Ivory Tables

Waiting tables at the finest restaurants is an emerging aspiration among certain Ivy League graduates, reports Alina Dizik in The Wall Street Journal (1/2/14). Celia Erickson, for example, earned an undergraduate degree in hospitality at Cornell, followed by “a yearlong wine and beverage program at the Culinary Institute of America (where her father is provost).” She is currently waiting tables at Eleven Madison Park, where she joins a waitstaff populated by other “recent grads of the Culinary Institute, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard.”

She’s not waiting tables by default, but because it gives her insights “into managing a top restaurant.” For the restaurants, it’s all about creating a level of service equal to the quality of the food. “As a guest, the more passion you feel for the people serving you the food, the more delicious the food,” says Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park. Diners expect servers “to have accurate answers to specific questions … A single plate might have 15 ingredients and five preparations,” Yet high-end guests usually don’t think about how much training high-end servers must have.

Competition for waitstaff jobs at top restaurants is also surprisingly fierce, with only about 10 percent of applicants making the cut at the highest-rated eateries. However, as Celia admits, waiting tables is still waiting tables. “My first two months, it was really hard for me,” she says. “I spent five years in school and now I was waiting tables.” Chris Humberson, another Culinary Institute alum, is in a similar situation, waiting tables at Daniel in New York. “We are definitely viewed as less skilled in the eyes of the [guest],” he says. “And you have to be okay with that.”


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