Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress

Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress

by Debra Ginsberg
Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress

Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress

by Debra Ginsberg


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“[Ginsberg's] poignant, gently written stories of waitressing are metaphors for life.”  —Dallas Morning News

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 twenty-year 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.

Colorful, insightful, and often irreverent, Ginsberg's stories truly capture the spirit of the universal things she's learned about human nature, interpersonal relationships, the frightening things that go on in the kitchen, romantic hopes dashed and rebuilt, and all of the frustrating and funny moments in this life. Waiting is for everyone who has had to wait for their life to begin—only to realize, suddenly, that they're living it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060932817
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 07/31/2001
Series: Harper Perennial
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,165,347
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About 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.

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

Table of Contents

1.The luncheonette1
2.Tipping (it's not a city in china)23
3.The back of the house45
4.Working the fantasy69
5.The art of waiting105
6.Molotov cocktail waitress133
7.In the family way159
8.A diner in california189
9.Food and sex211
10."Hello, i'll be your postfeminist icon this evening"241
11.Still waiting259

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)

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