If a waiter wants respect from the back of the house, he or she has to show respect in return. And the best way to do that is to understand that kitchen staff and waiters are like the Palestinians and Israelis—separate and distinct nationalities uncomfortably sharing the same volatile piece of real estate.
A big difference between waiters and cooks is the hours they work. Waiters usually work an eight-or nine-hour shift and go home. The kitchen guys, however, are often the first to show up and the last to go home. Fourteen-hour days are common. When a restaurant closes its doors for the night, you'll probably find half its servers getting blasted at a nearby bar. But you'll find the kitchen guys sharing a taxi or waiting at a bus stop for a public transportation ride home. Because most fine-dining establishments are located in neighborhoods where residential rents are high, kitchen personnel seldom can afford to live close to their place of employment. That means they often have a very long commute to and from work. One of Amici's prep cooks buses it from Queens every day. Depending on traffic, that can be a three-hour round-trip six days a week—on top of working a fourteen-hour shift. The waiters at Amici's (at least the ones without DUIs) have cars and shorter commutes. They have free time. This disparity in leisure hours often leads to resentment between the front and back of the house. At the end of the night the exhausted kitchen guys just want to go home to enjoy what little free time they have left.
Because they're often exhausted, I'm learning it's in my best interest not to make the cooks work any harder than they have to. That means not running into the kitchen and begging the grill man to cook me a new steak because a customer wanted a medium-rare filet mignon and I mistakenly ordered it well done. It's also good not to inflame the resentments constantly simmering between the front and back of the house by acting like an arrogant prick. While kitchen guys usually work at a single location for years, waiters tend to be a more nomadic lot. Cooks see the waiters come and go, so, in their minds, they're the stable nucleus at the core of the restaurant. Waiters consider themselves the public face of the restaurant—hustling to generate the revenue that pays everyone's salaries, including the cooks'. Many waiters view themselves as elite frontline troops while dismissing the cooks as mere logistical support. Couple this attitude with the fact that waiters usually make more money, work fewer hours, and perform less physically intensive labor, and you'll understand why the kitchen occasionally wants to run a mouthy server through the industrial-strength dishwasher.