Non-fiction: “Waiter Rant” by Steve Dublanica

Here’s the story of how I acquired Waiter Rant. My sister, Missy the Kid and I were in Border’s just before Christmas, and had the following conversation:

Missy: Hey, since I probably won’t be able to get you that Nintendo 64 for Christmas like I wanted to, what else do you want?
Me: I dunno … [reads the back of Waiter Rant; shrugs] You can get me this, I guess.
Missy: ‘K.

Flash-forward to Christmas morning: “Hey, Waiter Rant!”

Can I tell you how glad I am that I picked up the book to read the back of it? And that Missy was standing right there asking me if there was something other than Mario Kart 64 I wanted for Christmas? And that she remembered? Dudes, this book was amazing. I picked this up Saturday afternoon after finishing Deja Dead and finished it this morning. This is the fastest I’ve read a book in months. It was so hard to put it down! Which was difficult, because my vacation was over and I had classes and work and stuff. (It’s pretty poor form to be reading a book called Waiter Rant while on the sales floor.)

Waiter Rant started out as a blog – not unlike … well, not this one.  That’s What She Read is solely for book reviews and the like. I am referring to my other blog, that a couple of you know about but not too many and let’s just keep that between us, ‘kay? Anyway. The Waiter (who remains anonymous through the book until the last page, save for the name on the cover) started a blog over at WaiterRant.net back in 2004, talking about his experiences as a waiter at The Bistro, a high-end bistro in New York City. Over time, the blog gained notice and followers, and in 2006 he won a Bloggie Award (there are blog awards!?) for Best Writing of a Weblog. The site eventually turned into a book deal, and … well, then I ended up with a copy as a temporary replacement for Mario Kart 64. And loved every second of it.

And throughout the second half of it, I kept thinking to myself, “Hey, this could happen to me if I had the stones to write about Where I Work, even though we were explicitly told Not To.” Because God forbid one of the customers who asks me if I work there while I’m wearing the uniform, apron, and nametag and holding a pile of merchandise with a walkie-talkie in my ear decides to search “bitchy sales rep at Where I Work blog” on google and find my rant about her.

Not that I’ve done this. At all. Ahem.

The first half deals with The Waiter’s entree into the waiting world. He originally went to seminary school (I know!), but became disillusioned with the corporation and ended up getting a degree in psychology. He bummed around the mental health care circuit for a while, and finally, after a few disasters, he ended up waiting tables. The second third of the book are tales — “Snapshots” — of the highs and lows of humanity. The kind couple who let him go watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. The man and his family that demand to be seated while the restaurant is taking care of a woman who had a stroke minutes ago. And above all, how to tell how the customer will tip before they even sit down.

His least favorite group of people is the Foodies. His claim that a little bit of knowledge is the worst thing in existence is dead-on. I can’t stand people who come into my place of work and know everything about what I’m trying to sell them. Let’s see, can I pull one single-yet-completely-anonymous tale from my repertoire in the next thirty seconds to illustrate? Answer: no, because apparently, I’m a good person and bitch about my coworkers, not the customers.

ANYWAY. According to The Waiter (and I almost have to agree):

The Food Network is, quite simply, the Death Star of American cooking. [137]

It’s true. My parents and my sister watch Food Network all the time, and there are two chefs that bother me: Giada di Laurentiis and Ina Garten. Snobby bitches who use whole ingredients and make my cornflake chicken look like crap. People watch them and go into an Italian restaurant knowing everything about Italian cooking. Whatever.

Just because they read chef biographies and watch Bobby Flay, they think they know everything there is to know about restaurants and cooking. Trust me, they don’t. In my seven years as a waiter I haven’t learned a tenth of what there is to know. Do you watch Grey’s Anatomy and think you can perform surgery? I hope not. [136]

While I admit that no, I don’t know everything about cooking and restaurants (though I am rereading Kitchen Confidential again, and do enjoy Food Network if there’s nothing else on TV), I do agree with The Waiter. Also, no, I cannot do surgery after watching Grey’s Anatomy, but after watching House so much, I know how to treat sarcoidosis (and did yell that at the TV when Bernie Mac died: “What do you mean Bernie Mac died of sarcoidosis?! Everyone knows that you treat sarcoidosis with prednisone!”)

He also isn’t a fan of the bitchy, entitled customers who treat waiters like shit:

Often customers are angry at someone in a position of power over them, usually their boss or a client. Unable to express anger at the people responsible for their incomes, many customers redirect that anger toward us. Since waiters are percieved to be in a subservient position, customers think yelling at us is safe.

So in other words, The Waiter’s describing the CHAIN OF SCREAMING.

I like his writing. This was a very amusing metaphor:

If business is slow and I don’t have access to a newspaper or book, I can get antsier than Popeye Doyle going through heroin withdrawal in a Marseille slum. [81]

Although sometimes, his attempt at cutesy faux-anonymity is a bit overdone:

Cafe American’s owner, Rick… [205]

Ah yes, the owner of Cafe American is named Rick. I see what you did there.

What I really enjoyed was his perspective of life as a waiter in limbo. He identified hiimself as a waiter, but with a qualifier:

When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I’m a waiter. But I also want to tell them I’m a man who dreams of having a different life. My writing has been giving me hope that I’m a waiter working toward becoming something else. On my darkest days, however, I feel like a train-wreck personality that’s going to stay in this business forever. [130]

He also lets you know that… well:

When asked what [waiters] “do,” they usually reply, “I’m an actor,” or “I’m a writer.” For the first couple of years that’s okay — but, after several years working in the restaurant biz, if the bulk of your income still comes from waiting tables, you’re a waiter. [123]

And this is where it becomes personal for me again. I’ve been in retail for almost a decade (oh god holy christ), and I keep hoping that someday, something better’s going to come along and lift me up out of this world. And while my stories don’t really go anywhere (it’s true), I maybe can edit them in the writing process to get them an ending, and if it weren’t for my crippling bouts of self-doubt and fear (and my crazy OCD-ness to get my fiction good enough to print), I’d probably have a collection of stories done by now.

Anyway. What I took away from this book (aside from how to be a good restaurant visitor, which I think I am already) is that there’s hope for me yet.

Grade for Waiter Rant: 5 stars

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