The Bite

Both the owners and employees of Tiramisu (see review above) could use a copy of The Main Course on Table Service, the new book by veteran server David Rothschild, who co-owns the Phoenix-based EATiQuette waitstaff-training and dining-etiquette company. In fact, at $19.95 a copy, The Main Course wouldn't be a bad investment for any restaurant looking to inject a bit of old-fashioned service sense into its staff.

For anyone who eats out, the book is a reminder of what suitable service used to be. Remember when waitrons knew to serve from the left and clear from the right, or to move around a table when taking orders instead of standing in one spot? The book isn't just for fine-dining establishments, either; it includes some especially good points about booth service, such as the benefits of adhering to a seat-designation system so there's some semblance of organization when the plates arrive.

Rothschild has a pretty straightforward, gosh-shucks writing style, which made the book a bit dry (I kept wanting him to say wicked things like Anthony Bourdain did in Kitchen Confidential). Still, he offers useful tips that I'd forgotten from my serving/bartending days in college, as well as one I'd remembered that's applicable in everyday life: how to keep soup (or anything, really) from splashing. As once explained to me by a chef (who may have gotten it from Marilyn vos Savant, as Rothschild says he did), "When you walk, you keep your balance smooth by orienting to your surroundings. If, instead, you orient to a bowl of soup you're carrying, you're orienting to a moving target...yourself." Try it -- it works.

The tips (no pun intended) that eateries in this town could definitely use: taking reservations using a voice that sounds like the restaurant is happy to have people eat there; acknowledging diners within thirty seconds of their walking through the door (instead of making them stand there as though you're doing them a favor by letting them in the place); bussing tables throughout the meal (no straw wrappers or other detritus should be allowed to build up, even in the lowliest truck stop); and keeping track of who orders what (the restaurant itself should set the system) so that there isn't an "auction" when the food arrives (as in, "Who gets the hamburger?").

As someone who eats out more than most people, I'd have to say that the transgression committed all too often in this town involves servers who don't know how to "read" a table correctly to avoid long waits between courses. According to Rothschild, appetizers should appear no later than ten minutes after the order is placed, with entrees and desserts coming no more than ten minutes after the previous course has been cleared. Ha! I can't remember the last time a restaurant hit this mark. Granted, longer waits are sometimes welcome, such as when a couple is obviously celebrating an anniversary and ordering a bottle of wine with every course -- but that's where reading a table comes in. The way most servers have read my table would indicate that they thought I planned to set up a TV and take a nap sometime during the meal.

Rothschild has another pet peeve: servers who think it's hilarious to ask a diner about the meal when he or she has a mouth full of food. "In private, servers will admit to doing this as a way to amuse themselves," he writes. "Guests rarely find it so funny." Amen, brother.

I couldn't find The Main Course locally, but it's available through the company's Web site at EATiQuette.com (the e-book is $15.95) or by calling 602-569-2051. Hey, it can't hurt. As the economy tries to straighten itself out and restaurants fight to stay in business, maybe 2002 will finally be the year of the server.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner