Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress

Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress

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by Debra Ginsberg

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A veteran waitress dishes up a spicy and robust account of life as it really exists behind kitchen doors.

Part memoir, part social commentary, part guide to how to behave when dining out, Debra Ginsberg's book takes readers on her twentyyear journey as a waitress at a soap-operatic Italian restaurant, an exclusive five-star dining club, the dingiest of diners,


A veteran waitress dishes up a spicy and robust account of life as it really exists behind kitchen doors.

Part memoir, part social commentary, part guide to how to behave when dining out, Debra Ginsberg's book takes readers on her twentyyear journey as a waitress at a soap-operatic Italian restaurant, an exclusive five-star dining club, the dingiest of diners, and more. While chronicling her evolution as a writer, Ginsberg takes a behind-the-scenes look at restaurant life-revealing that yes, when pushed, a server will spit in food, and, no, that's not really decaf you're getting-and how most people in this business are in a constant state of waiting to do something else.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble, Inc.
For twenty years, Ginsberg was a waitress. Then, like many in "waiting" profession, she switched careers, becoming a professional writer for the San Diego Union Tribune. It was only in hindsight that she realized the strangeness and singularity of life on the other side of the table. These reflections on her waitressing experience are pleasingly varied. They do reveal kitchen masonic secrets (yes, miffed servers do spit in food!), yet offer much more than just gossip or restaurant trivia. Ginsberg's very personal sense of the frustrations and aspirations of people in the profession will be a stunning education for many readers. Just desserts.
[Ginsburg's] triumph, in this book, is that she shows us how the beautiful and the base coexist.
San Francisco Chronicle
A lively and insightful look into restaurants...Ginsberg is a charming and talented writer.
Associated Press
This book is more than a saga about workplace woes...Ginsberg relives her personal struggle, waiting for her life to 'happen.'
Business Week
As this account shows, there's a lot of life in the waiting game.
USA Weekend
Ginsberg not only shares delicious stories...but also dishes out advice that will make you laugh.
Ginsberg got her education in restaurants, and she doles it out just right in this entertaining account.
Dallas Morning News
[Ginsberg's] poignant, gently written stories of waitressing are metaphors for life.
Detroit Free Press
[Ginsberg] tells the story with enough honesty and wry humor to connect with other people—especially women.
New Orleans Times-Picayune
[A] wonderful book. It was worth waiting for.
Seattle Times
A knowing memoir...[Ginsberg] is great on dining-room debacles she's endured.
Hartford Courant
A lively, often funny tale.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
In this memoir of 20 years of waiting tables to support herself and her son, Ginsberg, who also writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune, wavers between justifying her choice of occupation and attempting to shock or titillate readers with tales of the chaos, unsanitary conditions, and sexual harassment she experienced while working in a restaurant. She is often defensive about her work, which requires special skills and personal qualities and can be lucrative in the short term, though it is not especially respected and leaves no lasting evidence of the effort expended. However, Ginsberg does not connect her situation to the larger problems of the service economy or of women's work in general. Nor does she contribute to our understanding of how to survive in her occupation or even how to get better service in a restaurant. The section on images of waitresses in film and on television is particularly limited in insight. Not recommended.--Paula R. Dempsey, DePaul Univ, IL. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
School Library Journal
YA-As a child, Ginsberg marveled at her father's stories about waiting tables, which made restaurants seem exciting and glamorous. At 16, she started working in a luncheonette and has spent over 20 years in all types of eating establishments from a diner to a "prestigious" club. As she recounts the different jobs that she has held, readers discover what it really takes to be a waitress. Ginsberg feels that she must be an actress, a good listener, and a nurturer. She examines the complex physical, mental, and psychological skills required to deal with demanding customers, unscrupulous managers, and uncooperative cooks and busboys. Throughout her career, Ginsberg felt that waiting tables was only a means to her real goal of being a writer. However, over time, she realized that the work allowed her to spend real quality time with her son. With a new insight into this profession, readers will see their next waitperson in an entirely new light.-Jane S. Drabkin, Potomac Community Library, Woodbridge, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Julia Dahl
Ginsberg's clear eye and calm voice make Waiting an insightful piece of social history as well as a delightful read.
Bruno Dagens
[Ginsberg] writes positively but not Pollyannaishly and has told an attractive story about coping with a life that has been different than what she expected.
The New York Times Book Review
Daneet Steffens
...the overall effect is often funny and ultimately satisfying.
Entertainment Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
A fresh new writer and seasoned waitress will be your server for this memoir of a life measured out with coffee spoons. It's not the same story as Prufrock's. This plat du jour is as mundane as meat loaf and, even loaded with filler, as easy to digest. Starting in her teens, Ginsberg has served in her family's borscht belt luncheonette and in a stodgy, WASPy private club. For over 20 years she's delivered slices in pizzerias, drinks in bars, and good eats in restaurants nationwide. It's been no piece of cake. It's true: some provoked servers may spit in an insensible customer's soup, stomp on a returned steak, or tamper with a cheapskate's doggy bag contents. But patrons may just as frequently be remarkably nasty or truly stupid. Looking for a free meal, they may plant bugs in their food. Worst of all, they may even stiff their waiter or waitress and leave no tip at all. Discussing the theory and practice of waiting tables, Ginsberg updates the Federal "Occupational Outlook Handbook" and deconstructs films and TV shows that feature food servers. She notes the value of adopting a persona, true or false, and presents, with considerable verisimilitude, the sounds, the smells, the panic, the steamy drama of a busy kitchen. It's not the savage scene once limned by dishwasher George Orwell, down and out in London and Paris, and there are no small servings of sex. It's close and feverish, after all, in Ginsberg's domain. As well as a guide to acceptable table manners, this is a memoir of people she's worked with and for—of blighted romances and of growing up in an apron, order pad in hand. On the whole, she seems to have enjoyedthejob. Not a definitive study of the profession, but simply one woman's tale of table service and, equally, of her lovers, her friends, and her family. Served with a smile.. . .

