Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Making a career out of waiting on tables" (restaurant article)

Nov. 15, 2015 "Making a career out of waiting on tables": I cut out this article by Liane Faulder in the Edmonton Journal on Jul. 8, 2015.  It's about working at a restaurant so I cut it out.  It does talk about how waiters can make as much money as a teacher if the waiters get enough tips.  Here's the whole article:  

Juggling, and the ability to make things disappear. These are but two qualities possessed by career waiters, who must be not only magicians, but also mothers, offering a combination of empathy and comfort to the hungry and occasionally aggrieved who pull up chairs in the city’s best restaurants.

The devoted servers interviewed for this article consider themselves professionals, having chosen to wait tables rather than to see the position as a stop gap, or a part-time job while in university. (One, Brandi Daelman, did the exact opposite, studying part-time days to obtain her recent business degree while she worked full time at Sorrentino’s downtown, and primarily because the degree would help her should she decide to open her own restaurant some day.) Anyone who has worked in the business also knows successful serving requires an extensive skill set, so you have to take it seriously to be good. Plus, career waiters must be physically fit, unflappable, able to solve problems and deal with minute-by-minute changes — all at a demanding pace.

Sam Wall, a former long-term waiter, now teaches dining room operations to culinary students at NAIT.

“You can teach facts, and how to carry three plates, and properly serve from the right-hand side with your right hand,” she says. “But it’s tough serving people if you don’t have soft skills, if you can’t empathize with another human being.”

Those soft skills include listening, clarifying, and translating body language. Former longtime waiter Christine Sheetz, now a manager at Sorrentino’s downtown, says a good waiter can read customers and know what they want before they want it. That includes understanding whether the customer wants a bouncy, chatty server, or one that glides in and out without a ripple. Like a psychologist, a waiter learns to ask open-ended questions to help customers make decisions.

Service professionals also know how to sell food and wine, and it’s got a lot to do with product knowledge.

“Earlier, people could get by with personality and minimal knowledge of food. But with the Food Network now, the guest is more knowledgeable,” says the Hardware Grill’s Steven Hugens. “You have to understand your chef, and their vision, so when the food lands on the table, you can explain the flavours and why the guest will enjoy them.”

The reward for this wide-ranging skill set can be lucrative, although waiters quoted here wouldn’t say how much money they make. That’s because tips are the reason waiters stay with a minimum-wage job, and nobody wants Revenue Canada knocking at the kitchen door. One waiter I spoke to off the record said that in a high-end restaurant, a good waiter could make the equivalent of a teacher’s salary. Of course, there are no benefits, no sick pay, and no security.

Oh, and teachers don’t have to tip-out the school board trustees and the janitors.
Waiters, on the other hand, often pay a fee — two to four per cent of their sales — to the restaurant owners, who pass that on to the kitchen staff. Waiters also share tips with bartenders and bus boys. Wage sharing can add up to between five and six per cent of sales. If a customer leaves a poor tip or no tip, the waiter can lose money on the deal.

Still, servers I spoke to were generally comfortable with the arrangement, and consider customers one of the benefits of the business. Luann Kowalek, a career server at The Marc, answers smoothly when I ask how she deals with difficult customers.

“I get challenging customers, but I don’t find them difficult,” she says. “I just figure out what they want … and if I can make it happen, I make it happen.”

Steven Hugens, 54, a career waiter now at Hardware Grill

Q: What’s your goal when serving a table?

A: I am your host, and you are my guest and I will take care of it for you. If you like something, it will appear, and if you don’t like it, it will disappear.

Q: What separates a good restaurant from a not-so-good restaurant?

A: At Hardware and other good restaurants, we time all our own tables. The appetizer is going to land right away to take care of starvation, but after that, (the guest and the waiter) will decide when we put the kitchen back to work, so the guest can enjoy the experience.

Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?

A: Meeting people. If we see between 25 and 30 guests on a shift and multiply that over a year, we’ve met an awful lot of people and 99.9 per cent of them are really very nice. It’s pretty rewarding.

Brandi Daelman, 34, a waiter at Sorrentino’s for 18 years.

Q: What do you look for in a server when you’re in a restaurant?

A: I want someone who is honest and personable. I want them to tell me if an item isn’t their favourite and I will be grateful for that and I will reward them.

Q: What’s a record-breaking tip night for you?

A: Once I made $600 or $700 during a six-hour night.

Q: What’s your secret?

A: It’s reading a table, the ability to always keep your eyes up and moving. I may walk by your table and notice you’re ready to pay, but I serve the section as a whole, so I will finish my trip to the kitchen and then stop on my way back as opposed to going back and forth back and forth. Instead of someone looking for you, you need to look to them to see if they need something.

Luann Kowalek, 45, waiting tables since 18 at restaurants from The Creperie to the still-mourned Il Portico. Now at The Marc.

Q: What’s a faux pas for a waiter?

A: I hate it when I ask people a question and they’re chewing. So I make a joke and say “I’m sorry, I’m trained to make you talk with your mouth full.

Q: What brought you to a career as a waiter?

A: It was a great way to supplement the inconsistencies of being a musician. At some point, it became my career. And then I met Patrick and Doris (Saurette, owners of The Marc) at Il Portico, and they were like-minded individuals. Their work ethic and philosophy is the same as mine and it’s this wonderful, nurturing environment.

Q: What do you consider the most important part of your job?

A: I just want the person to have the best experience, and part of my job is to know what I’m selling them. I love it when people try something I have recommended that they would never have tried, like the steak tartare.


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