Hey Waitress!

Hey Waitress!: The USA from the Other Side of the Tray, a social history of the profession of food serving in the United States, considers anthropologically and sociologically such matters as labor relations and gender questions as they impinge on restaurant workers. Author Alison Owings considers only female food servers.

Her representative sample of thirty-five women whom she interviewed extensively and whose stories she tells includes Verna Welsh, one of the few surviving Harvey Girls, Marguerite Schertle, still working at age ninety-five, and ninety-year-old Beulah Compton, ex-president of Local 240 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union.

The women she presents have worked in restaurants ranging from greasy spoons to such elite establishments as La Cote Basque, an all-male bastion until Cathry Anita Smith called it to account for sex discrimination and was hired. What emerges from this study is a group portrait of hard-working women who view food serving as a profession worthy of respect. Every woman interviewed for this book wants only to be accorded the dignity working humans everywhere have a right to expect.

Owings pinpoints serious inequities: an eight-hour working day may require working 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. In such a situation, one works eight hours but is absent from home between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., a thirteen-hour stretch. Because waitresses receive tips, many are paid half the minimum wage, even for the hours they spend preparing the restaurant for its customers, hours in which they have no hope of receiving tips.

Hey Waitress! brings empathy, insight, and humor to a commonly overlooked and underappreciated profession.