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Big Tip-off

"What do you do?"

It's a simple question but one that, for many years, I was almost unable to answer. Sometimes I'd mumble evasively that I was in the service business but more often I'd say something obtuse like "I work in a restaurant." But I was a waitress and therein lay the problem. For 20 years, that particular profession, that particular answer to the question "What do you do?" engendered an almost automatic profile along with a whole set of assumptions.

Waitresses, it seems, have a certain image in the collective consciousness; somewhere between Flo from "Alice" and the tail-sporting servers from the old Playboy Bunny Clubs. If this sounds like an unfounded and grandiose claim, consider that I performed my own informal survey for two decades. I witnessed thousands of customers form the same instant impressions of me year after year. I was their servant of the moment. My living depended on remaining in their good graces for the duration of their meal. How far would I go and what would I do to stay in those elusive good graces—how big a tip did I want, anyway? And these reactions were just from those I served at the table. I received plenty of disparaging looks from those I met simply in the course of my daily life.

It's not that I was ashamed of my job. Part of the reason I waited on tables for so many years was the freedom and financial independence it afforded me. Yet I was consistently sensitive to the reactions it produced from anyone outside of the restaurant business. In a sense, however, prejudging or profiling is endemic of our society. Inevitably, we seek to place our fellow humans in roles we've created for them based on their jobs, their body piercings, or their style of dress. Our judgments, in turn, are based on collective impressions or commonly agreed upon (but not necessarily correct) standards.

I've been guilty of the same prejudgment. I admit it; I'm only human.

And because I'm only human I tried something new recently. I was shopping at my neighborhood grocery store and my friendly checker asked me what I had planned for the weekend. "I'm not going anywhere," I told her, "I've got to work the whole weekend."

"Oh, too bad," she answered. "What do you do?"

"I'm a writer," I told her.

"Wow," she exclaimed, "a writer!" She smiled widely and, across her face an assumption spread bright as sunshine. Although I couldn't tell the exact nature of her assumption, I knew it was different than the all of the pigeonholes I'd been in before.

"That must be so exciting," she said. "Good for you."

This ability to morph my own image so easily gives me pause. Perhaps everybody is playing more or less the same game. The waitress taking my order is probably making her own assumptions about me as I stare at her from the other side of the table. Perhaps her story is much more similar to mine than I'd care to admit.

Just possibly, she might even be me.

Food for thought, served by your waitress.

Debra Ginsberg, author of Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress

What People are saying about this

Antonya Nelson
Debra Ginsberg's great gift is the quiet way she's able to point up the truths that reside in the innocent setting of the restaurant, in the harmless summer job that becomes the lifelong career, in the transitory exchanges that oftentimes have lasting effects, and in the character that develops while pursuing the philosophically complex occupation of waiting. This book reminds the reader that the waitress taking your order is also, maybe, noting much more with her pen. This is a strong debut.
&$151;(Antonya Nelson, author of Nobody's Girl)
Lisa Schiffman
Debra Ginsberg's Waiting touched me, made me laugh, made me hunger—so to speak—to know more and more about the ups and downs of her life. It's a life of cups and saucers, shouting diners and lunatic restaurant owners, the tug and pull of single motherhood, romantic hopes dashed and rebuilt and finally, the many, many beautiful notes of epiphany she so wonderfully renders.
— (Lisa Schiffman, author of Generation J)
Janet Fitch
Every time I go to a restaurant now, I think of what must be happening behind the scenes. Ginsberg's stories really stay with you. A great read from start to finish.
— (Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander)
Kim Chernin
The debut of a new and compelling writer is always a cause for celebration. Debra Ginsberg culls from a lifetime of waiting a humor, insight, and compassion that places her in the tradition of fine old tale-spinners. We have here, perhaps for the first time in literature, a true portrait of the demanding art of waiting on tables, from which Ginsberg has fashioned a wise, page-turning commentary on the human condition.
— (Kim Chernin, author of In My Mother's House)

