Where has she gone? You know who I mean. She wore her hair up -
impaled with a pencil - chewed gum, called you “Sweety” - maybe
“Honey” - and usually touched your shoulder. Often, she wore an apron
over her blue uniform and her opening line was, “What’ll you have,
Honey?” The professional waitress. That’s who I mean.
Her breed is fast becoming extinct. Now her role is filled
inadequately by part-timers, college kids, and ladies married to
husbands with weak earning power who they’ll soon kick out of the
house. It used to be a stationary profession. There was Mildred
smacking her gum, penciled hair, but really unnecessary because she
knew from past acquaintance that you wanted meatloaf (with gravy,
green beans, and potatoes). And unsweetened tea. She was on her feet
8 to 10 hours a day and she still smiled and ignored her aching feet.
She was NOT working her way through college - she was NOT studying to
be a system designer. This liaison between cook and customer was a
You won’t find her today in Wendy’s or McDonald’s or Burger King.
More likely in the Bon Ton Cafe downtown or in a suburban diner
bustling from booth to booth touching shoulders as she goes. Smiling
and howdying. Her replacement is usually a spring chicken who thinks
her job is to take your order and bring you food roughly equivalent to
what you requested. She sees herself as a bearer of food, not
hospitality, and a smile as small as the hamburger steak on your plate.
What we are experiencing here is a culture change. In the old days,
waitressing was a permanent job. An occupation like accountant,
plumber, or carpenter. It was a serious way to make a living, not a
phase in the occupational life cycle: student, waitress, system
designer, group leader - with maybe mother and wife thrown in
somewhere in the middle.
Waitress - how oddly named. One who waits. Waits for what?
Obviously, my request for food and further attention. It implies
explicit attention to my needs. And notice the gender prejudice with
that suffice. It’s a glass ceiling to the male who would like to
“wait” for my menu preferences.
But Mildred, Sadie, Edith, Ruby, and Mabel were in for the long haul.
It was a living for them. They lived off tips and a smile. Just a
glance in their direction was enough to bring them running with a, “Is
And you’d never guess from the frozen grin on her face that when she’s
through serving you it’s time for home and cooking and more service to
maybe a husband and a couple of hungry kids.
Chatty, friendly, and smiley, they masked their own problems behind
that green pad that waited your orders. But you could tell them your
problems. “What’s wrong, Hon? You look kinda done in today.”
“Oh, both of the kids are sick and I gotta work late.”
“Aw, c’mon cheer up. I’ll tell the cook you need an extra slice of
roast beef. He cooked it Monday and today’s Friday, but with that
spicy, hot gravy you’ll never know, Hon.”
That’s the way it was. Thelma never complained to you about her house
and her husband who drank beer like a kid drank lemonade at a birthday
You, the customer, were clearly in the ascendancy. For the 30 minutes
of lunch she was your slave. Your tip was her wages. And still is
wherever you find Thelmas. Back talk was rare from Thelma. She saved
that for the family at home who didn’t understand the pain you feel in
your feet and calves after 12 hours without a sit down.
The relationship between customer and waitress has changed. He/she is
often a sophomore in Computer Science who is not impressed that you
can afford to eat out and in fact, socially condemns you because
you’re eating in a joint like this. And she’s just learning that
there’s a highly positive correlation between her warmth and her
personal bonus - the tip. And it’s only slowly dawning on her that
she’s learning more about the foibles of the human race in eatery than
in Psychology 101.
And “dang it,” as Mabel or Ruby would have said, they took their
menus with them. Where’s the hot roast beef sandwich, corned beef
and cabbage, or a real steak sandwich. (No, not a burger.) Liver,
liver and onions.....
The humor of Ted, the Scribbler on the Roof, appears in newspapers around the U.S., on National Public Radio in Huntsville, Alabama and numerous web sites.