In a truly just world, everyone would have to wait tables for at least six months, just to know what it's like. Failing that, we have writer-waiter Debra Ginsberg's tasty memoir to remind us about life on the other side of those swinging doors. Horror stories? After 20 years of serving other people's food, she's got 'em--and being handed a drunk's vomit-soaked napkins certainly fits the bill. But even though she expresses the usual frustrations with bad tippers and control freaks, in the long run Ginsberg is anything but bitter. In fact, she recently left her publishing job to return to waiting tables, hooked on the freedom, spare time, and ready cash the lifestyle provides. Of course, there are other perks too. Sex thrives in the close quarters and steamy atmosphere of a typical restaurant (not to mention with the high-drama personalities who work there). Fans of Kitchen Confidential
will be relieved to know there's as much bad behavior among the floor staff as there is in the back of the house. As in that book, Ginsberg also relates some eyebrow-raising tales about what can happen before your food gets to your table. (The moral here: "It really does pay to be nice to your server.") But Waiting
is far more than just a sexual soap opera or a cautionary guide for dining out; it's also the story of one woman's coming of age, most of which just happens to take place while she's wearing an apron. During her tenure as a waitress, Ginsberg thrives as a single mother and comes into her own as a writer--and waiting (as she suggestively calls it) helps her do both. Most of us (including waiters) think of the profession as a stopgap, not a career, but what happens on the way to somewhere else, Ginsberg writes, is every bit as important as the final destination: "Perhaps the most valuable lesson I'd learned was that the act of waiting itself is an active one. That period of time between the anticipation and the beginning of life's events is when everything really happens--the time when actual living
occurs." --Mary Park
From Publishers Weekly
Ginsberg has spent nearly 20 years, more on than off, as a waitress, developing a love/hate relationship with a career most of her college-educated peers see either as a way station or a pink-collar province. Though neither a fully ripe memoir nor a truly spicy dish on the food biz (for that, see Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential; Forecasts, April 24), her collection of anecdotes, covering subjects from her father's luncheonette to fancy restaurants, conveys the unpredictability and humanity of this humble but essential work. Ginsberg sketches co-workers, both lively and burnt out, and her inspired and irresponsible bosses. A good view of the "parallel mating dances of staff and patrons" is one perk of her perch; she posits that the risk-taking, gregarious types who work for tips foster mutual attractions. In the "feudal pyramid" of the waitstaff, busboys are at the bottom and managers at the top, but waitresses must keep both happy to make sure things run smoothly and that tips ensue. Some scenes are wild: as a cocktail waitress during manic "Buck Night," she saw patrons drink the potent (and free) "Bar Mat," made up of bar spillage. Readers might pick up some pointers: bad-tipping regulars will suffer subtle server sabotage; customers who harangue staff for decaf might end up with regular. Ginsberg's more personal segments, which can be aimless, portray an intelligent single mom, fiercely committed to her son, with worries about her potential as a writer and her future. She quits waitressing only to return a year later, concluding that "the act of waiting itself is an active one" and that there is beauty and simplicity in the small acts of her work.
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