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 question is often asked, but only for amusement or to gratify some prejudice by a specious answer. It must be a very unsatisfactory sort of generalization to say that waiters of this nationality or that are the best, or one race or another. Whenever there is one most excellent waiter of any particular nationality, another one can be found to match him of some other race or people. It is not race so much as training. One of the very best waiters I have ever known was a Mexican, but I shall not say the Mexicans are the best waiters on that account. This one had been trained as a valet to a traveling nobleman, had been half around the world and spoke several languages; that is how he came to be such a good waiter when he had to take up restaurant work.
Waiters are a good deal as the various headwaiters they work under make them. Left alone, waiters in general are like boys in school without a master. They take small liberties and seek their own pleasures and interests, and if that is allowed they take greater liberties; they run away with the house. Waiters have to be restrained, they have to feel authority over them. Most of them then are so docile and well behaved the authority has scarcely ever to be exerted, they do right without compulsion. But in every crowd there are bad boys. Some of the bad waiters will stop when they meet in the hall with somebody's breakfast or dinner on their trays and throw dice for the drinks on the floor, until they hear the steps of the next one coming, and then, for fear it may be somebody in authority, they continue their journey to the dining room. Such as these are dropped out as fast as they are found out; so are they that drink and use foul language; those who fail to come up to the other requirements of good waiters, also the weak and sickly ones who are not to be relied upon, and in that way it comes there is a dining room full of picked waiters, and whatever nation or race they may be it seems as if they must be the best in the world, because there cannot be any better.
But the head waiter who sees sights is he that has to gather up all these culls and castaways to open a resort hotel with, all the good waiters being already engaged.
There is another way to answer the question, who are the best waiters? that seems to be not often thought of. The best waiters for this country are they that know the least about the compulsory pourboire or tip system of European countries, which has grown to be one of the greatest abuses of the day, a galling tyranny that cannot be shaken off. A newspaper was not long ago started in France with no other object but to try to put down the compusory tip system; it was called the Anti-Pourboire, and the waiters turned out several thousand strong and put it down, prevented its being sold, mobbed the carriers, mobbed the newsstands that took it for sale and extinguished the paper.
On the other hand, some four or five years ago the waiters of New York organized for a purpose quite opposite the Parisian waiters'; they organized to fight the tip system - the waiters themselves on this side wanted to do away with tips I How was that?
That move was taken because there are more than the waiters concerned in the abuse of tips. It has got to such a pitch in France, England and all over Europe that the waiters get no pay in some places, but have to work for the tips they will extract from the customers; in some places where the chances are poor they get small wages; but in others where the chances are good, where the customers are mostly wealthy people, where a good many American tourists stop and throw money around loosely - in such places the waiters not only work for nothing, so far as wages are concerned, but they even pay for the privilege of working; give the proprietor thirty per cent, of the tips they receive and contribute another portion to pay for the breakage that takes place in the establishment. There are a good many places in New York where waiters are employed, whose proprietors are of the same class with the same ideas as the restaurant, cafe and hotel keepers over the water and they wanted to do the same ways; wanted the waiters to work without wages and live on their tips; but the waiters liked the old way best and struck against the attempt to change it. That is why they were in favor of putting down tipping.
Of course, they all knew that tipping would go on as it always does in this country, in a free-will manner; they struck against making it compulsory for a guest to give them something or else be ill-served, asked for a fee and made to feel small and uncomfortable by them.