Waiting tables, for better or worse

by E. Blair

"You're gonna have to serve somebody…" - Bob Dylan

I am 28 years old, and I'm a waiter. Am I ashamed of this fact? No. I am proud of it? No.

As a seasoned, front-of-the-house server, this winter marks the 12th year I've been serving people in restaurants. It all started when I was an impressionable young busboy at a highly popular, New York style deli in suburban Michigan. The restaurant was called The Stage, and the wait to get into this place was ridiculous. Before this point, I had earned modest money delivering papers and cutting lawns and working at summer camps. But when I was kicked out of my father's place one summer and went to live with my mother, I had no idea how much cash money was available. The Stage had an ideal location in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Michigan; the parking lot was full of tan Cadillacs, maroon Jaguars and black Porsches, necks and hands were commonly adorned with obnoxious gold and diamonds.

One evening, after the first few shifts of my new job, I asked a fellow busser if Jay was gay. He said, "Man, all the waiters are gay!" This didn't even deter me, because gay Jay and Enrico and the others tipped me $30 bucks a night - each. I was filling coffee cans with cash. It was like being a drug dealer, or so I imagined.

I spent two summers at The Stage, and thus saved money for college in Colorado. It would be a few years before I'd serve again. Certain jobs in ski towns are always coveted but seldom acquired unless you know the right person. Banquets at Durango's Grand Lodge was one of these jobs. Turnover in the esoteric banquet department was rare; once you were in, you stayed in. The paychecks were fat, a ski pass was included and the work was easy, that is if you didn't mind milling around in the caves of a massive hotel. We were a bunch a little ants who would ski all day, report to work by stuffing all of our ski gear into a closet and change into our monkey suits, set up for a banquet, serve, break it down, and get drunk off the leftover booze. It was the life, and I did it for as long as I could stand it. I had a habit of taking naps under skirted tables until too many people were questioning my whereabouts, and eventually I quit, or maybe I was fired. I don't remember.

Having accrued tenure in Durango, more prestigious waiting jobs were becoming available. My girlfriend at the time was a cook at the well-known Chez Pierre, and was a close friend of the restaurant manager. After a menage-a-trois one night, I was offered a job waiting lunches. At a restaurant where the wait staff have real careers yet still continue to serve because the money can't be beat, this was a huge foot in the door that I couldn't resist.

For me, waiting tables has always been a job that I do until the ball gets rolling on something more fulfilling. Sometimes it seems like the ball is perched to roll, maybe nudging along at times, or even fully in motion if just for a while. So waiting tables has become the perfect interim trade. If you like a flexible schedule, non-commitment, days free and cash in pocket - waiting tables is the job for you. Don't be fooled though, it's not all glamorous. Waiting on people can be downright demeaning at times. And yes, you have to answer the most ridiculous questions, serve white zinfandel, and reassure the chef that the guy really does want his elk well done. Some nights just plain suck, reaffirming that this job is only temporary until something better comes along.

When I moved to the big city I had thrown in the towel of the restaurant industry. I had graduated from ski towns and was ready to take on a real job, maybe even utilizing my business degree I had earned 5 years prior. But the city wasn't floating my boat, even if it was just a dinghy. The job search, better known as the Grind, was exactly that. Looking for jobs and interviewing, driving around - it wore one out and made one grumpy. I had given up on finding a decent job, and had accepted a non-paying position as an apartment occupier, living off of unemployment checks. It didn't take long for that well to run dry, nor did it take long for my woman to go ballistic on me for being a complete loser. So I got a job waiting tables.

For anyone who's been a waiter, I urge you to see the movie Croupier, a film about the life of a casino dealer. The two professions are similar enough to understand that you play, get ahead, then cash out before it's too late. Waiting tables is just like this; you earn enough money to change your situation, then move on. That's what I did in Denver. That was 3 years ago.

When I was terminated from my first Summit County waiting job - or rather I quit - I said I was done waiting tables forever. And I meant it. So the next year I was very poor, and regretted quitting my job as much as I despised it. While on sabbatical from waiting tables I took a 9-to-5 job, hated it, and quit. Then I took a bartending job (not to be confused with waiting tables), hated it, and didn't renew my contract. Needless to say, I soon found another waiting job. It's almost 2001, and I'm still waiting tables. What can I say, I'm a slut for cash. Of course, waiting tables is my second job. I'm still looking for my first job, my real job. But until then, I'm gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the lord, but chances are it'll be tourists from Oklahoma.

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