Anatomy of a waiter: Service staff spill the secrets of their trade

Next Sunday is the first ever National Waiters' Day. To celebrate, we share tales from the restaurant trenches by those in the front line.

The secrets

Want to know what’s really going on behind those munificent smiles? Well, given the strains of service, it’s no surprise that exposés of the waitering game abound.

Choice examples include Hotel Bemelmans by children’s author Ludwig Bemelmans, of Madeleine fame, a thinly veiled account of his time at the Ritz Carlton hotel in 1930s New York, and Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip by Steve Dublanica, whose anonymous confessional blog made him a figure of notoriety before he outed himself in 2008.

The lingo

In a profession where discretion is paramount, having your own jargon is especially important. Here are a few commonly recognised terms:

“86”: the number used when a dish has run out and been cut off the menu (eg “The lamb’s 86”). Can also refer to colleagues who have been cut off the rota –  or, that is, sacked.

WKF: “Well known face”, the phrase classier establishments use instead of the more nakedly starstruck “VIP”.

“I’m in the weeds”: “I’m overwhelmed”, to be screamed to feckless colleagues out of earshot of customers.

“Campers”: diners who make table-turning plans go awry by “camping out” for excessive amounts of time.

Tipping

Shrewd waiters know that service with a smile influences tipping behaviour. A study by the University of Mississippi showed that light arm-touching by waitresses earnt them 36 per cent more in tips.

Calling customers by their name results in a 10 per cent gratuity gain, while drawing a smiley face on the bill can apparently net a 17 per cent windfall.

But beware of telling your waiter white lies: one study has shown that telling a server that a meal was delicious, when it wasn’t, will paradoxically end up with you paying a higher tip, as  a result of that lie.

The legwork

Working tables is a physically demanding job: a garçon weighing 77 kilos will burn through 309 calories during an hour’s work, when walking at an average pace.

Some workers claim to walk up to five miles per four-hour shift, so it’s not surprising that some personal trainers have adopted the so-called “waiter’s walk” as part of their exercise regime: a kettlebell weight, rather than a tray, is raised high above the head, wrist facing forward as you walk.

The itchy feet

Stars such as Helen Mirren,  Kelly Brook and Graham Norton all plotted their big break while waiting tables. But not all celebrities were born to serve. Jennifer Aniston, who worked as a waitress in a New York burger bar before finding fame, admitted that she was a terrible server.

“I dropped more than one Alpine burger in customers’ laps,” said the actress, who then went on to play inept waitress Rachel Green in the US sitcom Friends. Within the service industry itself, an ambitious young Raymond Blanc – the two-Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur – briefly started out as a waiter at an Oxfordshire eatery in 1972 before taking  over culinary duties when the head chef fell ill.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine