There were four or five waitresses working the day I started. They were all older than I, ranging from their 30s to 50s. I was 17. I tried but I was pretty useless. They were career waitresses, very good at their job. Most of them helped me, but a couple looked at me with cynical eyes, as if to say “wonder how long you’ll last”.
Second day, not too bad. One bowl of soup spilled almost in a customer’s lap. But I knew where the mop and bucket were. When my shift was nearly over, the manager came out of his office at the back. “Take this to my brother” he said and handed me a fat envelope with a nearby address written on it. I noticed the waitresses and kitchen help all watched me leaving. Some had little smirks, all looked interested.
The restaurant was owned by the man I went to see. Aside from the waitresses, the staff consisted of his brothers. Cooks, dishwasher, manager, even the busboy who was the youngest brother. All of them watching me.
At the apartment, the owner said, “Come in, sit down.” I said my shift wasn’t over so I’d best be going. “I’m the boss, it’s ok.” I stood. He asked where I was from, how old I was, was I going to school. Coming close, he said he could help me if I wanted to go to university, you know, help out with expenses. “I like to help young girls, you know.” I said I really had to go, they’d be wondering. “Think about it” he said, “here, you’ve got something on your uniform,” and brushed my backside with his hand.
When I returned to the restaurant, the waitresses stopped what they were doing and the brothers came out from the back. “How did it go?” asked manager brother with a definite look of curiosity. “Fine, I gave it to him, sorry it look longer, he wanted to talk a bit.” “What did he talk about?” he asked. I could see the waitresses all craning their necks to catch every word. Brothers stood in and behind doorways, also listening. “Oh, just chatting.” Busboy brother snickered.
I left after my shift, with waitresses saying “see you tomorrow?” Their smiles were sly. Back where I staying, I told my mother and her friend. They said “you’re not going back.” Mom’s friend phoned a friend who worked at a Community College and got an appointment for me. I did go back to the restaurant the next day, on time, to tell them I was quitting effective immediately. The waitresses just smiled.
I don’t know what would have happened if I’d not had someone to tell. Mom was there just to get me settled. I didn’t know what to think about the experience. I’d never worked before; maybe this was normal. But my mother and her friend certainly knew it wasn’t. So owner brother did help with my post-secondary education. I started it the next week.
You know who I most dislike for this? The waitresses. The rest of the staff were men and brothers. But the waitresses were neither. It seemed to me, even as it happened, that ‘taking the envelope to the boss’ had happened before. So this was some weird rite of passage that gave entertainment to the staff, both family and non-family. Were bets laid? What if I’d accepted boss brother’s offer? Had other waitresses? Had some of these? I don’t know. But those women – some of whom had daughters – never gave me a bit of warning or advice.
When looking for images for this, I came across a book called Counter Culture:The American coffee shop waitress by Candacy A. Taylor. It looks wonderful, and her waitresses don’t seem to be like those in this story. I later waitressed at a small diner and it was indeed a very good experience. The coffee pot photo came from Ms. Taylor’s blog and the photo of the three waitresses is from the 2007 movie Waitress.