Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress

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Overview

"Career waitresses do more than just serve food. They are part psychiatrist, part grandmother, part friend, and they serve every walk of American life: from the retired and the widowed, to the wounded and the lonely, and from the working class to the wealthy. The classic diner waitress is an icon of American culture. . . . This book takes a moment to honor and recognize waitresses' contribution to our communities. Doing this project has helped me to redefine my perspective on life, work, and happiness. It has made me reevaluate the myth of the American dream that says you need to have an 'important' job to be happy."—from Counter CultureIn large cities and small towns across the country, the best diners and coffee shops are more than just restaurants: they are neighborhood institutions that bring together communities. From the Gold 'N Silver Inn in Reno, Nevada to the U.S.A. Country Diner in Windsor, New Jersey, these special places are not defined by their menus or décor, but by the waitresses who have establish bonds with their customers and their communities over years-and sometimes decades-of service. Counter Culture is a window into the lives of career waitresses who have worked in diners and coffee shops for up to sixty years. Since 2001, Candacy A. Taylor (a former waitress herself) has traveled more than 26,000 miles throughout the United States collecting stories of these "lifers," as many waitresses aged fifty or over playfully call themselves. She interviewed fifty-seven waitresses in thirty-eight towns and cities. Their compelling stories are complemented and enhanced by Taylor's striking color photographs of the waitresses at work.Taylor expected that the waitresses she'd meet would feel overworked and underappreciated, but was surprised and delighted to find that the opposite was true. The proud, capable waitresses Taylor interviewed loved their jobs and, even if given the opportunity, "wouldn't do anything else." Nearly all the waitresses said that the physical labor of waitressing helped them to age more gracefully and that the daily contact with customers and coworkers kept them socially engaged. Lifers generally make more money from serving regular customers with whom they forge bonds over decades and their seniority earns them respect from their coworkers and managers. Taylor's sensitive and respectful portrayal of career waitresses who have turned their jobs into a rewarding lifetime pursuit turns Counter Culture into an invaluable portrait of the continued importance of community in our changing society.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Oral historian, photographer and former waitress Taylor turned her aching joints into the springboard for a mission: uncovering the experiences of diner waitresses in this sociological overview. Most are 'lifers,' now senior citizens who abhor the idea of retirement. Others may see these women as uneducated service workers, but waitresses see themselves as psychologists, nurses, and family to their beloved regulars, who expect a little sass with their ham and eggs. Along with their extraordinary work ethic and oversized personalities, there are reminders of the occupational reality of below-minimum wages (which must be supplemented by substantial tips) and lack of medical and retirement benefits (which might be one reason these lifers just can't stay away from their greasy spoons). With color photographs (mostly by Taylor) of waitresses in their diners on almost every page plus feisty first-person anecdotes about how the women handle nasty customers and customers who sneak out without paying the bill (one waitress threw a ketchup bottle at them), this unique perspective is much like the professional diner waitress—difficult to pigeonhole, impossible to ignore."—Publishers Weekly, 7 September 2009

"A loving ode to women who are the heart and soul of America's diners, Counter Culture is a treasure for all who value food with character, served by real characters. Its stories about veteran waitresses are fun, poignant, and tremendously informative, including detailed information about the unique talents required for the job. The evocative photographs of these rare personalities and their workplaces are a siren call to hit the road and meet them while they're still around."—Jane and Michael Stern, Roadfood.com

"I wish my mother, a career waitress, were alive to page through this wonderful tribute to her work. These strong and shrewd women have seen a lot of life from behind the counter, and Candacy Taylor does a terrific job of portraying them and letting them speak for themselves."—Mike Rose, author of The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker

"Thoughtful, compelling, and beautifully illustrated, Counter Culture is a worthy tribute to its subject—the uniquely talented women who have dedicated their lives to providing comfort and service along with that cup of joe."—Debra Ginsberg, author of Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress

"Older coffee shop waitresses are everywhere once you start looking but are often invisible and taken for granted. Counter Culture is an informed, entertaining, thought-provoking, and moving homage to a group of workers and to their occupation. Candacy A. Taylor's photographs and interviews reveal how funny and perceptive career waitresses really are."—Dorothy Sue Cobble, Rutgers University, author of Dishing It Out: Waitresses and Their Unions in the Twentieth Century

