An Annapolis waiter with 10 years' experience was named the best in Maryland yesterday, while helping make the state a leader in emphasizing service as a vital part of the restaurant business.
Dana Dineen, who works at Loews Annapolis Hotel, was the winner of the first Service Classic sponsored by the Restaurant Association of Maryland during its Mid-Atlantic Foodservice and Lodging Expo, which attracted about 15,000 restaurant owners and employees to the Baltimore Convention Center and area hotels this week.
The competition, which tested the knowledge of more than 40 servers from 25 of the state's restaurants and foodservice establishments, is believed to be the first such event in the country.
''Maryland is taking the lead in the importance of service in this industry,'' said Mike Hurst, a Florida restaurateur and president of the National Restaurant Association, who spoke at the competition.
Dineen, who began his restaurant career 14 years ago as a ''doorman in a saloon'' and later worked as a busboy and a cook in restaurants, became one of 20 finalists by faring well on a written exam, which tested the basics of service.
He then joined the 19 other finalists in serving a four-course luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Each finalist was responsible for serving a table set for eight. Each was judged in the kitchen and as he or she moved about the dining room, as well as by those at his or her table.
Second place went to Mark Wiedorfer of Reisterstown, who works at Rudy's 2900 in Finksburg. Drew Sinnot of Baltimore, a waiter at Peerce's Plantation in Baltimore County, was third.
Other finalists represented The Polo Grill, Tio Pepe, The Milton Inn, Phillips Harborplace, Linwood's Cafe of Owings Mills, Maria's of Westminster, the Granary Restaurant in Georgetown in Cecil County, Mrs. K's Toll House in Silver Spring and Seibel's Dairy Bar and Restaurant in Burtonsville.
Dineen said he began the day thinking the competition would be a ''cakewalk,'' but realized his competition was ''good'' when he heard them talking in the kitchen before lunch.
''I'm really surprised,'' Dineen conceded shortly after winning the honor. He attributed his success to enjoying his work. ''I like waiting tables. . . meeting people.''
Dineen went to work at the West Street hotel when it opened, under different ownership, five years ago. He later moved south with another hotel chain. While "passing through town'' 18 months ago, the manager of the Loews Hotel ''made me an offer I could not refuse,'' he said.
Dineen wins a week's trip for two to Aruba, which he says he will be too busy to take until the General Assembly adjourns in April. Long before that, however, Dineen says he plans to ask his boss for a raise.