This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
Both watches of waiters wait on the tables every day, but only one watch does the side work, the cleaning, dusting and preparation, the late, last minute waiting; the extra waiting on late arrivals- that is, those on watch are never free all day, but are within call, ready for anything that may occur unusual besides their regular duties, while the others are free between meals, only being required to report in time for their own meals and for inspection. In fact, however, when the hotel is doing a business anywhere near its full capacity the intervals between meals are very short, and the freedom does not amount to more than is necessary for the waiters to attend to their clothing and keep up their respectable and cleanly appearance.
The watch that is "on" to-day will be "off" to-morrow. The object of having captains is to have some one to get the waiters all together. The trifle of authority and extra pay bestowed upon the captains makes them zealous and watchful of the others. Common waiters are dilatory and unpunctual; they may be fined in some places for punishment for being late, but that is poor satisfaction for the head of the dining room when he wants to see every man in his place, and it is better to have a captain interested in hurrying them up.
The watch that is off to-day has to come early to breakfast. Almost every head-waiter claims the privilege of saying when and how his watches of waiters shall eat their meals, and, besides that, there is so much difference in hotels and their meal times that no rule will hold good for any brge number of houses; yet, for example, let us say the "off" watch must be at table to breakfast by six. The "on" watch does not eat until two hours later, but goes to the dining room and there dividing themselves to the different tasks; they dust the chairs, etc., get out the silver and place it; place the bills of fare around, bring in water and bowls of broken ice. The butter, cream and fruit are already prepared for them in the pantry. Fifteen minutes before the time for opening the doors the other watch of waiters must be ready in the hall. The headwaiter makes his appearance and the waiters in sight join those in the hall outside. At the tap of a bell both watches march in in separate squads; one turns to the right, the other to the left, they march down between the tables and around and form a line, still in separate squads, in front of the headwaiter for his inspections.
He then calls the roll and marks who are absent, then notices whether they all have their white cravats on, whether their jackets are whole and well brushed, whether their shoes are free from mud, and then if he has anything to say to them he says it. Next, at the tap of his small silver bell the waiters again face right or left, march between the tables, and each one stops at his own station. Then the dining room doors are thrown open and the meal begins.
It is the duty of the captains, while waiting on their own tables, still to keep a side look out and report breakages, the beginning of quarrels and the breaking of various minor rules and report them, placing the blame upon the real offenders.
Supposing the dining room doors close at half past nine, then half an hour before that time, or as near that as the circumstances will permit, the off watch takes charge of all the tables; the captain of the "on" watch passes along and gathers his men and they march in regular order, but quietly, by the outside tables and out to breakfast. Half an hour later they return in the same manner, and a few minutes after, or as soon as the dining room is clear of guests, except perhaps two or three whose waiter remains at his post, the head-waiter taps his bell and both watches march up to the line occupied before breakfast. After a few remarks the chief gives another bell tap and the boys file out of the dining room, going through the regular motions between tables as before; the "off" watch goes off until the next meal; the "on" watch at the sign with the napkin of the captain disbands at the door, peels off jackets and goes about cleaning (and thrice a week scrubbing) the dining room and doing the other side work.