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Hey, Waitress! The USA from the Other Side of the Tray Hardcover – September 2, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 330 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1St Edition edition (September 2, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520217500
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520217508
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,205,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As Owings (Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich) knew when she decided to explore the large, understudied world of the American waitress, many women have worked as waitresses at some point in their lives because it requires little training. Marrying social history and oral history, the author deftly explores her themes, primarily classism and the social stigma conveyed by waitressing (tips, she argues, give customers too much power and some restaurants the legal right today to pay as little as two dollars an hour), the confidence-building that comes with handling a demanding and often rude public, the sexism of bosses and kitchen staff, and the pride the women take in presenting an attractive meal and making their customers feel good. Owings allows a wide range of women to speak for themselves, among them a supremely confident mother-and-daughter duo; a former Connecticut housewife whose job gives her independence from an abusive marriage; a Ph.D. who feels more at ease as a waitress than as a graduate student; and a former Seattle union leader who has made great strides in improving the working conditions of waitresses. Owings presents her findings with compassion and wit and a sense of feminist indignation that doesn't detract from her journalistic balance. These qualities make for a lively read in this trailblazing contribution to the study of women and work.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This is the second oral history by Owings, whose first book, Frauen, collected the reminiscences of average German women about Hitler's Germany. The subject here is not so fraught, but the observations of 35 waitresses, as selected and edited by Owings, are absorbing to read. Part of the interest is in her choice of locales: an Ursuline convent, the Woolworth's counter where civil rights sit-ins took place, one of the Harvey restaurants that "civilized the West," the first New York haute cuisine restaurant to hire a woman, and Everglades National Park, among others. Judicious editing also makes the book compelling: each waitress is full of insights about her life and her life's work and does not seem mired in the job. This is neither a labor study like Greta Foff Paules's Dishing It Out nor a first-person expos‚ of what Barbara Ehrenreich calls one of America's "least attractive jobs" (Nickel and Dimed). At its heart is young Owings's compassionate realization, while on a summer job at Howard Johnson's, that "some girls do not go to college"; she is not referring only to the scarcity of the literature when she observes that "waitresses stand alone even when they sit down." Recommended for labor history, women's studies, sociology, career counseling, and general interest collections. Janice Dunham, John Jay Coll. Lib., CUNY
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Pinna on June 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I had to force myself to get past the author's introduction, I have a strong negative bias toward feminist manifestos, but once Ms. Owings was finished with her political ranting she introduced me to a pretty interesting group of waitresses. Some are positive, some negative, some hate their job, some love it, and each story is interesting and unique.
The concise biographical sketches average about five pages each and the women frankly describe their experiences and their lives. Single moms, married women, waitresses in diners, franchises, and fancy high class restaurants talk about cooks grabbing, customers grunting and owners screaming. A few might fit the "waitress" stereotype but they are all very different people from different backgrounds and the author does an excellent job describing them and their circumstances as well as their pressures on the job. Some waitressed short term, others are "lifers" with up to 50 years of experience. Most of the women are likeable and some are downright heroic. They all describe a job with similar pressures, and how they try to deal with them. Even the cloistered nun who served the other nuns at mealtime had to deal with stresses unique to serving food to others.
Since the vignettes are a few pages each the book is easy to pick up and put down, it is not necessary to set aside a block of reading time. I enjoyed it more than I expected, it may not be great literature but the frankness and intimacy of their stories has a compelling power. It's worth a few hours to meet these ladies.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bunny Bunsen, PhD on August 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I learned about this book from Smithsonian magazine's book reviews and was immediately intrigued. I, too, glossed over the brief history of waitressing in the beginning of the book to get right to the interviews. The part of the book I enjoyed most was the section on the women who have been involved (albeit peripherally at times) in major historical events by way of their profession. It was also very eye-opening as to the structure and dynamics of the restaurant system and the pay structure. I first became aware of the abuses in this system when a good friend of mine worked for a major sit-down dining chain in the United States while we were in college. His pay as a waiter was based only on tips (no hourly wage at all), and he was once "rewarded" for his excellent service by a large party of customers who paid for their dinner via a gift certificate, leaving the $0.11 balance as their tip. This book merely confirmed that such experiences are not necessarily that rare. It also provides some data on how waitresses perceive their customers which was also fascinating. I do leave a little extra now when dining out....
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This thought provoking book was an eye opener for me. Similar to Nickel and Dimed - which I loved - it brings you into the lives of a hardworking segment of our workforce that is often overlooked and underappreciated. I had no idea of the physical, mental, and emotional challenges waitresses face (often with grace and humility) on a daily basis at diners and four-star restaurants alike. Reading the stories of these women - some sad, some funny, all interesting and compelling - forever changed the way I look at and treat waitresses. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in deepening their understanding of the lives of people we see everyday but might not otherwise have a chance to know.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I confess, I skipped the short history of waitressing at the start of the book to go straight to the interviews. These stories are fascinating.
This could have been a depressing expose about the low pay and poor conditions inherent in waiting. But Owings evidently has quite an admiration for waitresses, and she manages to bring out the pride these women have for their work. Even waitresses who hate the job are proud of some aspect of what they do.
The diversity of waitresses interviewed was impressive: from truckstops to Chez Panisse, from Alaska to Louisiana, from the Forties to the Millennium, from poor waitresses to not-so-poor (there are no rich waitresses), from high school dropouts to PhDs.
This is a wonderful book to include with Nickel and Dimed and Waiting by Ginsburg.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By GoStanford on February 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was introduced to waitress stories by the book Waiting (Debra Ginsberg) and subsequently by Nickel and Dimed (Barbara Ehrenreich). I highly recommend those two books for people interested in this genre, as they each describe one author's experience. Hey, Waitress! contains several interesting anecdotes, but I made the mistake of trying to read it in one go. I think a selection of the stories, or breaking it up into multiple reads, would be better. I bought a remaindered copy and suggest you share your copy with a friend - there is some good material here. The best part is that these are all true stories, and many of them come from lifelong waitresses. I give it 3 stars as I consider it well-written but not something easily digestible in one read, not something I could not put down.
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