This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
There are some things about the head waiter's position which only the headwait-ers themselves can properly depict, and any one who may be in training for such a responsible situation may find some pertinent hints in the following:
" Keeping seats for regular boarders in a hotel dining-room is one of the unpleasant features attached to a head waiter's business. There are some persons who insist on sitting in one place and who won't sit anywhere else. To keep an eye on these particular boarder's seats and see that no outsiders slip into them keeps a fellow hustling. If some one does happen to get into one of these coveted seats and the person who claims it as his own comes in and finds it occupied, there is sure to be a row, and the poor waiter always gets the worst of it. I don't blame a person for wanting to occupy the same seat, but there are times when it is impossible to keep it vacant. For instance, if a party of six or seven come in they have to be seated atone table. At this same table there may be, perhaps, four or five regular boarders' seats, and when the latter come in I have to put them somewhere else. Then they get mad, of course, kick to the proprietor about the "shiftless and unsystematic manner" in which the dining-room is run, and finally the waiter hears from the office. Sometimes, also a person will slip into the dining-room unnoticed by the waiter, and will drop into a seat nearest him.
Once seated it is rather embarrassing to ask him to remove, although you know that he is occupying a seat of some regular boarder who is liable to drop in at any moment. I have known persons to come into a dining-room and finding their seats occupied, go out again and not come back until it was vacant. I also knew of a case in which a man left the hotel at which he was boarding because on two successive occasions he had entered the dining-room and found his seat occupied. Women are more particular about their seats than the men. They always want to sit where every one in the dining-room can see them, especially pretty women, or young women that are well dressed. No, a head waiter's life is not a happy one. He stands very little show in getting tipped like the regular waiters, because he cannot be of so much service to the person who wants extra attention in the shape of tender steaks, etc., and who wants to be waited on in apple pie order".
"Perhaps you think me wholly ornamental -
A sort of figure-head to carry style; That for use I am not worth a continental -
That I'm only here to wave and scrape and smile.
"When you come to run a force of fifty waiters,
"You will understand the situation better And allow it's quite an act to carry grace,
With a waiter who's a kicker and a fretter, And a boarder snarling thunder in your face.
'Yes, I have to keep the mashers and the ladies In respective corners rather far apart;
For the husbands sometimes take to raising hades With your uncle, when the masher plies his art.
"There's the 'reg'lar' from whose little cosy corner I must keep the bumptious transient, if I die;
Else he bridles up and surely is a 'goner' - For the place is as the apple of his eye.
"There are times when waiters get a trifle 'nervy,' And 'the razors go a flying' through the air;'
This would hint that a head-waiter has to serve a Short apprenticeship to Sullivan or Hyer.
"At the mountains I'm engaged in the summer season.
And in winter I'm in balmy Flor-id-a; That I'm very fond of sunshine is the reason.
For, you see, sir, that's the time for making hay.
" 'Do we ever take a tip?' sir, you inquire Well - that's a curious thing for you to say.
'Do we sometimes shift the waiters round and try a Little divvy scheme to help to make it pay?'
"Why! Of course not! We are hardly what you deem us.
To such little things we never, never stoop. Ah! Indeed, sir! Thank you kindly - Mr. Remus,
Get the gentleman a varmer plate of soup".
It is seiaom indeed that headwaiters are named in print. There are oceans of print about waiters in general, scoldings, abuse, jokes, sarcasms, complaints and lectures, but the general public and the general run of writers do not know that there are head-waiters, and that they have much to do with the conduct of waiters through their good or bad management. Now, having paid my respects to the headwaiters in so many columns, I shall have something to say concerning waiters at home and abroad, and waiters' tips, and a headwaiter, who wrote to a newspaper shall introduce the subject:
'A headwaiter referring to a recent editorial in this paper writes among other things: 'Waiters are not born, they are just what the headwaiter makes them, good or bad; and what he drills into them whether they become proficient or not. It would be a good idea for headwaiters to adopt Mr. Whitehead's plan and that is, when they take charge of a room they are held responsible for the efficiency of the service, to have it understood that they must hire all of their help, no matter how small the number; if you don't you are liable to make a failure of it. Make it a rule to be particular of the kind of help you hire, and don't take a man who ha6 the name of not staying more than two weeks in one place; the saying, and it is a true one, 'good waiters always tog up,' makes it easy to know them. Do not be arbitrary with your men and pay them off on the slightest pretence. Give a good man a chance, and don't have the reputation that a good waiter can't stay with you, and that you dog them around to much.
Treat your men courteously on the street when you meet them, but don't be one of the crowd on the outside, as that is just what gets away with you in the room".