This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
If the headwaiter of an American hotel is to have time to play the " Mezzofanti," the " Henry," or "Eugene," and go around from table to table chatting and so forth, trying to make every guest feel satisfied, it is evident he must have a lieutenant, a second or assistant headwaiter to remain at the door, and whether for that or other reasons most headwaiters do appoint such an assistant, but not all. Somebody inquiring of a trade paper some time back what were the duties of the headwaiter received the following reply, which we will examine and comment upon:
"A headwaier's berth in a first-class establishment is no sinecure. The man who accepts it takes upon himself many responsibilities little realised by the patrons. He appoints one or more men under him who are called captains. It is their duty to see that the waiters arrive on time each morning and to put the dining room in order for breakfast. The silver, carefully put away under lock and key at night, is recounted and rubbed with chamois and either placed on the tables or on sideboards in the dining room. The glassware is carefully wiped and polished. The linen is brought up from the laundry and counted to see that it compares with the laundress's account. The chairs and tables are thoroughly cleaned and dusted. Windows and globes must be washed, the butter cut or molded into forms and the castors and salt cellars washed and refilled. Every thing must be in place before the arrival of guests. The headwaiter sees at a glance if the work has been properly done. He inspects the castors to see that fresh oil has not been put into cruets holding stale oil. He lectures the men under him, tells them of the complaints made by guests the day before, and warns them not to repeat the offenses.
He details each waiter to attend to a certain number of tables, and when the breakfast hour arrives he throws open the great doors of the dining room and greets each guest that enters with a familiar good morning. Regular, guests who are hard to please come under his personal supervision. The guest who objects to drinking coffee unless it is prepared a certain way and the man who will not eat unless served a dainty not on the regular bill of fare are both made happy by this diplomat. He convinces each guest that they have received a dish which he had prepared for them only, and he tries to convey the idea how few there are who receive the personal attentions of the chief of the dining room. His policy not only pleases but it adds to his bank account".
The one giving the reply starts in by speaking of the duties in a first-class establishment, yet in several particulars shows that he refers to hotels of the medium class. He says, for instance, that the headwaiter details each waiter to attend to a certain number of tables, when it is well known that one waiter cannot attend to any great number of tables, in fact one waiter to one table is the rule. However, in times of dull business, when a few guests come straggling in at Intervals, one waiter might attend to two or three tables.
He says, also, that the headwaiter appoints one or more men under him who are called captains. In fact, if the head-waiter appoints any captains he will have at least two, one for each watch; if there are more than two watches of waiters - as in a railroad eating house or a cafe". there may be - there wil1 be a captain over every watch.
He says again that the windows and globes must be washed, the butter cut or moulded into forms and the casters washed and refilled, also the glassware carefully wiped and polished.
Now, all this is called side work, and it all depends upon what terms the waiters are hired upon whether they do side work or not, or whether they do a certain part and not the other part. In most, if not all, first-class hotels, there are regular window washers outside of the waiters, and the butter is cut and moulded by the pantry girl in the pantry, the glass is washed and polished by another hand in the glass pantry. It is not the intention that the waiters shall have idle times and the less to do, but it is supposed and so managed that they 8hall have all they can do at their proper business of waiting at table. Moreover, they are required to be scrupulously neat and clean and are not expected to do any side work that will soil their clothes. They do, however, count the silver at night under the eye of the captain of the watch, after it has been washed and dried in the glass pantry, and they take it out of the silver closet or safe next morning and polish it before it goes on the tables. They do dust the tables, mirrors, sideboards and chairs, prepare the bowls of broken ice and do all that belongs in the dining room. The remainder of the quotation is " all so " and calls for no remark.
The motive for commenting upon any of it is to say that stewards, head waiters or pro-proprietors sending perhaps to a distance for first-class trained waiters and perhaps prepaying their fares, are liable to be surprised and disappointed when they arrive by their refusal to do " side work." It is not intended to say that they ought not to do such work; merely to let it be known what may be expected of waiters brought on from the most prominent hotels and resorts. Here is another quoted paragraph to the point:
"Mr. F. P. Thomson, whose resignation as headwaiter at the Vendome has already been made known through the columns of tha Boston Hotel Gazette, will during the coming winter manage what is probably to be the largest waiting force of men ever gathered in the hotel business under one head, in his new position as head-head-waiter, so to speak, at the three hotels, Ponce de Leon, Alcazar and Cordova, St. Augustine, Fla. At the first-named hotel, which is to open about Christmas, he will have under him 150 men, at the Alcazar, opening about Thanksgiving time, 50 men, and at the Cordova, to open on January I, 75 men. While the majority of these men are to be gathered from Boston, New York and Philadelphia, some of his head assistants have already been engaged".
It is not likely that any of the above mentioned force of waiters would hire themselves to do "side work" between their hours of table waiting, but amongst the many classed as waiters there may be some specially hired for "side work" employment. At the same time it is to be distinctly understood by waiters that in the great majority of smaller hotels the waiters do and must take off their jackets and divide up the work amongst them - some fill the castors, some wash glass, others prepare the celery for table, mould the butter, clean windows, scrub porches, even help in the garden, gather fruit and peas, and then help in the kitchen by shelling peas, picking strawberries and the like. Then again, they frequently in the advance of the season do all these things in the way of helping to save expenses while the business is dull, but drop them and quite give up all such work later when they have all they can do in a day to wait on the hundreds of guests. These things should be thought of when waiters are engaged and a distinct understanding had in advance.
It may save disputes and strikes and quitting of much needed help at the busy time when it is hard to replace them with others.