Friday, February 6, 2009

Waiter Rant

Waiter Rant is a book that grew from a blog in which the writer, an unhappy and frustrated waiter, vented about his experience dealing with unreasonable and borderline psychotic customers - something to which anyone who has worked in a restaurant (or with the general public) can relate.

I don't read a lot of nonfiction (especially since I've been slogging through another graduate degree - I prefer the escape of fiction these days), but I love eating and cooking and going out to eat, and there's something about books on the subject that I find immensely appealing. Among my most recent favorites are Ruth Reichl's series of books that begins with Tender at the Bone, Michael Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef and, of course, Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. I was unsure about this one, as I'd never read the blog, and I've worked as a waiter and a hostess (and even a barista in Italy), so I wondered there would be enough fresh or unusual material to keep my attention.

The Waiter talks about how he stumbled into waiting tables after losing his job in the healthcare industry. He stagnates at the restaurant, with a love/hate relationship with his job and many of the people around him. He works with peculiar people who are certainly interesting to read about, but I couldn't help but wonder why he put up with them - certainly there were other restaurants that weren't so dysfunctionally run. He talks about regular customers, annoying customers, his co-workers, the mechanics of tipping, and his insanely paranoid boss.

I found that I enjoyed the book, but not as much as my aforementioned favorites. Part of it was, I think, the fact that it was a blog morphing into a book. To me it lacked the even flow I expect from a memoir - it seemed a bit choppy, with the mood and tone changing radically from one part of the book to the next. While the author came through as a clear character, aside from a few people who were simply bizarre, none of the other characters stood out - I had no clear idea of his friends, his coworkers - who they were, what they looked like, how they spoke or dressed that differentiated them from everyone else. They appeared when it was necessary for a scene, like walk-on actors, and disappeared when they were no longer necessary.

One thing that kept me reading was the author's honesty - he is candid even when it makes him appear in a negative light, and he relates his insecurities and fears with an astonishing openness. The other reason I continued turning the pages was that every now and then the writing simply took off - a wonderful scene would suddenly spring to life, such as the one in which The Waiter deals with a drunk, depressed customer in a most empathetic way. I will be curious to see what topic the former waiter turns to for his next book, which will presumably move away from this world in which he found his literary feet, and into new and unexplored territory.

Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip - Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by The Waiter (a.k.a. Steve Dublanica) (Ecco, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Both Eyes Book Blog: "Waiter Rant is one of the all time great compulsively readable books; the sort of book that will forever change the way you regard something you may have taken for granted in the past, in this case the act of dining out.
Errant Dreams Reviews: "One of the things I like best about the book is the balance of material. The Waiter waxes philosophical, but always ties it back to reality and brings it back around to storytelling."
The Fickle Hand of Fate: "Equal parts personal history, work anecdotes, and insider information, Waiter Rant is a quick, smooth read."

8 comments:

  1. I've read the blog Waiter Rant quite a few times, and he's so thoughtful in his posts. He really IS a writer, and so not a waiter; it just shows you how a good writer can take any topic and turn it into a fascinating read. I once read a comment about Mill Byrson's writing from a reviewer: "He could make dryer dust and lint interesting." Ture enough.

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  2. Speaking as a former waitress, I'd probably find this quite funny! I'll have to check the blog out.

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  3. I didn't know you worked as a barista in Italy!where? for how long?
    My father had a restaurant for years and years,he was the chef and I worked there, unwillingly!, as waitress for many years. So I think I could relate! but I don't know if I want to go back there...:P

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  4. Ugh, I hated waiting tables. Although in some ways it was worse, I much preferred working fast food!

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  5. Bellezza - I hadn't even heard of his blog till I read the book! I wonder how it would have influenced my reading experience if I'd been reading the blog all along.

    Mariel - I think you would definitely relate to a lot of the customers and things that went on. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts if you read it!

    Valentina - I spent a few years in Italy, mostly in Bologna, teaching English. In the summers I usually got odd jobs to help make ends meet, and for a while I worked as a barista in the summer, and sometimes as a waitress, too. It was fun, but only as long as the customers were polite, if you know what I mean. Your father was a chef? I miss the food in Bologna so much!

    Ladytink - those are both very tough jobs!

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  6. Yes he was,in Sicily! His nickname is actually "Chef",and I call him that as well when I'm in the mood:P

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  7. Valentine - I envy you! I was lucky to get my dad to pour milk on my cereal in the mornings! :-) I LOVE Sicily and spent a lot of time near Siracusa when I lived in Italy. It is so beautiful. And cannoli to die for! And the fish! And the granite in the morning! Sigh...

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  8. I just started reading the waiter rant book and it is good, but as a current waitress I don't think it represents waiting tables across the board. As someone who doesn't wait tables in an upscale restaurant in new york I can tell you that my experiences can be similar but the pay is radically different. Where I work there are no hundred dollar tips involved. If there were I would be much happier instead of dealing with five dollar tips. There are alot of middle America waitstaff out there that deal with the same stuff for practically nothing. I feel for anyone that works in that businesss but he is much more fortunate than the rest of us.

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