Originally published Nov. 15, 2004
New Orleans is home to some of the world’s best (and worst) waiters and waitresses. From the old man who has tirelessly slung Shrimp Arnaud at Arnaud’s for 40 years to the miscreant poet who drifts into the city to “become a writer” and ends up shilling wings at a hotel restaurant, the often bustling Crescent City service industry can provide a ways to a means for just about anyone. And to the more cunning waiters and waitresses it can be the gift that keeps on giving.
R.C. DeGlinkta and Peter Francis are two former Bourbon Street waiters who, at the very least, were made privy to some of the city’s most notorious restaurant scam artists, and they wrote about it. “How to Burn Down the House: The Infamous waiter and Bartender’s Scam Bible” is a true original in the book world. Equal parts “Anarchist Cookbook” and “Chicken Soup for the Broke-Ass Waiter’s Soul,” the Scam Bible is one-of-a-kind resource for waiters all over the country. Written with a personalized style that puts the reader right into the subculture of the restaurant with the bumbling mid-level manager (nicknamed “Schmoo” in many anecdotes), the hungover waiters and the oblivious yet arrogant customers.
The Chicory recently had the opportunity to interview DeGlinkta and Francis (who recently kicked off a blog to supplement their Web site) and here is what they said about Schmoo, the best scammers they ever met and their upcoming “In the Know” series.
- – -
The Chicory: What was the motivation for the book? Civil disobedience? Tomfoolery? Rascalism? Other?
R.C.DeGlinkta: All those things and more. Primarily, the book is a roast and a parody of incompetent, jackass managers, whom we’re all familiar with. But, not only does it deliver a well-deserved insult, it also provides the hardworking server with a means to revenge himself, and further, to profit by it. It’s biting satire that actually bites.
Peter Francis: Essentially it’s a parody of the whole “How To” genre. A satirical lash-out in the humorous vein of Swift’s “Proposal” and Miller’s pair of “Tropics”. With just a dash of Genet for sport.
The Chicory: Publishing “How to Burn Down the House” under your own names in the city where many of the skills in the book are undoubtedly practiced has to be a somewhat risky endeavor. Any backlash from restaurant owners?
R.C. DeGlinkta: I’m used to taking responsibility for my actions, and I encourage others to do the same. I welcome and am flattered by any backlash that results from that.
Peter Francis: Yeah, but if the whole shit house goes up in chunks remember what he said!
The Chicory: Being former waiters, isn’t what you guys have done here essentially biting the hand that fed you?
R.C. DeGlinkta: On the contrary, this book is a long-awaited memorial to waiters and bartenders, and after the dust settles it will be seen as a blessing. While initially both managers and waiters will benefit, the diligence and intelligence of conniving servers will long outlive the short attention span of incompetent management, and in the end it will be the waiters that come out ahead. The Scam Bible will bore its way into in the annals of underground literature and managers will return to their usual dimwitted state of denial.
The Chicory: In your own opinion, who is more easily-fooled the customer or the manager?
R.C. DeGlinkta: It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. In practice, the customer is generally oblivious, like the props in a shell game. The manager is almost always the one being deliberately misled.
Peter Francis: The manager of course though it can be a little betwixt and between, ahem, Floordick has a way of walking into the punches, God bless him.
The Chicory: Without naming real names, bestow upon the readers of The Chicory: a few of your favorite all-time scammers in the industry.
R.C. DeGlinkta: I remember the first time I recognized scamming as a valid art form, I was watching a legendary scam master, known to his friends as Mr. Shing-a-Ling, put a customer on ice. That’s when you pretend like the credit card machine is broken to force a cash transaction. The guy was pissed and pulling his hair out and all that, but Shing just spoke calmly, assuring the angry guest that this happened all the time and it was likely to be a while, as he performed a variety of meaningless card swipes and key combinations for effect. He drove this guy to the very brink and in the end was paid in cash. He deserved an Oscar for that performance.
Peter Francis: One guy comes to mind although there were so many, this guy was the best…and smoooooth.
His name was Anthony Adams and he was truly talented, even sold the menus.
The Chicory: Of the 20 or so scams listed in the book, are there any you are particularly fond of for one reason or another?
R.C. DeGlinkta: Not really. I take Bruce Lee’s approach: whatever works. Adapt. The most yield for the least effort. That’s all that matters.
Peter Francis: I looked at it a little more like Aleister Crowley, that flamboyant old fraud from the other side of the pond, “do what thou whilst is the only rule”. Our Man In Amsterdam was especially appealing to witness, from a safe distance that is.
The Chicory: In the history of these scams what was the biggest repercussion you were witness to after being discovered?
R.C. DeGlinkta: That’s the beauty of it. I have never seen any dire repercussions save questioning or termination, which is really amazing if you do the math. To a waiter with a good angle, two or three hundred extra a week is a meager take. That’s 10 grand plus, per year. Year after year that adds up to a tidy embezzlement. For instance, in 10 years that’s over a hundred grand! What other criminal gets away with a slap on the wrist and a pink slip for stealing that kind of money?
Peter Francis: I’ve heard some stories about scammers who got on the wrong side of a certain family of restaurateurs on Bourbon St. who ended up retiring hastily.
The Chicory: How about a ballpark estimate of the biggest take you have ever been privy to?
R.C. DeGlinkta: No can do. Vanity gets a person collared.
Peter Francis: Skip it, next question.
The Chicory: Tell us what the modus operandi of your “In the Know” series is.
R.C. DeGlinkta: For some reason we have acquired a bunch of underworld experience that we think might be useful to our readers, and with the help of Promethean Books, have decided to organize and release it in a series. “How to Burn Down the House” is the first of that series.
The Chicory: Take this time to praise or assail your publisher, Promethean Books.
R.C. DeGlinkta: The have been very open-minded. Many people were convinced that we wouldn’t find a publisher, that the book was too inflammatory, poorly written, etc. So, we are thankful they stepped up. It’s been a good experience so far.
Peter Francis: I’ve enjoyed working with them. When we were shopping the manuscript around it was easy to get discouraged, to start second guessing yourself. Promethean Books ‘got it’, thought it was funny, and rolled the dice. Let’s hope it comes up a winner for them…and us.