This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
The headwaiter is an important officer, with forces under his command. When there is a banquet or a large dinner the guests are placed in a position of great peril, liable to come to grief; for there are they famishing; yonder, in the kitchens, bakeries, pantries, dish heaters, refrigerators and milk rooms, is their dinner, unconcerned hanging back, lving around, hiding away. And between the dinner and the guests are all sorts of obstacles and barriers, such as busy hands and careless hands, funny people and cross people, side interests, selfish aims, bribes, cold drafts, indolence, and long distances. The guests cannot go after it themselves, some of them occasionally wish they could, but their success or defeat in getting their dinner depends upon the headwaiter and the way he manages the troops of waiters under him.
If you would find the soft spot in the native of the first-class headwaiter, take notice of his boys; observe the good condition they are in; how neat they look; how they are graded according to size; how promply they march to their stations; how well they know the bounds of their duties and how firmly and calmly they face all the odds that may be brought against them in the way of extra guests within their own stations, without being in the least distracted by the way the battle is going in other parts of the dining room; each man holding his own post, the commander alone looking over the whole field.
If you would see the head waiter put off for a moment that look of superciliousness as he stands at the dining room door, appearing as if he were too lofty to be spoken to, speak to him in the same vein his thoughts are running in, of the whole dining room, not of any individual. His apparent superciliousness is not pride of place, it is anxiety. He sees tables which you do not, without waiters and the guests impatient, and he does not care for you. at the moment, but wishes he could see through the walls what those absent waiters are doing. And, besides, he is taking note of various strange faces at certain tables, for he has his part to do in watching that strangers pay for what they get, that beats and sneaks do not slip in and out amongst respectable people unobserved.
And, furthermore, accord to the head-waiter his right, which the name of the office defrauds him of, remembering that he is not a waiter, but the head of the waiters, the chief and superintendent of the dining room forces, if you wish for his co-operation, his respect and regard.
And I do not see why you should not. Service is, after all, the principal thing in a hotel, and the headwaiter is the master of that branch. It makes but little difference how well the feast may be prepared in the kitchens if it is not well delivered at the tables. And the headwaiter becomes very much of a gentleman through the training of his position and the force of example in his daily contact. He sees the contrast daily between good breeding and good manners and boorishness at the table, and he becomes a very good teacher of deportment and a discriminating critic of manners of the other employes of the house. It is the best proof of his own training that the good headwaiter, even if hostile towards some other employe's, is never loud in speech and never makes himself obnoxious by violent demonstrations.
The headwaiter dresses well. He is obliged to do so, and is entitled to receive a liberal salary for that reason. The well-paid chef wears white jackets, caps and apions, and light overalls, all furnished to him clean daily or oftener, the laundry work being at the expense of the house, but the headwaiter has no such privileges. For some other employes a fifteen-dollar shop suit of clothes may be as good as they need to wear, but the headwaiter cannot economize in that way. He is obliged, as part of his business, to dress as well as the average of the guests of the house, he is often a model in that respect. He must wear fine linen and unmaculate cravats. It really takes up a considerable salary to keep up a first-class headwaiter's personal appearance. And in regard to the headwaiter's "tips" the subject is much mixed, for it depends upon the kind of man he is whether he receives much or anything in that way, but it Is a fact that very few white headwaters ever receive "tips," unless, perhaps in a general way, the guests make up a purse at the end of a season or at Christmas; and no man in a really first class position ever descends to divide tips with the waiters. There are plenty of floating yokes and sarcasms pointing the other way, but they are all in relation to low grade houses.
A first-class headwaiter cannot afford to sell his independent impartiality for a "tip".
Some of them have remarked to the writer: "If I allow them to give me a dollar, as I used to do when I was young, they think they own me and they want ten dollars worth of favors and extra waiting on for it. It is all well enough for the waiters who can stay with them, but if half a dozen people at as many tables had given me a dollar each they would work me to death calling for extra attentions. No, I never take these bribes - cannot afford to." However, as before remarked, there are different sorts of men in the business, and some may be influenced by the size of the "tip" offered, and by other considerations to be mentioned further on.