Monday, December 9, 2013

Check, Please!

Waiter Rant:  Thanks for the Tip--Confessions of a Cynical Waiter
by The Waiter (Steve Dublanica)
Published by Ecco
2 Out of 5 Stars

How did I come to possess this book? Well, the combination of a Books-A-Million going out of business sale, my mistaken assumption that it would be a collection of essays written by various people who had once waited tables, and a cover blurb from Anthony Bourdain calling it "painfully funny" was apparently a heady combination that led to this bit of buyer's remorse. 

To be fair, this is not a bad book, nor is it a terribly interesting one. Alas, Waiter Rant is by one waiter who depends upon his anonymity as he blogs about his job while still in the trenches (he has since been revealed to be Steve Dublanica). Dublanica finds himself middle-aged and without steady employment, so takes a wait job as a stopgap between careers--and then never really leaves. The rest of the book follows his adventures and misadventures with the surly kitchen staff, incompetent wait staff, and the snooty, entitled patrons who can make a waiter's life a living hell. 

I assumed (based on the description and various blurbs) that all of this would be funny. Except it's not. By one-third of the way through, it failed to elicit a chuckle, a twitter, a smirk, or even one of those weird laughs that consist of basically blowing air out of your nose really hard when something catches you kind of off-guard and you're not sure if it's appropriate to laugh. And I like to think that I'm not humor impaired. I laugh and laugh often. The problem here is that being cynical is not the same as being funny. Now when funny and cynical come together with a dash of acerbic wit, it can be a beautiful and miraculous thing (I'm looking at you, Anthony Bourdain), but there's no magic here and I'm reading it because--once again, I'm looking at you Anthony Bourdain. 

The other reason it failed to entertain me is because its main message seems to be that people suck. And they do, I'll not argue against that. But waiters don't have the market cornered on I-don't-get-paid-enough-to-put-up-with-ungrateful-and-crazy-all-day-long. Anyone who has any job that requires contact with the public knows this spiel. I've been a waiter, a cashier, a secretary, a teacher and the dynamic is always the same--as long as there's a customer, someone's going to be an asshole because you're there to serve them and, by God, that means doing precisely what they want when they want it and if not then they will be talking to your supervisor. Having lived this, reading about it is not how I want to spend my hours away from work.

Throughout, Dublanica comes across as some kind of super-waiter and, while I have no reason to doubt that he was good at his job and took it seriously, his stories fail to come to life as he seems incapable of portraying himself as flawed. He always seems to have the upper-hand and becomes the sage keeper of knowledge for the younger employees. It also makes the dining experience seem all about the waiter: what's best for the waiter, how to keep your waiter happy, tips that help make the waiter's job easier, etc. as though it's the customer's job to cater to the waiter. Now, as previously mentioned, I've been a waitress (briefly; as part of my training, I was seriously told to "kiss the babies and flirt with the old men"--homey don't play that game so apparently my "perkitude" wasn't up to their standards and I was unceremoniously fired). And, yes, people can treat waiters terribly and there are things one can and should do to make a dining experience pleasant for all involved. Most of those things involve simple human decency. But Dublanica makes it sound like such a one-sided affair that waiters should be leaving tips to customers who jump through all the hoops outlined in the book to make it a pleasure to serve them.

While some of the information about the dynamic that exists among the employees in a restaurant is mildly interesting, there's nothing really surprising here. 

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