Ahmet Sari wants to bring dignity back to being a waiter or waitress in the food and beverage industry. In his native Turkey, where he was a server at the grand Kempinski Instanbul, he says being a waiter was viewed more as a viable profession, not a mere part-time or temporary job. At the opulent five-star hotel, Sari served politicians and celebrities, even once waiting on John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy as secret servicemen hovered about. “It was a bit nerve-racking,” says Sari, who came to the United States 12 years ago as part of a hospitality exchange program, and ended up staying. Today he is a waiter and bartender at the ArtBar, located in the Royal Sonesta Hotel, Cambridge. His clientele there is not as celebrated – tourists, office workers, vacationing families – but Sari says, “As a waiter, no matter who you are serving, you need to put your act together. It’s like putting on a show, to make the customer’s day nice and eventful.”
There are over 2 million restaurant servers in the nation, and job opportunities are expected to be abundant through 2018, particularly as busy Americans continue to eat out and the population grows. But it’s not a job for the meek: Whether it’s a rude guest complaining about undercooked meat or a disruptive toddler, “everyone has their own agenda and schedule, and you don’t want any customer to leave unhappy,” says Sari, who adds that a waiter needs to work quickly, accurately, and calmly, even during dinner rush. “It all comes down to multitasking. It’s a constant, ongoing battle. You might be serving cocktails to one table, entrees to another, meanwhile offering dessert to the third table.” But for an experienced waiter, the serving basics are all the same, whether you work in a bistro or high-end restaurant, says Sari, who has had stints at establishments in Tyngsboro and in Boston. “Once you learn the ropes, the small details change, the different systems of various establishments might vary.
Q: What was it like to serve John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife?
A: That’s part of the beauty of this business, especially for those who live and work in the Hollywood region, like some of my friends. You get to see a lot of celebrities and politicians in person and serve them. The Kempinski Instanbul was a very high-class deluxe hotel and I saw people I never imagined I would see in my life. While I was there, there was a NATO meeting with politicians from different countries, and I also saw George Bush Sr., and the German president, as well as, of course, a lot of regular people. It just becomes a part of life, not a big deal. The bottom line is that we’re all human beings.
Q: What characteristics are needed to be a good waiter?
A: You need to be able to multitask and deal with all different types of people. And during the holidays, when everyone else is relaxing and getting to spend time with their family, these are the times that you need to be available to work. In the hotel and restaurant business especially, it’s non-stop, 24/7.
Q: Do your feet get tired after spending 12-14 hours walking and standing?
A: I wear skid and sweat-free shoes for safety. After so many long hours, your feet naturally release a natural odor – although it’s not so natural to my wife! – so after a long day, my first stop is the shower.
Q: Has the recession affected your tips?
A: With the economy now, living paycheck to paycheck has been difficult because I don’t how much my income will be monthly, weekly, or annually. And, when the taxes go up, people naturally tip less but spend the same amount of money.
Q: How do you deal with difficult customers?
A: The trick is to anticipate their needs and play the game by their rules. This is what makes you good in the business.