Why No School for Waiters?

Categories: My Rant, Sietsema

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Would-be chefs routinely blow $60,000 for half-year courses at the city's cooking academies. Afterward, they stage at restaurants, spend years as prep cooks, work the line, and finally function as sous-chefs before donning the chef de cuisine's toque. How much training do waiters usually get? About two hours.

This is why the service is often the weakest part of a restaurant. And when a new dining establishment -- over a period of months or even years -- perfects its package of premises, décor, menu, and beverage program, often the last thing thought of is hiring waitstaff. Indeed, restaurateurs complain about the difficulty of recruiting experienced waiters, but do little to remedy the problem.

Yes, talented front-of-the-house staff is in great demand, and many waiters perform brilliantly at their jobs. But too many waiters I've had lately have no idea what they're doing, and don't seem to care. I've seen waiters in full view of the dining room texting and goofing off, while my entrée grows cold at the pass-through. I've had waiters upselling the hell out of me, while leaving the water glasses unfilled and ignoring simple requests, like, "Can I have another napkin, please?"

Don't get me wrong, I love good waiters, and consider the job co-equal in importance to chefs. Or even more important. How can you enjoy great food if it never gets to the table in good shape, or some small problem prevents you from fully savoring it? I can't tell you how many dishes have arrived on my table without the proper silverware, or indeed any silverware at all. I've recently had waiters sit down at the table with me as they take my order. They're ready to be my chum, but don't want to be my waiter.

The solution is so simple that I can't believe no one's thought of it before: a professional school for waiters. The basic skills could be taught in a week -- though it takes a lifetime to perfect them. This school would have a rudimentary wine class, and another that taught the basics of French cooking and how to pronounce the terms. The same course could also include the fundamentals of Italian, Chinese, and South American cooking.

Other sessions would address table settings, the methods and mathematics of tip distribution, the job of the maître d', service ethics, and the respective duties of greeters, bussers, and wine stewards. Yes, the week of coursework would be jam-packed with interesting material, including a final day of dining-room simulations, in which waiters would learn how it feels on the part of the consumer to be waited on well or badly.

Really, such a school would not be difficult to put together, and some of the city's great restaurateurs -- those known for their service -- would hasten to sit on the board. One of the current cooking schools in town might even incorporate such a course of study into their curriculum. I believe restaurateurs would be glad to pay the tuition for their waiter-recruits, because these new employees could hit the ground running, and would have to undergo a fraction of the on-the-job training that they do now.

Another benefit might be the codification and standardization of front-of-the-house procedures, making it possible for any waiter to work in any restaurant. And having undergone such a concentrated course of study would go on a waiter's resume, and give them an advantage over other candidates, and ultimately lead to better jobs and higher pay for the most dedicated.

And no more would I have to watch runners work their way around the room, inquiring at every table, "Is this the entrée you ordered?"


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28 comments
juju
juju

I agree with you 100%.  At University of Hawaii Maui College, the Maui Culinary Academy REQUIRES an 8 week service course for all of their culinary students.  It is required for the culinary degree.

Guest
Guest

60k for cooking school? Sheesh!

For 60k, I rather open up my own restaurant...

xan
xan

Restaurants do not normally spend 2 hours training their wait staff. Most servers have to work their way through bussing, food running, hostessing, etc to familiarize themselves with the menu and standards of service at the particular establishment for months. You are annoyed not by generally poor service, but rather the expectations of a restaurant, which have become radically more casual as restauranteurs have focused more on their menu. By standardizing the industry you would be destroying the dynamic of the variety offered here. Yes, I have experienced some amazingly sub-par service, especially here in NY (coming from San Francisco where service tends to amaze me, regardless of the place settings), but if it's that bad I speak with the manager, normally tagging on a free dessert or a discount, and I understand that I have the choice to dine where I please. 

Most wait staff, as many have pointed out, are filling in time while looking for a better job. Serving is exhausting, the people you have to wait on tend to be wretched 75% of the time, the pay is unreliable, and you can never be a good server without the desire to be there, which is probably the biggest problem here in the city. Give them a break or tell them why you're upset, don't take it out on your arrogant online "rants."

Epac
Epac

You can't train a person extensively at a job that they don't want to do in the first place. 99.999% of waiters + waitresses out there now plan on doing something else 6 months or a year from now.

Izquierda Tijuana
Izquierda Tijuana

I worked in Mustang Grill in 2nd ave in the upper east side  and to some arrogant pricks  A waiter came and urinated in a glass and prepare the dish  a classic paella in  Tuesday you have to becareful how you treat the help these days.

