The Waiter Rants: Steve Dublanica is anonymous no longer
For four years, Waiter Rant chronicled the frustrations of an anonymous waiter working in an upscale restaurant somewhere near New York. Its author — The Waiter — won a Bloggie Award for best writing in 2007. Now he's got a book out, "Waiter Rant," and he's gone public. He's Steve Dublanica, and he's here to serve.
Jacket Copy: When you began your blog, what did you expect to come of it?
Steve Dublanica: I didn't expect anything to happen. I thought I'd get a few things off my chest, make people laugh and perhaps get some oblivious customers to sympathize with the waiter's lot in life. But I certainly didn't think I'd end up writing a book and answering questions from the Los Angeles Times.
JC: How important was anonymity to you?
SD: My anonymity was very important to me. I needed to keep my identity under wraps so I wouldn’t lose my job or compromise the livelihoods of the people who worked with me. Of course, some readers triangulated the data contained in four years' worth of blog posts and figured out where I worked. A few people even tried disseminating that information over the Internet, but somehow my location remained secure. It freaked me out, though! Remember that scene in the film "Munich" where the paranoid Israeli spy's hiding in a closet with a loaded gun? Well, I didn't get that anxious about my anonymity, but you get the picture. It's amazing I stayed under the radar as long as I did. I would have been a good double agent in East Germany! Is the CIA still hiring?
JC: Now that your name and face are known, has anything changed?
SD: Not much. I don't get better tables in restaurants. But you better believe I’m very conscious about what I tip. I don't want some waiter chasing me and screaming, "Hypocrite!" as I walk out the door!
JC: Was Russell Crowe really the only person to guess your secret identity?
The answer, after the jump.
SD: It sounds nuts, but it's true! Russell Crowe was making a movie nearby and ate in my restaurant on several occasions. So, like an idiot, I wrote about one of Mr. Crowe’s visits on my website. I didn't realize that mega film stars have publicists who scan every scrap of news that pops about their client up on the Internet. Two nights later Mr. Crowe walks in and asks me if I'm author of the Waiter Rant blog! To this day he is the ONLY customer who ever confronted me. But he was also very nice about it! And a good tipper! Play me in the movie, Russell! Please!
JC: In the book, you write a lot about the tension of being a waiter — you're very good at it, but you're not sure you want it to be your profession. Do you think that's common?
SD: I think the conflict between being a server and not wanting to be one is the normal state of existence for a waiter. Most servers are people in transition — students in school, actors between auditions, people needing a safe place to hide until they get their act together or just a job to pay the bills. It's the rare individual who makes waitering his or her lifetime vocation. Most of us, even if the job's only temporary (I was "temporary" for nine years), take pride in what we do. All waiters, however, dread the question, "So what else do you do?" Sometimes we’re not doing anything else! This is it! That question usually implies that waitering isn’t a "real job" and that we must be doing something that’s more "worthwhile." I usually told people I was a part-time nude model or moonlighted as a hit man for the Jersey mob. People usually stopped asking me such pesky questions after that.
JC: I found your book funny, but when I handed it to a restaurant manager, he laughed outloud at your categories of tippers. Have you found that restaurant staff and restaurant customers respond differently to the book?
SD: There's a gulf of knowledge and experience between people who've worked in restaurants and those who haven't. Restaurant people nod their heads in solidarity when they read about entitled customers and corrupt managers. Nonrestaurant people, on the other hand, are usually shocked to discover that their polite and friendly waiter probably disses them behind their backs, drinks a lot and swears like a sailor on crack. In the book I describe restaurants as "Potemkin Villages — manufactured glitz facades hiding a hot and turbulent reality that customers never want to see." Basically customers can’t handle the truth! They’re like sheep going to the feeding trough — oblivious.
JC: As an author, what kind of opportunities did writing a book give you that writing a blog didn't?
SD: Writing a book gave me the ability to tell a story with more developed characters and plotlines than a 1,000-word blog post ever would. Plus, after the arduous task of writing a book, I discovered I could actually write a book! That gave me quite a confidence boost.
JC: You wrote about two authors you like — Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler. What other writers or books inspire you?
SD: I've always been a big fan of Robert Parker's Spenser novels. After I introduced my girlfriend to his writing by giving her a copy of "Looking for Rachel Wallace," she said I must've absorbed some of Parker's style by osmosis. To this day, "Early Autumn" remains my favorite Spenser book. I also love anything written by Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, Graham Greene, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Somerset Maugham. I'm also digging Dennis Lehane's stuff quite a bit, and I just finished "The Next Time You Die," a PI novel set in Dallas, by Harry Hunsicker.
JC: You've continued to maintain the blog Waiter Rant even as you've been working on this book. What has the blog provided to you? And how did you make time to do both?
SD: I discovered a great truth about blogging and writing a book. You can’t do both well at the same time. One or the other eventually has to give. Since I signed the contract and cashed the check, I thought it'd be good to give my publisher my best effort. That saddened me because I had to give short shrift to the blog that got me noticed in the first place. But I'll always keep blogging. Writing for an instant Internet audience is a laboratory of sorts. You can write humor one day, tragedy the next, and get some real world opinions on what works and what doesn't. It'll be good homework for me as I try and write my second book.
JC: In your book, you mention a few ways you've taken revenge on extremely difficult customers, and you seem pretty justified. But the grossest story you told — which happened at another restaurant — was really
gag-worthy: sliding a burger around the floor. Was there any story you considered but decided was too gross or scary for the book?
SD: I didn't censor horror stories from my book out of fear of giving some Foodie a psychotic break. Out of self-preservation, however, I'm sure I blocked a few stories out of my mind. I need to eat out too!
JC: Your writing identity has been wrapped up in being a waiter. But now you're also a writer. Are you going to stop waiting tables — and maybe start Writer Rant?
SD: I actually own the domain WriterRant.net, but who knows if I’ll ever use it. Writing has been treating me good so far — but call me back in a few years.
JC: Now that your identity is out and your location is known, can you tell us your favorite bookstore?
SD: Sadly, most of the independent booksellers in my area have gone belly up. Now I just go to the Borders or Barnes & Noble near my house. But I still like prowling around the Strand in NYC whenever I get the chance!