"The photographs, testimonials, and insider information in this beautifully designed book all exalt 'lifer' waitresses—as they have every reason to be exalted. Counter Culture will make any reader yearn to reach a waitress's honor roll: to be a regular."—Alison Owings, author of Hey, Waitress!: The USA from the Other Side of the Tray

Publishers Weekly
Oral historian, photographer and former waitress Taylor turned her aching joints into the springboard for a mission: uncovering the experiences of diner waitresses in this sociological overview. Most are "lifers," now senior citizens who abhor the idea of retirement. Others may see these women as uneducated service workers, but waitresses see themselves as psychologists, nurses and family to their beloved regulars, who expect a little sass with their ham and eggs. Along with their extraordinary work ethic and oversized personalities, there are reminders of the occupational reality of below-minimum wages (which must be supplemented by substantial tips) and lack of medical and retirement benefits (which might be one reason these lifers just can't stay away from their greasy spoons). With color photographs (mostly by Taylor) of waitresses in their diners on almost every page plus feisty first-person anecdotes about how the women handle nasty customers and customers who sneak out without paying the bill (one waitress threw a ketchup bottle at them), this unique perspective is much like the professional diner waitress-difficult to pigeonhole, impossible to ignore.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
Photographer, cultural critic, and erstwhile waitress Taylor traveled through 43 U.S. cities collecting stories from career diner waitresses for this respectful, celebratory collection of oral histories and photographs. Nearly every page features a portrait or on-the-job action shot of one of Taylor's 57 interviewees, and each chapter ends with several waitresses' reflections—some funny, some poignant—on their lives, careers, and customers. In between, Taylor explores the history of diners, issues of power in the workplace, the daunting variety and volume of work, and how and why some women continue in this physically challenging, disrespected occupation for decades, with no thought of, let alone desire for, retirement. Many of these self-termed "lifers" do surprisingly well financially and have tremendous job satisfaction, thanks to years of developing the customer care techniques—and genuine affection for their regulars and workplaces—that result in plum shifts and good tips, and thanks also to the organizational skills and no-nonsense attitude that allow them to thrive in their niche. VERDICT Taylor offers these women, many in their sixties, seventies, and eighties, and perhaps the last of their kind, a well-deserved tribute. Recommended for all who love human interest stories or interesting characters.—Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Worthington Libs., OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801474408
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 8/6/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 170
  • Sales rank: 704,862
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Candacy A. Taylor is an award-winning photographer, writer, and visual artist. For eight years she has produced multimedia ethnography and oral history projects that challenge common stereotypes of women and class. She has conducted research for National Geographic and the Library of Congress and has received numerous grants for her work, including two Story Fund grants from the California Council for the Humanities.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Diner Waitresses Rock.

    Reading this book is enlightening and it gives me a better perspective as to how hard all these women work in different diners across the country and they do it with such ease and so much efficiency. Kudos to them. They're awesome and they definitely rock. What they are doing is a skill that is in a class by itself. I work in an office as a secretary (over 36 years) - a semi-sedentary job, and I know I would not be able to walk back and forth for many hours, dealing with hungry customers; handle six or seven plates of food on one arm and several cups of coffee in the other hand and serve the customers without breaking a sweat. When dining out, I always wonder how these women manage to remember what customers ordered from the menu and how amazing they stay on top of all what is going on around them and the fantastic job they do in taking care their customers. One thing I know for sure, my husband and I definitely are going to have to dine at Ole's Waffle Shop in Alameda and meet one of the waitresses mentioned in this book - Dolores Jeanpierre. These women are troopers, warhorses, endangered species and the OG's of waitressing. Not only are they skillful, but also they do their work with so much passion and they enjoy every bit of it. All of these women should also be considered mentors for the younger waitresses, "showing them the rope" and sing "This is how we do it". Great book to read...truly inspiring. Also, kudos to the author, Candacy A. Taylor, for doing the extensive research and giving the readers a better insight of what waitresses are - highly skillful women.

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