The Waiting Ones

Oh, summer.  Long days, green trees, bright flowers, and a dog emphatically sniffing the dried refried beans on your shoes when you come home, hot and exhausted, after working a double in a Tex-Mex restaurant. For me, summer brings back memories of waiting tables. I spent  many of my high school, college and years beyond working in restaurants.  Some were summer jobs, some lasted longer.  I’ve  served food in small towns, big cities, breakfast places, diners, and corporate franchises.  The daily egg and bacon special, filet mignon, vegetarian souffles,  giant margaritas — I’ve delivered all of these things and more to tables of  hopeful, hungry diners.

I caffeine-buzzed my way through too many midnight shifts, waiting on the bar crowd, a crowd with a warped sense of time.“Where’s my food! I’ve been waiting forevveeerr!”  As a midnight shifter, I was also lucky enough to witness two drunk streakers racing through the all-night diner parking lot, which caused the restaurant to erupt in roll-on-the-floor laughter.

I’ve been a clumsy server.  I’ve spilled soda in laps and salsa down backs.  I’ve been left pennies, and worse,  no tip at all.   By the way, if you are thinking of stiffing a waitress, check out Jan Beatty’s poem – A Waitresses‘ Instructions on Tipping or Get the Cash Up and Don’t Waste My Time – in her poetry collection Mad River.  “Twenty percent minimum as long as the waitress doesn’t inflict bodily harm” is totally fair, my friends.

There are plenty of things I’d like to forget about waiting tables. But the best memories are courtesy of the colorful and entertaining co-workers.  So, below I’ve made a list of some quintessential server tropes, if you will. And yes, I’m generalizing for the sake of this post. I’ve met at least a couple versions of each of these folks, and remember them all fondly. Of course, the library has plenty of materials on waiting, some of which I have paired up below. So read on, and reminisce, commiserate or learn more about the art of waiting.

  • The one who works really hard and wants you to know it.  Arlene from True Blood and the Sookie Stackhouse novels, anyone?
  • The one who absolutely cannot stand their colleague’s cigarette breaks and the counterpart, the one who is always on smoke break. Would one such smoker have been Anthony Bourdain, the chef?  Perhaps not, but check out his amazing memoir with a most candid look at the restaurant biz, Kitchen Confidential.
  • The one that never does their side work, but all the customers love them (probably because they spend all their time in the front-of-the-house).  As Tori Amos ponders in the song Waitress,  “Boys all think she’s living kindness… is her power all in her club sandwich?”
  • The two who conducted a hot and heavy romance but now hate each other and you dread seeing them on the schedule at the same time.   Deborah Ginsberg, author of the server  memoir Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, was much more mature about her workplace relationships.
  • The one who just wants to do their job and go home and is totally over all of the drama.  This is the one to befriend; they’ll keep your head straight.  And this one most reminds me of Jennifer Aniston’s character in Office Space.  Aniston’s famous “37 pieces of flair” scene resonates strongly with  many of the servers and ex-servers I know.
  • The one in possession of a strong propensity for spilling things. That was me. Dear Catastrophe Waitress is a song AND a book, my friends.

Have you met any of these server-types? Or do you have a Waiter Rant of your own to share?   Please share in the comments.



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3 responses to “The Waiting Ones

  1. Nicely written piece connecting personal memoir to film/fiction. This brings me back to the days of being a dishwasher at Crepes and Greens in Toronto. Feeding the Hobart machine. Waiters/waitresses were rated by how well they treated (or even acknowledged) the grunts washing the dishes. Highlights included a couple of fist-fights, and the generosity of cooks to sneak us fine crepe meals while the manager was out.

    • Oh my, fist-fights! What a place to work!

      It is very smart to be kind to the cooks, if you want tasty treats or if you want your tables’ food to be on time. And yes, dishwashers definitely deserve much respect for their very hard work!

      Thanks, Ian!


  2. ZZMike

    It looks like that for any slice of life, from waitressing to high steel bulding, there’s a dozen books and/or songs about it.

    Must have something to do with people’s need to communicate.

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