several other restaurant memoirs in the intervening years (Blood, Bones, and Butter, Heat and Service Included). Waiter Rant takes an approach that’s more similar to Kitchen Confidential than the other two, in that while it is a memoir, and does have stories about the author’s career path, and previous jobs, and personal life, and coworkers, and transition from waiting tables into writing books, etc., a lot of the book is much more general. Dublanica – who was anonymous while he was writing his blog, and prior to publication of this book – tells specific stories about things that happened to him, fights and flirtations with his coworkers, particular problematic customers, how things were at his restaurant, but he himself is only very rarely the focus of the story, and he always manages to bring it back around to a generalizable topic, a point that would be applicable to any waiter anywhere. I appreciated this, because that’s what I was there to read (and fortunately, the parts that are more about the man than the job were also interesting, well-written, and mostly brief).

A lot of what Dublanica says is common sense (or should be): be a reliable and generous tipper, don’t try to snake a better table by pretending to be a friend of the owner (particularly if you’re going to be belligerent about it), don’t expect awesome service during Mother’s Day brunch, etc. But he also reminded me of something that should have been obvious, but aren’t necessarily – particularly just how much your waiter sees, hears, and notices. He doesn’t talk a lot about the possibility of your server adulterating your food, but it turns out that there are other, subtler ways a waiter has to counter bad behavior of various kinds. (I will admit, I am now a little more self-conscious when dining out, not because I’m ever badly behaved, but because who knows which waiter is listening to and judging my conversation?)

Overall, did I learn anything about the food service industry from this book that I hadn’t already gleaned from other things I’ve read and seen? Not really. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the heck out of myself while reading it. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Kitchen Confidential and its ilk of behind-the-scenes day-in-the-life type memoirs are the obvious readalikes.

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First Line: I’m a waiter.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 27: “After a while his mother fell ill, and Rizzo, now sick of his eremetical existence, decided to move back east to care for her.” – hermit-like, particularly one who has withdrawn to a solitary place for a life of religious seclusion.
  • p. 100: “There are times when working at The Bistro feels like living in Stasi-saturated East Germany.” – the secret police in East Germany.
  • p. 100: “The early Mafia rationalized preying on Italian immigrants by pretending they were protecting them. Omertà, my ass.” – A rule or code that prohibits speaking or divulging information about certain activities, especially the activities of a criminal organization.
  • p. 235: “Invoking the seigneurial right of headwaiters everywhere, I almost never do side work and I always work the best section in the house.” – that of a man of rank, especially a feudal lord in the ancien régime.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2013 9:09 am

    My first job was waiting tables so I bet I’d enjoy this one too. Waiting tables is harder than most people think.

    • June 18, 2013 10:00 am

      Kathy – I can’t even imagine. I’ve never worked in any type of food service (although I did my time in retail), but it doesn’t seem like something I’d be good at.

  2. June 17, 2013 3:42 pm

    These kinds of books are my guilty pleasures…

  3. June 18, 2013 8:13 pm

    Yes, waiting tables is something else. The restaurant biz provided me with an amazing dish of education that school never ever could attempt to give me.

    • July 13, 2013 4:45 pm

      Care – I’ve heard the same from everyone I know who used to be a server.


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