After a pre-shift service meeting at work the other night, a colleague of mine turned to me and said, “You know, when I go out, I don’t even expect good service anymore.” I found myself identifying with him.

The following evening he came up to me with a revision– “Actually, I’ve come to expect bad service.” I thought that was rather harsh, but it got me thinking…

How hard is it to find a good waiter around here? This is one of the great restaurant capitals of the world. Thousands upon thousands of foodies live in the Bay Area. Surely, more than a few work in the service industry.

Of course, being a foodie does not necessarily make one a great waiter. It might provide an excellent culinary knowledge base from which to build, but a great waiter also needs patience, an eye for detail, a battle-tested calm, great diplomatic skills, and human warmth.

Taking care of strangers’ needs is a tricky business because, often times, the need goes beyond mere feeding and watering. Taking care of a woman who is trying to impress clients? A man attempting to seduce his date? A table full of women with scrapbooks and wrapped presents on a “Girls Night Out”? Grandma’s 80th birthday? If you’ve been a party to any of those parties, you know what I mean. A great waiter can take any of those situations and turn them into triumph. A bad waiter can turn them into one of those horror stories you tell at cocktail parties.

We all have our opinions as to what great restaurant service is. I think a great waiter has the ability to either wholly incorporate him or herself into a guests dining experience or, if need be, create an environment where the needs of the guests are met with an almost Beauty-and-the Beast-like invisibility. And I am talking Cocteau, not Disney. As a server, I find that I am much more suited to the former rather than the latter.

Following my colleague’s comments on the state of San Francisco’s service industry, I thought about my own dining experiences. Had I had any great waiters lately? Mostly, I drew a blank. One only remembers the really good or the exceptionally bad. In the good category, I could come up with only two in the past couple of months and both examples occurred where I least expected great service. The best of those two was a young server at Kate’s’ Kitchen in the Haight. It’s hard to pinpoint precisely what it was about her, aside from keeping the coffee cup filled, warning against my ordering too much food, her sense of humor, or her deft analysis of the pros and cons of the cheddar pancakes versus the hash. In my opinion, what made her a great server was all of this and that human warmth factor I have already mentioned. She actually seemed concerned, like her eye was on us, and not in an are-you-stealing-the-silver? sort of way. The fact that she managed this when the restaurant was packed to the gills with a waiting list half a mile long impressed me. I watched her. She wasn’t just singling out my table for special service. She treated everyone like that. I think I was a little bit in love.

I’m not getting into the terrible service experiences I’ve had in the recent past because I’d be typing here all day and I’ve got another 200 or so people to help take care of at lunch today. I just needed to tell myself something positive about the service industry today because all I ever seem to read is about bitter waiters and bad experiences.

Have you unearthed any great waiters lately? If so, tell me who and where. I want details. Pleeeeeeeaze.

Getting Serviced 18 January,2008Michael Procopio

  • wendygee

    I have had excellent service experiences…I have been hypervigilant about service since reading Shuna’s post addressing the issue… I was particularly impressed with the service at Redd in Yountville. Our server totally knew all the details about the food and wine without looking at a cheatsheet, she was always available but not hovering or intrusive, she was professional but friendly…I felt very taken care of and the food was excellent…really makes a difference for an overall positive experience.

  • daniel

    Look, it’s bad enough trying to find a guy that will fall in love with you let alone good service at a restaurant. Times have changed. Everybody is a star and waiters have reduced us to feel like we are on a break from washing the dishes. Somebody please kiss me.

  • Leslie Pave

    I don’t even pay attention to service anymore, because if it’s bad, I am ignoring it, and if it’s fine, then I am just pleased. Usually it’s only fine. However… I was blown away by the service I received at Michael Minna. I didn’t even know service could be that good. He was charming, knowledgeable and available yet concealed. And even when I knocked over my water glass after too much wine, he swiftly took care of the situation without a fuss. He earned his 20%, and a whopping 20% it was.

  • Denise Lincoln

    I’ve found that most of the service I receive is simply okay, although I recently had great service at Pizzaiolo in Oakland. My husband and I only had an hour and a half to eat and then drive over to Alameda to pick up our kids, so we informed our server (a very nice woman) about our time limitations. She thanked us for letting her know and then proceeded to help us fit our meal into the allotted time. Halfway through the meal I was given a dish that I really didn’t enjoy (a chicken Tagliatelle). She scooped up the dish and said, “You know. I haven’t tried this yet. I’ll tell the chef.” She then recommended a substitute dish that would fit into our time frame and we were on our way to continuing with our meal. She then checked in later to see if my substitute dish of wild mushroom pasta was acceptable. She also made great suggestions for a quick dessert so we could leave on time. I now remember that dinner as being quite nice and am looking forward to going to Pizzaiolo again soon. If the service had been bad, I would probably only remember the chicken pasta I hated and not return.


Michael Procopio

I am terribly fond of martinis, Edward Gorey, and sleeping with many pillows.
You are more than welcome to follow me on Twitter: @procopster

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor