Will the Real Waitress please stand up?

2012 is here! But four days a week, I leave the 21st century for a bit, step into a world fashioned from another era and play the part of a 50’s waitress. It is a world complete with juke boxes, bar stools and classic American diner food. I wear a mini skirt. I refill 1,000 cups of coffee. But there is a skull and cross bones on my t-shirt, and sometimes I make up rap songs on the spot about french fries and apple pie to pass the time. The modern influences are clearly everywhere, (my future rap stardom included), but in some ways, not much has changed.

50’s waitresses are an icon of American culture, and it is both strange and fascinating to play the part of one and feel how much weight this image of a woman still holds all these years later.  We are dressed to impress and look cute for the customers, all while providing great service and assuming a smile-and-nod attitude. (Fortunately, I was allowed to abandon the smile and nod the time a man threatened to “cut me” with his fork and was escorted out of the restaurant.) I still have people who ask me, in all seriousness, why I don’t wear rollerskates in the restaurant. While I genuinely would like to respond along the lines of “Because it’s not 1955 and/or I don’t think you would like me and your entree crashing into you at warp speed”, I have to smile and nod and say “We’re just not that kind of place.”

As a waitress, my customers respect me, hit on me, yell at me, make sexist jokes about women in front of me, are incredibly kind to me, tip me terribly, do not make eye contact with me, or genuinely ask me how my day is going. I juggle one customer interaction to the next, all while trying to remember who needs mustard why is that person staring at me dear god that man is creepy oh my god i forgot to bring table 45 their pie. I do my job as best I can. But sometimes there are days where I feel I can’t play the part. Where the thought of offering someone a hot fudge sundae makes me want to run far, far away. Where I don’t feel anything like this:

But then I have to remind myself, the woman in this image never truly existed to begin with. At the very least, she most certainly never felt the sheer joy we are made to believe she is feeling. We learn to attach meanings to icons, and in turn they attach themselves to us. But we all know that nobody can look that happy serving up waffles without at least going slightly crazy on the inside.

So as a tribute to my sanity, to all the roller skating, waffle smiling women who came before me, and to the waitress revolution for the coming new year, I begin my search across this great land of ours and ask,

Will the real waitress please stand up?

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13 Comments

  1. I looooove what you said about the girl in the picture. I think so often we idealize the good ol’ days based on those type of pictures…it’s nice to get the reminder that those pictures are real. Thanks for writing!

  2. i go to the same diner every weekend for breakfast, saturday and sunday. i love when the server/waitress remembers what i order. i usually tip more then because i feel that she/he/they pay better attention. i order the same exact thing every time, 3 years running: eggs over easy, onions in the home fries, bacon, rye toast – well done and dry, and can i have some real butter packets instead of that little cup of margarine? and coffee.

    last weekend i forgot to leave a tip. this weekend i found the waitress, gave her the tip, and apologized. there was no way she would have known i didn’t leave a tip, but i added an extra buck over the usual tip because of the inconvenience that she didn’t know happened.

    • Customers like you are certainly always appreciated. I write a lot about the ones who give me a hard time, but i am fortunate to wait on a lot of very good people too. I always love the people who order the same thing, it’s a nice sense of familiarity (and I have a great memory, even for the more unique orders, which I think the customers appreciate!)

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