>>> The Rollercoaster of Drama
By staff writer Simonne Cullen

August 27, 2007

Recently, I took on a job as a waitress to fill in the gap between my other two unglamorous part-time jobs and auditioning. Two hours into it I was already formulating a plan of attack on how to quit.

I know a lot of actors have to take on crap jobs they hate, but as I was standing around waiting for a family of five—two in booster seats, one in a high chair—to order half price pizza and a round of waters, I realized that four years at Lawrence taught me that my tip was going to be less than a dollar no matter how many times I made Jim Carrey faces to make their children giggle.

That’s what servers do. We’re your two dollars and fifty cents an hour’s worth of entertainment. And because we’re paid under minimum wage for you to find us charming enough to tip at least 15% gratuity, we’re going to encourage you to buy starters and desserts. After all, the more you eat, Fatty, the more you’ll feel guilty into tipping us.

“We’re already wearing shitty uniforms; we’d prefer not to draw more attention to ourselves.”

I can’t stand it when a cheap table complains about not getting great service. When you sit down at a restaurant, your waiter is mentally adding up their gratuity in their head, and when a five-top starts out with a round of waters and free breadsticks, chances are I’m going to be as attentive to you as Bush was to Hurricane Katrina. So don’t complain that I’m juggling and giggling with the four-top ordering Italian Bellini drinks at ten bucks a pop. Who do you think is going to get my song and dance routine? Not you, “Just tap water” people, that’s for sure.

I’m from a blue collar family, but I’m a water snob. When I go out to eat, I’ll order the Pelligrino for the entire table because I’ve had waiter friends who’ve told me that when the kitchen is too crowded, they fill up the water pitchers from the bathroom sink when no one is looking. And once you’ve seen your 80-year-old Nana cough up phlegm in the same place your water is coming from, it loses all its appeal immediately. And don’t let the pretty lemon in the pitcher fool you. You could use any piece of brightly colored fruit and suddenly even a carafe full of toilet bowl water looks classy and refreshing.

I can’t imagine how much fun it isn’t to be a server in a Chinese restaurant. You just got off the boat, see all the pretty American condos, and can only afford to live in a mockery of your former communist country in the city’s local Chinatown. You spend your work days attempting desperately to explain to fumbling Americans the difference between chow mein and low mein noodles, every day using only the five words of English taught to you on the boat ride here: “Fried, Yes, No, Visa, Greencard.”

Do you hate it when it’s your birthday and all your friends insist on having the entire wait staff sing you their restaurant’s own happy birthday song and dance routine? Do you end up smiling politely throughout the entire pathetically performed number and resent your friends for embarrassing you? Because as a former two-hour trainee I’ll tell you that we resent them too. You come to a restaurant to pay for food you can’t make at home, then insist we bust out a scoop full of ice cream with a microwavable 3-day-old brownie on the bottom FOR FREE, then smile gaily as we half-heartedly tie balloons to your chair and send you well wishes? We’re already wearing shitty uniforms; we’d prefer not to draw more attention to ourselves.

Ever have a waiter who sits down with you like he’s a part of your dinner party? I never know how to react to this unorthodox approach to serving. Obviously you two just met, and you’re not that close—it seems like he shouldn’t be breathing over your neck to recommend the salmon, invading every inch of possible personal space. Then he’ll insist on coaching you throughout your meal about how the wine really brings out the rosemary flavor of the sauce or some crap, and when the check finally arrives, he’ll make a big deal of who to hand it to… like he’s the mother bird over a nest of newborns dangling a regurgitated worm. “Who wants this? You? Or you? Or you? Or you…” teasing you unnecessarily and making sure to come back for the bill before you leave as if to make sure you’ve paid him at least 20% for his mockery of a performance.

So what was supposed to be my second day of training but was actually my quitting day, I was mentally prepared to give the “It’s not you, it’s me…” speech, when I found out the guy who hired me wasn’t working that day. Instead I got to meet with the owner—all 300 pounds of him, sweaty, with marinara sauce stains on his shirt where I can only assume the meatball fell out of his sandwich earlier that year. Immediately he said to me, “What do you want?” Taken aback by this precious ounce of respect, I knew that the speech would never work, so I told him that I got a part in a show and that rehearsals would be starting soon so it wasn’t fair to the company to keep me on. He looked me in the eye with a half-eaten Italian sausage in his hand and said, “You think you’re gonna make more money in da theater than here?” To which I mentally replied, “Sweatshop workers in China get paid more than I would here. I compared notes with my server last night at the House of Hunan.”

Why is it that when you need to have a serious conversation with one of your girlfriends, your server is the happiest person on the planet? There you are going through the entire play by play of how your boyfriend broke up with you and your waiter has clearly injected himself with lithium in the kitchen before coming out. He’ll start out by saying something like, “Turn that frown upside down! You’re at Applebee’s, the happiest place on earth next to Disneyworld!” Fuck… you…. I’ll have the chicken.

And nothing delights you more than bringing him down to your misery level. Sending back your soup for being cold. Dressing for your salad on the side. Muttering incoherent words when he asks how your meal is. Making him wrap up your food only to leave it behind when you leave. Tipping him in small coins. Sure it plays into the stereotype of women being bad tippers, but when a woman shows up at Applebee’s on a Tuesday night, puffy eyed, with no makeup, not drinking, probably best for the waiter to recognize he’s in uncharted territory, not to douchebag it up.

There is this one restaurant in Chicago where the waiters all look like models. It makes the dining experience a little more fun with all the hotness flying around serving you. Some of my girlfriends love attempting to see if they can get the waiter’s digits. It’s all a scam to get better tips though. The hotness picks up vibes from the most desperate girl at the table, makes lots of eye contact, personally recommends some desert or adult beverage, even winks at her when he passes by casually. She—compelled by the attractiveness of this sculpted male—leaves a 25% tip and her phone number on the receipt, then waves seductively as she leaves. He in turn pockets the cash and dumps the number immediately following her departure from the venue. Sure it’s semi-cruel to lead her on, but the cable bill isn’t going to pay itself… your desperation will.