Meet the Author

Debra Ginsberg is the author of Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress and Raising Blaze: Bringing Up an Extraordinary Son in an Ordinary World. A graduate of Reed College, she is a contributor to NPR's All Things Considered and the San Diego Union-Tribune "Books" section.

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Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Digital-Ink More than 1 year ago
Interesting thoughts about the motives and lives of people dining in resturants and of course the waitstaff. Found myself skimming in some parts of the book as my interest wanned.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book was pretty good, i liked learning more about a waitresses life, there veiw from there perspective, and what a waitress really thinks about their job. I would recommend this book to waitresses mostly, but also to people that go out to eat a lot or have always wondered about what they really think and do there lives besides behind that uniform. I thought it was a good book though, i really liked reading her storys about her adventures in live and how she gets threw it all. I think people with diffrent jobs should make books like this to give people an idea on how whatever job they have done or are doing is like.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book over five years ago and the story line is still as fresh in my mind as last weeks minestrone. I loved how she kept with the profession. Her colorful descriptons of previous parties and customers irregardless of the resturants level of price and fruu=fru were eye openning and hysterical in some cases. Loved the book and have a continued appreciation for profession to honor anybody who brings you food... read it again...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think that this is a really good book. At times it made me feel like i should be a waitress, cause there were some new experiences , but then there were other times were you could or would be in a bad situation. Other wise i couldn't put it down it was a good book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a good book, although I think I was expecting more from it than it gave me, although I would suggest that people in the food serving business read it, I might have liked it more if I were a waitress. I always thought that would be such an interesting job to have and the book did teach me a few things about it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you ever want to give a gift to a server friend of yours...this is one to give! Any server will relate 100% to Debra's experiences as a server. When I read the details she gave as she explained what it was like to try and wait on 5 tables at a time (all with different problems)...I could actually feel the anxiety build up in me. Her description of 'being in the weeds' was right on. I loved her nickname she gave one of her guests....'Mr. Goldchains'! That hit home with me! Debra...thanks for taking time to keep a diary of your serving years. I loved the book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, it made me laugh and it made me realize that it truely does take a special person to work in Restaurant, not just anyone can work with the hungry public! I manage a restauarant and I miss being a server, But atleast I can still be a part of it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Debra Ginsberg has hit the nail right on the head with this book! I work in a restaurant and my son was a dishwasher at the same establishment for a time. I have been waitressing at my current job for five years now and have seen many people come and go. Some last a year some a week, others only one day! Being a waitress is a thankless job alot of the time. The only thing that saves us is that family or customer that comes in and smiles at you on good days as well as days you forgot to give them silverware. If it weren't for the tips, most waitresses would quit because the hourly wage is a joke. For all those people who come in and it is their goal to give their waitress a hard time I say... how would you like to cook and serve your own meal today? Don't get me wrong I do enjoy being a waitress but customers need to understand we are people just like them and not their slave for an hour. I reccomend this book extremely highly for any one who works in a restaurant as well as people who enjoy eating in them. Thank you Debra for endless hours of laughter. You have been there and done that. You have made me feel like someone understands what goes on afterall. My son is now studing to be a gourmet chef and I am continueing to work as a waitress to put him through school only now it will be easier remembering the words you have written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've never been a waitress, however, I do frequent in many restaurants and I have always admired the profession of a waitress. Just watching them handle the HEAVY trays of hot food and always being so pleasant with customers is an art in itself. Debra Ginsberg revealed so much more about the "behind the scenes" which is the most underrated profession and the working conditions in restaurants with humor, empathy, and an understanding of what a waitress must endure when encountering with all sorts of customers, mainly the cheap people who refuses to leave a tip - if you can't leave a tip, don't eat in restaurants!! Remember, all workers, no matter what their profession is, have to make a living and everyone has bills to pay. Everyone who frequents into a restaurant SHOULD READ this book because they will have a better understanding why NO WAITRESS should get a lousy tip. Debra shared the most insightful and SURPRISING revelation on which holidays was the most or least rewarding to be on call. A wonderful read and I appreciate this profession so much more and it deserves minimum of 20% tip!