Ptsaldari
Ptsaldari

You are on point 10000%.  I am a FOH trainer and author of 'Serve Me Well" - the last line item on a managers mind!  Excellent article - well written and shall post to my blog and 5,000 facebook strong followers!Kudos!Ciao Penhttp://ptsaldari.posterous.com

VivlianWozz
VivlianWozz

Another restaurant cliaimed to use freshmozz arella cheese,where it's dishes were actually made with economycheddar.the "fresh pasta"advertieshed on another meau tumed out to befrozen.--Agedate. ℃⊙M--a nice and free placefor younger women and older men,or older women and younger men,to interact witheach other. 

Christine_Whittemore_28
Christine_Whittemore_28

..Тhis is сrаzу...Мy friеnd`s sistеr mакеs 78/hr оn thе intеrnеt.  Shе hаs bееn unеmрlоуеd fоr 11 mоnths but lаst mоnth hеr incоmе wаs  7985$ јust wоrкing оn thе РС fоr а fеw hоurs.  Read about it here .......    C a s h M a n y . c о m  

HH73050
HH73050

Why no school?? BECAUSE THEY ARE PROBABLE THE LOWEST PAID PEOPLE ON THE "FOOD CHAIN" !!!!

Andrew
Andrew

Connect yourself with other in restaurant Industry and exchange information between each other .The New Social Network For The Restaurant Staff http://waiterstoday.com

Taylor
Taylor

Just what we need...another "school" that young people can go into debt attending.

Jimiamo
Jimiamo

going to say this: You cannot teach a desire to serve. You cannot teach hospitality/service. Now i will read this and see if i have anything to add (or retract)

Abram Todd
Abram Todd

It's definitely a valid question. But in an industry that is rarely standardised, and with many different types of restaurants and bars, I feel like any accreditation would be all too often redundant. Many places, if specialised, provide in house training suited to the specific requirements of their establishment. Perhaps it would have some merit for those eager to stand above the crowd as they try to gain entry into an industry that is notoriously competitive and tough to enter. With regards to knowledge and skillsets, "Texting and goofing off" is most certainly not due to a lack of training, but more to do with the personality and work ethic of that individual server. In North America, much more so then in my home country of Australia, serving IS a profession. More lucrative establisments attract a better class of servers, which in turn means higher expectations and pressures from their employers and customers. At my work I pay full price for any order I mess up, any bill that is run out on, any plate I drop, any drink I spill, and I usually offer to buy a round of drinks for the table if I make a large (but forgivable) mistake. However most customers don't realise this. They quite often don't realise many things. But they're never asked to. This is the reason we have servers. To facilitate a smooth and worry-free dining/drinking experience so that the customer can instead focus on something more important; enjoying themselves. Although this author asks a valid question, perhaps it would be equally as beneficial to both parties if we view the dining experience as a mutual undertaking between diner and host, and consider the possibility of basic restaurant etiquette being taught briefly alongside other important life skills to our next generation. This may do more to improve our expectations of each other on both sides of the table, as opposed to the training which this article's author suggests.

Cregan11
Cregan11

Smug rant. Presumable embittered by a recent poor dining experience.

Fabio
Fabio

How about a professional school for stupid costumers? Or arrogant pricks? Table manners for VIP wannabes? Perhaps a weekend workshop for entitled rich people ( and sometimes they're not even rich). I guess a half hour course on how not to be obnoxious will do.Working in this industry it really hurts to go out for a nice meal and have moronic disinterested staff serving you. I'm right there with you...However I can chose not to go there anymore or even complain on the spot.Now try to be the best server/bartender you can be when you have someone calling you a racist because the kitchen won't do the chicken with the salmon preparation or Their dog has to be seated in a chair disregarding all possible laws and not only I won't cut the good service but there is absolutely nothing I can do to "get rid" of idiots who thinking being served at a restaurant means treat people like slaves. If the restaurant you like has bad servers than the restaurant is the one to blame...no matter how much knowledge the server has he won't use it if its not required. About 90% of the  staff I work with and (I like to think we are a good staff) spend 4 years in college doing something that has nothing to do with serving a table which it means going to school doesn't really do shit for you this days.

Bob
Bob

Johnson and Wales does this for everyone who does their culinary programs.

Rsietsema
Rsietsema

Which is why I suggested that the tuition should be paid by the restaurant owners. I definitely share your skepticism about professional schools, though.

aed
aed

seriously. i thought this was satire at first. i usually love sietsema, too.

Jimiamo
Jimiamo

Adding...

The fundamentals can be taught, but as i stated above, the service mentality is not a priority as much anymore - for a number of reasons.

The most important thing for all levels/types of dining is to have managers that care and have them hire a staff that cares. F and B used to be wholly a passion driven business, sadly it is not much anymore :(

Bea
Bea

I already went into debt paying for a liberal arts degree from a competitive college and am now a waitress in manhattan because it's difficult to get a job that I'm actually qualified for. To even imagine paying for or trying to get a restaurant owner to pay for a school to do what I do now is ludicrous.

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