In 1998, a waiter knows what he's waiting for

Food as fashion, restaurant as temple, chef as culture hero, waiter as ... well, waiter probably, but not as you'd have thought of him a decade ago. The voguishness of the dining trade, the knowingness of the customers and the new vistas of the service industries have changed the game. Annabelle Thorpe meets a rhapsodic Roger.

It's 6pm in the evening. Roger Gellman, immaculately dressed in Jasper Conran, casts an eye over his corner of the room. The tables are immaculate, ashtray and condiments equidistant from the tips of the gleaming knives. A quiet hum flows from the bar area, where the first post-work drinks of the day are being sipped - chilled Chardonnay and long gin and tonics. Now is the lull before the storm, a half hour of quiet calm before the glass doors of Mezzo, Conran's Soho emporium, swing open and the great and the glamorous of London take their places in one of the capital's biggest restaurants.

"The evening begins with the first customers, and from then on you don't have time to think," says Roger. "In an evening I'll serve roughly 100 people with one other waiter. It's a case of keeping your head above water and dealing with each situation as it occurs."

Roger has worked as a waiter at Mezzo for two years. His nights are a blur of Bolly and bouillabaisse, of orders punched furiously into his MICROS ordering system that feeds the requests from hungry punters straight into the frenetic kitchen that hustles and bustles behind the huge glass windows. He carries plates, juggles glasses, recommends wines, advises on food, flatters, flirts and generally has the time of his life.

Right now, restaurants are at the cutting edge.Catering is one of the industries of the moment. Eating out is fashionable, food is fashionable.A job which once might have looked like drudgery has acquired a sort of allure it never had before.Chefs are not the only ones whose status has changed in the last few years. Slowly but surely, respect is being accorded to those further down the service industry scale.

"I never imagined a career as a waiter, I was kind of directionless and Mezzo seemed a trendy place to work so I went for the interview. At the time it was no big career choice, but now I wouldn't want to work in any other industry. People think of waiting as the sort of job you do in university vacations when you can't find anything better. In fact it's far more like serving your apprenticeship for a career in the service industries in general and there's a huge choice of careers to go into."

For Roger, a night's work consists of far more than simply bringing plates to the table. "It's a very sales based job," he says, "in some ways more than service. It's about promoting wines, selling particular dishes, using sales skills. We have regular briefings, wine tastings and every time the menu changes we taste each of the dishes. Customers look to us for recommendations and we have to know what we are talking about."

"Being a waiter is not an easy job," says Marian Scutton, General Manager for Circus and the Avenue, two of the most fashionable restaurants in London, "and it's high time the profile of the job was raised. It is a tremendously important job and should be recognised as such. It's not simply a case of serving food and pouring wine, clients look to those serving to advise and guide. The eating-out public is far more sophisticated than it used to be - waiters have to know the food and wines to recommend - they take an active part in the meal itself."

As the worlds of media, fashion and restaurants merge into one another, being seen to be "known" in certain restaurants becomes ever more crucial. "Regulars will ring me up and ask for special attention when they come in with guests."says Marian, "but it's always important for all our staff to make them feel special."

"The more people ask you, the better," says Martin Hobby, who used to work as a waiter before moving on to manage a wine bar in the City. "You feel like the clients value your opinion and the knowledge you have. It can put you on a real high - and if the restaurant is buzzing there's no feeling to beat it. Even if something does go wrong with the meal you can usually rescue the situation. It makes you feel good to know you can still deal with problems even when you're trying to do a million things at once.'

Martin, who missed the days of waiting, believes time served on the shop floor can set you up for life. "If you learn a trade as a waiter in a good restaurant you will never be out of a job. I spent a year in New York and worked constantly in good restaurants. it doesn't matter that they can't phone for a reference, you get a one-day trial - if you've got the experience, the speed and the know-how, then the job is yours."

It is not unusual for top London restaurants to pay only pounds 2 an hour - less than a basic wage at McDonald's - but tips can bring a weekly wage to between pounds 300 and pounds 400. And although the hours may seem unsociable, few waiters simply fade home to bed after an evening on the floor.

It's 1am at Mezzo. Roger, looking slightly less pristine than he did at 6pm, is clearing the last of the tables. As a drunken gaggle of businessmen stagger towards the cloakroom, Roger is busily arranging a venue to meet up with some of the other waiters. At 1am the night is over for the restaurant. For Roger, with his tips in his pocket and Soho outside the door, the night is still young.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Scientists believe Mercury is coated in billions of years’ worth of carbon dust, after being ‘dumped on’ by passing comets
science
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
  • Get to the point
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 General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executives

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of Europe's leading prov...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £30,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a perso...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

    £21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Regional Sales Manager - East Region - OTE £45,000

    £30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor