Selected Shorts: Waiting Tables

I waited tables and bartended for years, working at night after my low-paying publishing jobs in order to make rent. I’d be on my feet for 8-10 hours shifts, constantly moving and lifting heavy trays, keeping the orders of 8 or 9 tables straight in my head and negotiating with the chef, the dishwashers, the bartender, the manager and the hostess, all while handling the customers–who were sometimes wonderful and fun and interesting, other times awful, grabbing for my ass or skipping out on the check. You never knew who was going to sit down at your table. But waiting taught me how to multi-task, how to listen, how to smile in the face of someone cursing me out, and how to make mistakes and clean up after them. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done, but it was a good job–and I liked my fellow waiters. By the end of the night, when the place was closed and we were cashing out, exhausted and sweaty and lined up with our after-hour drinks at the bar, we were like soldiers after battle, a quiet camaraderie falling over the group. We’d made it through the night, we had cash in our pockets, and none of us had been fired. If you’ve never personally waited tables, we’ve got two stories on Selected Shorts this week that will give you a small taste: “Bayonne,” by John Cheever, performed by Mary Kay Place, which follows a waitress in a diner, jealously guarding her turf. The other story is “Fjord of Killary,” by Kevin Barry, performed by James Naughton, and focuses on the owner/bartender of a local tavern, trying to keep his staff and his customers happy as the waters literally rise around them. You can listen on your local public radio station, or download our podcast. Until then, remember to tip your servers well–20 or even 30%. They are working harder than you think. They are also the people who stop the chef from putting that steak that fell on the kitchen floor back onto your plate.

One comment

  1. My roommate always tells me, when I’ve had a hard day at work, “You could be waiting tables.” I do try to tip well, because I’ve heard stories!

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