I’m told this is a American south cultural thing, but I personally don’t pretend to be well travelled enough to know. In another setting it would be cause for a sexual harassment lawsuit, and in consideration of that, I can only be thankful that the south seems to be lagging behind the times. What I am referring to is of course the phenomena of the Affectionate Waitress.
When a waitress of any age, attractiveness or disposition walks up to the table and calls me “sweetie,” the little part inside of me that controls the tip at the conclusion of the meal starts to melt. I feel like I’m at home with my mom, like this person who never met me before genuinely cares whether or not I’m having a nice day. Lena just rolls her eyes, knowing that the meal is going to cost us an extra dollar at the end.
The next stage of this is the Hand on the Shoulder move. This is for the more experienced Affectionate Waitress, as, used by a neophyte, can get you into trouble. Not only does the Waitress need to be extra cognizant of the wife, (goods ones can play this card with either sex) but apparently some crazy people out there don’t like being touched by human hands at all, and complain about it. For me, I become a six-year-old inside and the waitress is my favorite aunt, or babysitter, or some other ridiculous notion. However fleeting and tenuous, there’s now a relationship. For Lena, it’s an extra two dollars.
The final steps here you won’t find in restaurants. These are bar-waitress tricks and belong nowhere else. At first I thought to say that these were bits performed primarily by younger waitresses who had not yet learned better. Retrospect shows me this is not at all the case. These are really no longer the maternal, homey feelings of your favorite waitress at the country food place up the street, this is straight up flirting for tips. I had a friend once who used to wear what she called a “tip shirt” to work at a bar in Gainesville. It was a T-shirt with the bar’s logo and art on it, with the neck (and a considerable portion of the top) cut out. She never wore a bra, and she said the further over the table she tipped, the bigger her tip was at the end of the evening.
Sitting down at the table to take the order. If it’s done perfunctorily, with no eye contact, nothing. Conversationally, like we’re all old friends, extra three dollars.
Hand on arm and telling a joke/anecdote everyone at the table enjoys, extra four dollars. Bringing Lena the recipe for whatever it is she wants me to go home and cook for her, five dollars. Sneaking me a bag so I can swipe that awesome Bennigan’s glass the manager wants to charge me fifteen bucks for, six dollars. Any waitress who happens to be there when Lena and I get free dinners, ten dollars. If your name is Kate and you work at R.P. McMurphy’s and you speak with that beautiful English accent… just take my wallet now. I don’t need it anymore.
I know some of this sounds simply terrible for me to say. Juvenile, possibly misogynistic. The truth is I try to treat every person I come into contact with as an equal. Wait-staff work extremely hard doing what they do, and often have to deal with people at their worst, when they’re hungry and grumpy and tired from a full day at work. When someone goes out of their way to make me feel special, I am going to reward them for it. A ten dollar tip for a twenty dollar bill says more than, “Your presence is worth ten dollars to me.” it says “Fantastic job! You’ve made me feel good, and I appreciate you for it.” Think about that the next time you’re putting that money on the table.
(You reading this Kate? You’re still my favorite!)