One fed-up New York City waiter serves more than just the specials in his entertaining behind-the-scenes memoir. By Kristin Baird Rattini
When Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential hit bookshelves in 2000, the chef’s revelations about the culinary underbelly of the restaurant business shocked and titillated thereading public. The author of the new memoir Waiter Rant (Ecco, $25) seeks to do much of the same, billing his book as “the front-of-the-house version” of Bourdain’s best seller.
Subtitled Thanks for the Tip -- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter, the book is a New York server’s tell-all. Well, more like a tell-most.That’s because the author -- identified only as the Waiter -- hides behind an apron of anonymity, as he has for the past four years on hisaward-winning blog, WaiterRant.net. Both on the blog and in the book, the Waiter dishes candidly on the outrageous behavior of staffers and customers at the undisclosed upscale restaurant where he works.
Yet, as a 20/20 type of exposé, Waiter Rant falls flat. Many of its “reveals” -- dirty bathrooms are a sign of adirty kitchen; servers spy on each other for the manager -- are nothing but warmed-up leftovers, some straight from Bourdain’s book. Instead, Waiter Rant succeeds as an entertaining literary sitcom on restaurant life. By the book’s end, readers will have come to know the Waiter’s motley crew of coworkers: There’s Beth, attractive and wise beyond her 23 years; Louis, so lazy he faked a heart attack to get out of work; and Fluvio, the paranoid control freak of an owner. The audience will also have come to know the Waiter, who gives much of his true self in the memoir, if not his real name. A 40-year-old former seminary student, he loves to wax philosophical, explaining how waiting tables is like gambling and how patrons’ jockeying for the best table is all about competition for resources. But he also freely admits he can be an arrogant bully to his coworkers and a mercenary to his rudest patrons, gleefully steering them toward the most expensive items on the menu and robbing them blind.
Even if readers don’t fully sympathize with the Waiter, they will with the plight of the average restaurant server. One of the book’s best passages is a breathless stream-of-consciousness account of juggling 20 customers at five tables that are seated simultaneously on a summertime Saturday night when the heat index is 102 degrees, the air conditioneris on the fritz, the line is out the door, and the computer system is down. It leaves no doubt that servers usually deserve not only 15 percent but an occasional pound of flesh too. In his debut novel, the Waiter extracts it with panache.