Book Review: New in Nonfiction

A popular blog turns into book form, highlighting both the advantages and disadvantages of mixing new and old media

New in Nonfiction

Waiter Rant: Thanks For The Tip – Confessions of a Cynical Waiter

by the Waiter, Steve Dublanica
Ecco, 320 pp., $24.95

Waiter Rant, the book, is the clothbound offspring of www.waiterrant.net, a blog originally created as an outlet for its then-anonymous author to vent about life amid the grease and grime of the food service industry. It highlights certain meretricious advantages of the new media – if you create a niche and generate traffic, publishers will come – yet it also underlines some of the inherent difficulties, notably, that writing a punchy, thousand-word blog piece is one thing, while writing a book of 300 pages, a physical tome the reader is expected to spend hours with rather than minutes is quite another.

In fairness, the Waiter survives the transition more successfully than most. While it's true that the entries are uneven in quality – the dialogue is often leaden, and the book is made up of one part cheap psychology to two parts clever observation – at its best, it captures something of the frenetic lifestyle of those who suffer and eventually find themselves traumatized by life in the service industry. Certainly "If It Can Go Wrong It Will," a minute-by-minute evocation of a restaurant hurtling toward meltdown, will induce many an industry veteran to hit the hard stuff to quell memories of horrors past.

There are at least three other recent books I can think of dealing with the lot of the food server, and it's unlikely that any of them are destined to become true culinary classics. One reason, I suspect, is that being a server doesn't entail enough specialized information. A summary of one chapter in Waiter Rant might be that the best way to receive good service in a restaurant is to become a regular customer, be polite, and tip well. No kidding. But most people read food-related books to acquire knowledge that will inform their own culinary ambitions (however modest) or to be awed by gastronomical skills and esoteric knowledge that exceed their own. The server loses here on both counts – in the first instance, because his specialized knowledge is of little practical use outside a restaurant; in the second, because unless you aspire to a stressful and financially unstable life in which drink and other chemical and emotional narcotics come to dominate, there is little here to inspire. Unless, that is, you're about to fill out a restaurant application form – in which case, just say no.

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