What it’s like to be a waiter for a NYT food critic

By now, I’m sure, many of you have read the witty yet scathing New York Times review of TV personality Guy Fieri’s new restaurant in Times Square. If you haven’t, here’s the review, and here’s Fieri’s response on Today.

What caught my eye though, was this blog post from Willy Staley, a former waiter who’s been there when they recognize a Times critic walking in the door. As you might expect, Staley says managers, chefs and waitstaff go berserk. But there’s more:

I’d like to point out the quieter classism that is inherent to the restaurant review: that very dispensable service employees are outed for minor errors by critics whose audience consists of those who can afford to eat at these places.

You must pretend that you think you’re off-record — or more precisely, not even near a journalist at all — even when you know that all your actions are on-record. The chef gets a phone call with the critic, for fact-checking purposes. The waitstaff certainly doesn’t. Not that they should. And I have no suggestions for making this system better.

But having been on the raw end of this deal, and having done some reporting myself (where I have held back on details that were immaterial to the story, but would have put people in trouble at work), I can’t help but wonder about the ethical issues, even if they’re relatively minor.

Chew on that for awhile.

  • Kassie

    I think this sort of thing happens a lot. In this case, the food is gross, the kitchen probably a mess, and the server looks bad due to it. The server, making minimum wage and under the most pressure to make a good impression, is in a tough spot and most likely to take a lot of the heat.

    But this happens often outside of restaurants too. Take the TSA. They have terrible rules they have to deal with, don’t make a lot of money, seem to have poor management, and everyone takes it out on the front line TSA agents. It isn’t their fault you can only have 2 oz of liquid or that there are those invasive scanners.

    Yes, there are bad wait staff and bad TSA agents. But it seems that people are always looking for a reason for them all to seem bad. These people are doing the best job they can in really crappy conditions and we love to jump all over them.

  • jon

    Every organization has a face.

    Every face gets slapped at some point.

    Is it the car salesman fault that the model car you want in the trim level you want doesn’t come in the color you want?

    Is it the Comcast support centers fault that some one at Comcast decided to change the configuration of your modem and crashed your internet?

    Is it the fault of the cashier or the floor staff at a retail outlet that they stopped carrying your favorite product?

    These people are hired to be expendable, and to take the fall when things go bad.

    However, in a good organization, they have a route back to correct the issues, or compensate people for the issues in some way.

    The car salesman might be able to toss in fog lights or “under coating.”

    The comcast support might be able to comp some part of your bill.

    The floor staff at the retail outlet might be able to suggest that they bring that product back to management.

    Sadly good organizations aren’t few and far between, and underlings making suggestions to management just makes management look stupid… So we have none of it.

    Despite being a service economy we place little value on the experience of those receiving the service… and little input from the people who actually interact with out customers (the people giving us the money) is actually taken into account.