Newspaper Interview

This piece about Waiter Rant was in today’s Chicago Tribune. Enjoy!

What your waiter is saying about you

By Jessica Berthold
Tribune Newspapers: The Morning Call
Published March 29, 2006

Waiter Rant (waiterrant.net) reads like a sitcom script about life in a busy New York bistro — daffy diners, wisecrackin’ waiters and all. There’s the affable narrator as Everyman, the colorful staff as makeshift family, the customer as comic foil.

Sometimes sarcastic, sometimes poignant, each post is like an episode with a pithy punch line. Unlike Sam from “Cheers,” however, the anonymous scribe of Waiter Rant is real, and so are his sporadically terrible customers. Our man always keeps his cool and delivers service with a smile . . . until he gets to the therapy couch he calls laptop.

“Waiter,” who is writing a book based on his blog, will divulge only that he’s 38 and has lived and worked for seven years as a waiter in the New York metro area. He went to seminary and worked in psychiatric health care when younger, which may explain his saintly composure in dealing with customers.

Q. How often do you get a problem customer?

A. Eighty percent of the customers are nice, normal people, and the other 20 percent are psychotic.

Q. Who was your worst customer ever?

A. There was one guy who came in with only the envelope for a gift certificate and he started screaming when I told him he needed the actual gift certificate. I had to throw him out. He came back an hour later with the certificate and threw it at me, then yelled to the other customers that I was a jerk and no one should eat there.

Q. What’s the most shocking thing you’ve heard a customer say?

A. I’ve heard people talk about cutting a family member out of a will, and if you could have heard the vitriol in their voices. . . . Then you get the usual relationship disasters, which isn’t shocking because a lot of people break up in restaurants, but it’s still never fun to hear. Then you also hear people being lewd and gross.

Q. Do waiters actually spit on the food of rude customers?

A. In seven years, I’ve never seen anyone adulterate food in any place. I did hear a story from a friend about a waiter who played hockey with someone’s steak. What usually happens is waiters will delay the food or use subtle humor to deal with people.

Q. Why do people act so badly in restaurants?

A. Going out used to be special; people got dressed up for it and were on their best behavior. Now, we eat out all the time and the restaurant has become an extension of the living room. So if you’re an angry person at home, you’ll be angry in the restaurant.

Q. Why do you keep doing this job, when it’s so rough?

A. When I used to work in health care, I would get physically ill from the stress and politics of my job. The nonsense I went through in the corporate world was far worse than this. At my job it’s like a family environment; we all take care of each other.

Q. Do your co-workers know about your blog?

A. Everyone I work with knows. I try to keep it from the new people, but it just comes out. It’s miraculous no one has posted a comment saying where I work yet.

Q. What have you learned by being a waiter?

A. I think I’ve gotten a little more easygoing and compassionate, though you might not be able to tell that from the blog. I used to work in the mental-health field and I saw people in such painful circumstances. I went into the restaurant business knowing what’s out there and how bad it can get, and I see clues from the customers about what their lives are like. I guess I’ve learned to balance the need to be good and hospitable to people but preserve my own integrity.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune


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