Pros: Hysterically funny; surprisingly insightful; beautifully balanced; intelligent yet blunt
Cons: Frank language will be a bit much for some
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review copy (uncorrected proof) courtesy of Ecco/HarperCollins.
Some months back I got hooked on a blog called Waiter Rant. It’s filled with tales from the tables presented by a waiter with an eye for both the sublime and the ridiculous. From stumbling newbie to restaurant manager and back to waiter again, he’s seen it all—and he’s happy to tell us about it.
‘The Waiter’ (without his anonymity he’d lose his ability to casually people-watch) now presents us with a book to go with the blog: Waiter Rant: Thanks for the tip—confessions of a cynical waiter. I’ll get the obvious question out of the way first: is it simply a reprinting or rehash of the blog? Definitively, no. Sure, some of the material is the same (after all, he could hardly leave some of that priceless stuff out!). However, the book is written as a coherent book. Where some people don’t make the transition well from blogging to a larger format, The Waiter definitely understood the difference and ran with it.
Waiter Rant is a memoir. It’s a little like Kitchen Confidential except that I liked it even better; it has a better balance of material and flows more smoothly. The Waiter started out in seminary and then got a psychology degree, trying out several jobs before he landed in the service industry. As one might expect from someone with that background, he has a surprising amount of insight into people—both himself and others. He’s completely frank and blunt about the kind of behavior and language that go on behind the scenes in restaurants, so if you don’t want to read that sort of thing, skip this book. However, I felt the language was always appropriate to what he was trying to convey, not gratuitous or used simply to shock.
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. He includes fascinating tidbits of information and statistics, but weaves them into the narrative in ways that keep them from feeling forced, dry, or lesson-like. He shares tales of ineptitude on both his own and others’ parts, stories of the worst of human nature, and sublime moments that could bring tears to your eyes—and he does it with a skillful rhythm that keeps things flowing.
Whether you want to know how to keep the waiters from messing with your food, what the grossest thing he’s ever seen done to someone’s food is, or when you should avoid going to even the most upscale restaurant, that’s in here. He includes enough dirt-dishing and tips for restaurant lovers to fulfill that crowd, enough tales of human nature to satisfy the people-watchers, and enough personal thoughts to please readers who enjoy memoirs of all kinds. He’s intelligent and well-spoken, and I have to give him bonus points for using the word ‘trichotillomaniac’ in a way that added to a story and wasn’t spurious!
It’s hard to keep from making this review a mile long. I loved his tale of the one customer who figured out who he was. His thoughts on health care and illegal aliens as they relate to his industry are enlightening without being pretentious or lecturing. His observations of people’s tipping habits are endlessly fascinating. His story of the paranoid restaurant owner watching his employees via laptop and security cameras while driving is priceless.
I’m not just recommending that you pick this one up—I’m recommending that if you read this review before it comes out, you go ahead and pre-order it so you don’t risk forgetting about it! If my review hasn’t convinced you, then go to the blog and read a few entries to see if you enjoy his style—although I think the book is even better. Apparently The Waiter has come into his own, and with a little luck we’ll soon be calling him The Writer instead.