Organization is just trying to get a little respect for waiters

HAPPY EATER

February 10, 1993|By ROB KASPER

What is a four-letter word for "part of a waiter's foot?"

Or a 10-letter word for "light, fruity, wine?"

Or the 5-letter answer to the clue, "they give out stars?"

These were some of questions I struggled with recently in the crossword puzzle section of a new publication, Hospitality. It is the newsletter of the Waiters Association, a freshly formed organization based in Takoma Park, aimed at improving the lot of the nation's estimated 1.7 million waiters.

The newsletter is the work of Vivienne Wildes. Wildes is a one-time Capitol Hill waitress who later became director of personnel at the highly regarded Virginia's Inn at Little Washington. She, along with three veterans of the restaurant business, have formed the professional society for male and female waiters.

Gerard Foley, a former food and beverage director of Richmond Hill Inn in Ashville, N.C., is another of the founders, along with Larry Riibner, a graduate of New York's Culinary Institute of Arts who is now a certified public accountant, and Wildes' husband, Joe Beddall, a waiter at Washington's Hay Adams Hotel.

The organization sent out its first newsletter last month. While I found the crossword puzzle challenging, Wildes said most of the questions coming into the group's toll-free line ([800] 437-7842) have been about another matter, namely the idea, mentioned in the newsletter, of banding together and getting group health insurance rates.

Getting group insurance is one way the Waiters Association can knock down the idea that being a waiter is not "a real job," Wildes said last week in a telephone interview.

It is possible to make a career out of food service, Wildes said. She pointed to herself and her husband as examples. The couple, a total of 40 years combined experience working restaurants and hotels. In addition to their careers they also have two daughters.

Wildes and her husband started the association with their own money and have applied for non-profit status. Membership is $20 a year. The newsletter sells classified ads.

Wildes and her colleagues seem to have a two-track strategy to get more respect for waiters. First they fax out the facts to interested parties. They sent me, for example, charts predicting that the number of people employed in U.S. eating and drinking establishments will increase by some 25 percent over the next 15 years. They quoted reminders that the multi-billion dollar food and beverage business largely depends on the behavior of the waiters delivering the goods. They offered a concise statement of the association's goals of providing group insurance (still in formative stages) and offering training and job placement.

The newsletter took a more lyrical approach.

It had an advice columnist, "Ask Vi," who solicited answers from waiters to job-related questions. The current issue, for example, asked "Is the customer always right?" A variety of answers were given, the best from Beddall: "No, but it is the good service person who can always leave the customer feeling right."

Another section of the newsletter had "tips" for waiters. It told them to say, "may I remove . . ." not "Are you done . . ."

There were also tips to customers: "See your waiter as a human being with as much right to be on the earth as you."

There was a waiter-related book review of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel "The Remains of The Day." It noted that the main character, a butler, "offered powerful insights into the essence of the business of serving others."

And finally there was the crossword puzzle.

Ordinarily not much of puzzle player, I thought that since most of the clues in this crossword related to food, drink and service, I would do well. I thought wrong.

The part of a waiter's foot was supposed to be "arch," not my choice, "heel."

The 10 letters for "fruity wine" was "Beaujolais." All I could come up with was "Mogen David."

The correct answer for "they give out the stars," was "Mobil," the oil company that publishes a travel guide rating restaurants.

I penciled in "critic," proving I guess what waiters and other people in the food business secretly suspect about food writers. Namely, we overestimate our importance.

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