Mount Airy waitress, 27, wins statewide award

October 07, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

Roberta Dobbie's debut as a waitress at the Mount Airy Pizza Hut eight years ago wasn't promising.

Within her first month, she waited on the owners' son -- who helps to run the business -- and didn't exactly make a good impression.

It was late, the restaurant was ready to close, Ms. Dobbie was tired, and she didn't give her customer service with a smile.

"He [the son] said he was this close to firing me," she recalls.

Apparently she has learned a lot.

On Tuesday, Ms. Dobbie of Mount Airy won first place in the casual dining category of the Restaurant Association of Maryland's Service Classic Competition for waiters.

She was rewarded for her superior skills with a trip for two to Aruba.

The association's fifth annual waiter competition was held at the Holiday Inn in Timonium. Each of the 30 participants had to serve a four-course meal to a table of 10, under the scrutiny of several maitre d's and managers from some of the area's best restaurants, including Tio Pepe's and the Polo Grill.

"I felt a little overwhelmed," said Ms. Dobbie, 27. "It's not what I'm used to."

Indeed.

The menu for the event was a bit more complex than Pizza Hut fare.

A menu sampling included: lobster consomme with a chiffonade of black bean crepes, salad of arugula and mache with marinated crawfish and grilled zucchini with an okra garlic dressing, and grilled sea bass with a fennel aioli and a thyme and pine nut crust.

Participants were expected to be able to answer questions from diners about the dishes and preparation.

"I was winging it," Ms. Dobbie said.

Originally, 54 waiters from area restaurants entered the serving contest. An in-person interview and written test, given by the association's education and service committee, narrowed the participants to 30.

One question from the interview was, "What do you do when a customer leaves a very small tip?"

The correct answer is, be gracious, according to Kitty Whittington, special projects director for the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

"You always should say 'Thank you so much,' " she said. "You should never belittle a customer or make them feel small."

The 30 finalists advanced to the "serving" phase. Ms. Dobbie competed against seven other waiters in the casual dining category. The other servers were in the fine dining group.

Ms. Whittington said the judges rated all the servers on knowledge, attitude and appearance. But to be a top-notch waiter, having a good personality is essential.

"You can soothe a lot of hot tempers with a good personality," Ms. Whittington said.

Richard Boccabella, the manager at the Mount Airy Pizza Hut, said Ms. Dobbie has personality to spare.

"With Roberta, everything is positive and upbeat even on a bad day," he said. "I don't think I've ever seen the young lady upset or cross."

Ms. Dobbie began working for Pizza Hut when she was a student at Carroll Community College.

After she received her associate's degree in business, she stayed on because she enjoyed the work -- and the money.

"I bought my house with my tips," said Ms. Dobbie, who at 23 bought a home in Mount Airy.

She is no longer based at the Mount Airy Pizza Hut. Instead she fills in at other area Pizza Huts as needed.

And she teaches waiter training for Pizza Hut of Maryland Inc., which owns more than 70 Pizza Huts in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Ms. Dobbie said she loves her job at Pizza Hut and plans to continue working there.

"I enjoy very much what I'm doing now," she said.

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