Waiter to the Rich and Shameless, by Paul Hartford
Waiter to the Rich and Shameless – Confessions of a Five-Star Beverly Hills Server is a fun tell-all from a server that’s worked to the top of the serving world. The Cricket Room is as fine of dining as it gets. A safe haven from fans and paparazzi, celebrities flock to these tables to let their hair down and spend as much for dinner as you make in a year. For a career waiter, this is the holy grail. Paul sheds his rocker clothes and exchanges his ponytail for polished crystal and ironed table clothes. He chronicles his rise in the ranks, and dishes the dirty secrets of celebrities and their dining habits.
Think of your favorite American celebrity – he’s waited on them. Ever wondered how Donald Trump tips? How about Johnny Depp? Paul Hartford is happy to tell you.
Between celebrity gossip, Paul goes into meticulous detail on the builds of every dish and the constant priority shuffling a server does all day. As a server myself, I can say he perfectly captures the intense mindwork and stress involved in the job. Paris Hilton won’t acknowledge the question you’ve asked her, the hosts have sat you two tables while you’re stuck trying to communicate, and they’re looking for their server. The waiter in the section next to you disappeared and everyone needs something – you’re the only one to ask. One table’s drinks never showed up, the other table got the wrong drinks. The bus boy gave Johnny Depp’s children breadsticks covered in something they’re allergic to, and there’s food to run. Are the garnishes correct? Does the food look amazing? Keep smiling!
I will say that Paul is pretty high on himself, and likes to reiterate that the Cricket Room (or, The Polo Lounge, as many have deduced) is unlike any other restaurant in the world. He goes on and on about how special it is. But eventually, he realizes the celebrities he waits on are just regular people. Meanwhile I realized that the restaurant, despite a higher price tag and fancier table settings, functions like any other.
At one point he talks about a server nightmare. I couldn’t stop laughing, because I’ve had the same recurring nightmare and I’ve never been able to communicate with non-servers how horrifying it is.
It must be said that Paul was occasionally unbearable and somewhat chauvinistic. With his server buddy, Jens, he parties a little too hard and objectifies women more than once. Later, he claims to be “totally cool” with his gay co-workers, but makes fun of their eccentricities. At a Christmas party, he talks about going to the “gay corner” and giving them hugs as if it’s some huge favor. And he judges guests a little too harshly for an unsophisticated taste in drinks. Have you ever worked with a straight male server? Paul is true to form.
Ultimately, Waiter to the Rich and Shameless becomes a coming of age tale and he becomes less irritating as he matures. Paul talks a lot about server burn out. As amazing as the money may be, it can’t buy happiness. The work leaves him exhausted, unwilling to do much after his shift but erase the stress with drugs or alcohol. After marrying, he goes on honeymoon to Italy and is reminded of all the life he’s missing out on. Creative pursuits nag at the corner of his mind. All while the restaurant becomes increasingly corporate, forfeiting the people in favor of the almighty dollar. He takes pride in his work, to the point of defining it as an art, and it’s almost not worth doing any more when his efforts are constantly hampered by budget-saving cuts and unrealistic expectations set by people who don’t do the work.
I identified immensely with this book. From the corporatization losing sight of good service and good people, to the burn out that eventually claims every good server. Having spent 15 years in the industry myself, I’m going through a lot of the same thought processes he’s having in the end of the book. It was nice to find some validation, and a voice to say I’m not alone.
Recommended for service industry people, friends of service industry people, and bad tippers.
Waiter to the Rich and Shameless (Audiobook)