Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Dealing them off the arm

My mother always said have a backup skill in case those dreams of marrying wealthy and divorcing wealthier didn't work out. So I learned to type. Very fast. And typing was good. It paid for a trip to Ireland in my senior year of college. I couldn't believe how lazy all these student were who hadn't learned to type.

If one backup skill was good, two were better. So I became a waitress, which pays much better than typing and you get drinks at the end of the day. I used to regale my friends with "service industry" stories. Like the time I waited on 30 people on Mother's Day, couldn't take any other tables because this party kept dribbling in, growing larger and more demanding and ordering food every five minutes. After two hours, 45 goddam tossed salads with the dressing on the side, constant refills of Dr. Pepper, and a $300 check, one of the wives pressed a $5 dollar bill in my hand and thanked me for a lovely job. Her nephew was in the kitchen, cooking the day's food and she wanted to show her appreciation for his coworkers. For a brief moment I thought about beating her mightily around the head and face. But instead I laughed. I tipped my bartender with that fiver on my first drink of the evening.

The Waiter has felt my pain, joy and incredulity, and written about it in a book to be published this August, Waiter Rant. I harbor a secret obsession with any memoir about the restaurant business. I've spent too many years schlepping food and owe a great deal to the dining room managers who have given me a job at the lowest points of my life. I've read Debra Ginsberg's Waiting: True Confessions of a Waitress and Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch. Those books are good. But The Waiter has perfectly captured what it is like to work the front of the house. The chapter alone on tipping and why the tip is so important to the server is priceless. I knew exactly how The Waiter's friend Allie felt after she'd delivered consummate service and was royally stiffed. It's not about the money. It's never about the money. Two tables from now, someone will over tip and make it all even for Allie. It's the insult. It's knowing that someone else has to assign a dollar value to your work and deemed it lacking when you know you turned in a top notch performance.

The Waiter understands the emotional toll serving the public can take on a human being. No matter how much he dresses it up, he understands that people who work in food service are hired servants.

With humor, wit, a liberal dose of snark and a soupcon of sentimentality, The Waiter brings the dining room into the reading room. Sometime in August, on a Monday night at the Pine Grove Inn or Tony's Villa Capri or the Airport Cafe or Friendly's or Domino's Pizza or New China or Racine's, the staff will share a drink, the tips and stories about their favorite Monday night customers--who are all in the food service industry. They will also share their impressions of Waiter Rant and none of them will find any part of the book to be lacking in verisimilitude

They also serve, who wait.

1 comment:

Keir said...

I never waited tables because it seemed too scary. Much safer to mop floors.