Cover image for Waiting : true confessions of a waitress
Waiting : true confessions of a waitress
Ginsberg, Debra, 1962-
Personal Author:
First Perennial edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Perennial, 2001.
Physical Description:
xvi, 298 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
Hardcover edition published in 2000 by HarperCollins.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TX910.5.G56 A3 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
TX910.5.G56 A3 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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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, 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.

Author Notes

Debra Ginsberg was born in England and grew up in New York, California, and Oregon. She waited tables for twenty years to support her other career as a freelance writer and editor. She lives in San Diego with her son

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Although most memoirs involve the lives of famous figures, Ginsberg's story adds to the small list of "ordinary memoirs" that reveal the lives of everyday people. But the restaurant industry is no ordinary business, and this book may inspire bored office workers to get out from behind their desks and step up to the tables. Ginsberg explores the unexplainable world of food service: the bizarre personalities, the fast-paced atmosphere, the sexual tensions, and the reasons why some stay in the business instead of getting "real" jobs. Customers aren't the only sources of humor in this tell-all memoir; hellish managers and owners as well as crazy coworkers get their fair share of coverage. The appealing style never wavers as the author critiques the restaurant world while telling her own tale. After 20 years, she is still waiting tables and juggling single parenthood and a writing career as well. Fellow servers will enjoy the matter-of-fact storytelling, and those unfamiliar with restaurant jobs are in for an eye-opening treat. --Michelle Kaske

Library Journal Review

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.√ĄPaula R. Dempsey, DePaul Univ, IL. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Waiting Chapter One The Luncheonette It's a very slow Friday night. I've had precious few tables and the evening promises to be a bit of a wash. I check my watch for the tenth time. Only eight-thirty. Although the night drags interminably, I know better than to ask my manager to let me go home. "You don't know," he'll say, "it could get busy. This is Friday night." I know it won't get busy. The rush is over. Tomorrow he'll be complaining about skyrocketing labor costs. I fold napkins and wait. The hostess finally saunters over to one of my tables with another deuce. I've had nothing but couples sharing soup and salad tonight. My check average is going through the floor. When I cash out, my manager will complain about this too. I approach the table and sense trouble immediately. Right off the bat, the drink order is problematic. "I'll have the cabernet," she says. "No, you don't want that," he says. "Yes," she repeats firmly, "I do." "You want the Chianti," he says, "it's very good here." "I don't want the Chianti. You can have the Chianti." "We'll have two cabernets," he says to me, smiling. He acts like he's trying to pacify her, and she looks pissed off already. Somehow, it's going to end up being my fault. By the time I return with the wine, they're all geared up for a fight. "I want the special linguini with extra mussels," she says. "Instead of the shrimp?" I ask. "No, I want the shrimp. But I also want extra mussels. Can you do that for me? I don't care, I'll pay extra. Whatever it costs." She's giving me a steely-eyed stare, just daring me to say no or even waver in my response. "No problem," I tell her pointedly. "Would you care for a salad or appetizer?" "I don't eat salad," she says. "Just the mussels. You're going to bring me the extra mussels, right?" "Extra mussels," I repeat, "no problem." To convince her, I pull out my order pad and make a note. "What a bitch," I write and smile at her. I turn my attention to her date. "And for you, sir?" "Let me tell you what I want," he says unctuously. This is a phrase that flags trouble as surely as a red cape in front of a bull. It means he's not even going to look at the menu and the dozens of entrees listed there. No, he's got something in his mind and he means for me to get it for him, whatever it is. Especially if it's not on the menu and we don't have it. Whether this is to impress his date, generally act like a big shot, or just to be a pest, I can't tell. He is, however, offering a challenge and setting up a dynamic between the three of us that will last for the duration of his meal. The game has begun and we're off and running. "I want a shrimp scampi. You got anything like that?" "You mean the large prawns?" "Yes." "Garlic and butter?" "Yes." "No," I tell him, "we don't have that. We only have the small shrimp. Sorry." I've picked up the gauntlet. Why should I make this easy? He's certainly not going to. "Tell the chef to make something for me, then. Something like a shrimp scampi." "Well, we really don't have any--" "Just tell him." He smiles again and this time the smile says, "If you don't do what I say, I'm going to call the manager over and make a really big scene." I take inventory of the situation. His date is pouting smugly. She's really enjoying this. He is a bit of a parody, wearing a gold pinkie ring, a heavy gold bracelet, and enough gold neck chains to choke a horse. When he speaks, he sounds like a bad imitation of Billy Crystal doing Fernando Lamas. He's got Witness Protection Program written all over him. She has a very pretty face, which is spoiled by an inch-thick layer of makeup. She's wearing very little jewelry and often clutches at her purse, which she's kept within reaching distance as if she might need to bolt at any second. Her body-hugging pantsuit is understated but looks expensive. The thought of getting into it with these two is suddenly exhausting. I just don't have the stomach for it tonight. And in the split second I stand there contemplating my next move, I change my mind about my entire plan. Why not give them what they want? It's not as if I don't have the time to go the extra mile for them. I decide I'll even go talk to the chef, despite possible risks to my own mental health. Their date is obviously not going that well. Perhaps, I think, I can help to make this a better evening for them. "Just a second," I tell them, "I'll be right back." I approach the chef, who is so bored on this slow night that he's removing the bones from a sea bass at tableside. Normally, he's not overly fond of appearing in front of customers. "I need you," I whisper to him. "Oh really?" he says, raising his eyebrows suggestively. "Yes, really." As soon as the sea bass has been sufficiently ripped to flaky shreds, the chef follows me to the table. My couple seems quite surprised to see him there. "I've brought the chef out personally to speak to you," I tell them. "Oh, this is wonderful," Mr. Gold Chains says. The chef is totally ingratiating, although I can tell he is barely containing his inherently sarcastic streak. "I just want some... Waiting . Copyright © by Debra Ginsberg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress by Debra Ginsberg All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
1. The luncheonettep. 1
2. Tipping (it's not a city in china)p. 23
3. The back of the housep. 45
4. Working the fantasyp. 69
5. The art of waitingp. 105
6. Molotov cocktail waitressp. 133
7. In the family wayp. 159
8. A diner in californiap. 189
9. Food and sexp. 211
10. "hello, i'll be your postfeminist icon this evening"p. 241
11. Still waitingp. 259
Epiloguep. 287