Hey, Waitress! The USA from the Other Side of the Tray

Hey, Waitress! The USA from the Other Side of the Tray

Hey, Waitress! The USA from the Other Side of the Tray

Hey, Waitress! The USA from the Other Side of the Tray


"Alison Owings serves up a delightful chronicle of waitressing--from the first commercial eating establishments to a contemporary Pizza Hut--as seen through the eyes of its stalwart practitioners. "Hey, Waitress! is a great pleasure to read, not least because it's a long overdue tribute to some of America's most tireless and least appreciated working women."--Barbara Ehrenreich, author of "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

"Owings is keenly sensitive to the class antagonisms of restaurant service. And bless her sisterhood of overworked, underpaid, harassed and harried informants in their aprons, hairnets, and rubber-soled shoes. This is oral history at its finest."--Susan Brownmiller, author of "Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape

"Welcome to the "real world of table service. Alison Owings delves deeply and perceptively into the too-often out-of-view lifestyle of the female server. Hard working women tell their own stories in their own voices and as anthropology--as oral history--it's a comprehensive and thoroughly enjoyable work that will bring cheer and enlightenment to both those inside and outside the restaurant business."--Anthony Bourdain, author of "Kitchen Confidential

"Alison Owings has written a clever, compassionate book to celebrate the unsung and terribly important heroes of the workforce: waitresses. This book contains a rich trove of social history; I guarantee that after reading it you will look at the next waitress who serves you with different eyes. And if you want to get a good reading on how classy or unclassy people are, just watch how they treat their waitress!"--Letitia Baldrige, author of "A Lady, First: My Life in the Kennedy White Houseand the American Embassies of Paris and Rome and "Letitia Baldrige's Complete Guide to the New Manners for the 90's


Once, upon a short time. Howard Johnson's on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Valley Forge exit. Several of us girls from Conestoga High School—all gangly, giggly, gorging, and earning summer money for fall college—raced around HoJo's orange/aqua color scheme, a palette that extended to our uniforms. I was riveted, as outsiders are, by details: having to wear huge white shoes and a hairnet, getting to eat for free everything ill-advised for a teenaged complexion, from chocolate milk shakes to fried clams. The only items the HoJo powers forbade their staff were sirloin steak and fresh fruit, thus winning the latter a new, if passing, interest.

I was not a good waitress for at least two reasons.

First, despite being so nearsighted that I had worn glasses since third grade, I did not want to wear them now—not with that hairnet. Therefore I could see virtually nothing beyond my arm, including food, tables, or customers.

Second, I was embarrassed by tips. One man I forgot for close to an hour, mostly because he sat beyond my arm. When I bolted over to apologize, he thanked me for not rushing him, then pressed a quarter into my hand. A quarter was a friendly tip for lunch in 1962 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. “There you are, ” he said. “Oh, no, that's all right, ” I said and gave it back.

Make her a cashier, suggested someone. I happily complied.

The above would have been the sum of my waitressing memories but for an incident a week later, an incident I believe was the impetus for this book.

While dashing through the employee break room, I suddenly stopped. Sitting in front of me was the one waitress who intimidated and fascinated me, a woman who acted more sure of herself than any female I knew, including cheerleaders. She was ancient (maybe thirty), wore makeup to work (I thought it was only for dates), and once had made me blush through my Clearasil. A certain assistant manager, she had . . .

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