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This author has clearly put heart and soul into writing of her personal experiences in this book. As a former on and off waitress, as well as mother of three, this subject matter piqued my interest, but the book did not carry my interest through to the end. At times written in an end of the year Christmas letter style, at times like a note passed to a girlfriend or an entry in a journal. The text could have developed more substance with some additional editing and polishing. I am pleased to see these experiences related, but would have liked a better read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being a former waitress myself, I truly enjoyed this look into the life a woman finding solitude in waitress while strenghtening her passion in being a writer. I enjoyed the stories of her various adventures working in all different kinds resturants. Her struggles adjusting to different surroundings and finally accepting responsiblity when she accepts raising a child alone. The book gives vital information tipping, resturant labor laws and movie triva regarding waitresses.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a waitress and I absolutely identified with her stories of wild and crazy guests in her restaurants as well as the attitudes of fellow restaurant workers. I found myself shaking my head in agreement with some of her colorful characters. These are people you feel you have not only met but have had dinner with or even waited on in your own restaurant. This is a book which should be read and enjoyed by restaurant workers in order to feel a certain kinship and anyone who eats in a restaurant to give them an insight into what your waitress is going through to do her job.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a really enjoyable book to read. Debra Ginsberg presents a truly accurate depiction of the public consumer. This book reads quite fast, and her witty writing style pulls you right into the story. The book chronologically takes you through her tumultuous career as a waitress. She is very candid and open with her stories, and you get to watch her mature as a person through her stories. She adds in humor nicely, allowing the book to flow quite smoothly. Overall, this book has a lot to offer everyone. It is a somewhat eye-opening experience that doesn't disappoint. You will enjoy this book.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm almost finished with the book. Very good! One of those books that's hard to put down. I just wish she had gone into more detail about herself and her own personality and her relationships with her co-workers. When she talked about the sex-filled soap opera at Baciare and how horny the employees were for one another, she was never part of the lustful drama. Or at least she didn't write about her part in it, if she had one. It was like she was looking in from the outside or sitting at a table observing the interactions like an observant stranger taking notes. I thought it was odd. I'm thinking she's a square peg trying to fit into round holes when it comes to socially and romantically fitting in with her co-workers. She just describes her personal life in such a depressing way that it makes me wonder if she's a 'depressing person' or something. I spent 5 years in the restaurant business, 4 of those in fast food (16 yrs old - 20 yrs) and one as a hostess (during college) for a popular restaurant. Long enough to relate to the sex, drama, stress and exhaustion she discusses. I also know food service people are party animals, there are drugs everywhere, and everyone's sleeping with everyone, at any given time and there is lots of cheating going on. It's a sleazy industry. And it's anything but dreary. Almost all restaurant workers have a thriving social life outside of work (with each other if nobody else). There's always a party somewhere... so she sounds boring and depressing to me. Not her writing, however. Of course, maybe the high drama and high energy level and customer interactions that being a waitress entails ARE her social life. I know people like this. They love it. From what I can gather, she doesn't smile too much, she's short, obviously a talented waitress who can handle the worst case scenarios, and is not a flirtatious or fun-loving person. I have an image in my head of a very non-sexual/non-sensual person, possibly not even that attractive...'to hear her tell it' anyway. Of course she doesn't want drunks grabbing her fanny while slinging cocktails, but she strikes me as the last woman who be good at or even want to be a cocktail waitress (when she was). Cocktail waitresses are normally really good looking (she never described herself really and left the impression she is sort of plain-Jane), have great figures, flirtatious, and usually 'flashy' and they love attention from men. She doesn't (or so it seems). So serious. Her descriptions of her personal life when she wasn't at work (waiting tables) were downright depressing. The worst was when she lived in drizzly, dismal Portland in a basement. I was relieved when she moved to So. California. I couldn't take anymore! The image I've formed in my mind while reading this is that she sounded more like a dark, moody artist than someone who would successfully wait tables at a trendy, high priced So. California Italian restaurant on the beach. I especially enjoy reading this author's book because she is almost exactly my age. So, I can identify when she talks about the early 80s, mid 80s, etc. I really like the book and she's a gifted writer. I'd love to read the one she wrote about her son, Blaze. The exerpts were impressive. Maybe that book will give me a longer peek into her personality and what 'makes her tick'. I'm intrigued to know more about this woman. After all, she's a successful waitress (a job I know I'd hate and would be awful at anyway) and one can't have too downtrodden or depressing of a personality for that. I would hate the hours too. Nights and weekends?? No thanks. Bottom line: She's a gifted writer and I thoroughly enjoy 'Waiting' and plan on reading her other books as well as anything she writes in the future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was disappointed in the author's memoir, found it very boring. Although this book will come to mind when I order decaf in restaurants.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was drawn to this book by the title. Expecting to read juicy confessions, I was disappointed to read fairly mundane insights. I don't recommend it.