I look forward to Memorial Day weekend the way I look forward to getting a tooth pulled. It’s going to be exceptionally unpleasant and bloody, but after it’s over I can knock myself out with painkillers and booze.
This will be my third summer as a waitress in the Hamptons. I imagine the annual migration east to be like the Biblical exodus, but instead of donkeys pulling carts and shoeless people in rags carrying bundles of household items toward freedom, there is a line of Range Rovers and Porsches snaking from Manhattan to Montauk conveying women in Louboutins with big-eyed Chihuahuas shivering on their laps, men wearing button-down Ralph Lauren shirts, collars popped, yelling into their wireless mobile devices, and children with their gummy faces glued to the screen of an iPad.
They are driving toward this Promised Land filled with the milk of designer shopping, the honey of expensive dining, parties, beaches, and multimillion-dollar houses with pools glittering like jewels in the sunlight.
And then there’s us. We’re swamped every night, Thursday through Monday. Hour-long waits for a table. Three-hundred plus covers. Everyone in a rush to make the 7 p.m. showing of whatever superhero blockbuster is in theaters. The children scream, and the parents demand, “Little Johnny is hungry. Can you ask the kitchen to send his food out, like, now?”
Here’s how it starts: A woman waves me over. “Where is our dinner? I’m starving.”
“I apologize for the delay,” I say. “A well-done filet mignon usually takes at least 20 minutes, possibly more when we’re this busy. It shouldn’t be much longer.”
“It’s been over half an hour!” the woman protests. There’s a little spit in the corners of her mouth, and her bright pink lipstick has begun to run and smear. Her husband is staring at his phone, oblivious.
I debate with myself: Should I explain to her that from when I took her drink order, then went to the bar and waited for the drinks to be made, delivered the drinks to the table and then stood and waited some more because she insisted she was ready to order food but instead argued with her husband about whether or not they should share a salad and which salad it should be and how she should get her filet cooked — it has been 30 minutes, but it’s only been 20 minutes since I put in their order, and 20 minutes is a perfectly reasonable amount of time to wait for a main course at a busy restaurant on a Saturday night. I sigh. It isn’t worth it to argue.
“I’ll go and talk to the kitchen and make sure you get your food as soon as possible. I’ll be back with an update. Would you like some more bread while you wait?” The woman waves her hand at me dismissively. I notice her rings. Her husband continues to be lost in the glowing screen of his phone.
And that’s how it will go. Your world narrows to the 10 tables in your section. People need more bread, more water, more coffee, mustard, mayonnaise, relish, cocktail sauce, another soda, another napkin, another fork. It seems like the water pitcher is never there when you need it. It seems like the coffee’s always just run out. It seems like every guest is gluten-free, or cannot have dairy, or has a peanut or onion or shallot or garlic or pepper or citrus or legume allergy.
The hostess is seating you with four tables at once. Every single person at your seven-top would like hot tea. You drop a glass of water. You drop a knife. You almost trip going into the kitchen. A guest lifts a drink off your perfectly balanced tray and the entire thing nearly tips over.
Another guest is unhappy with his beer. He doesn’t like it. He wants something else.
Everyone wants something else, something more.
Your entire section is utterly helpless. Their hands wave in distress, but you are unable to fill the void inside them — that black hole that is never satisfied. So you shove food at them and hope they’ll settle down.
I care about my tables. I do everything I can to ensure they have a relaxing, pleasurable dinner, lunch, or whatever. But in the summer when the clientele skews a bit more “Mommie Dearest” than “Pollyanna,” I sometimes wish I could remind them that it’s just food.
This is the Hamptons — there is an abundance of everything except self-awareness — and I want to tell them all that they will get their $50 filet mignon, though it might take a few minutes longer than they think it should.
I work as a waitress because the guests are crazy and interesting, because I’m able to pay off the debt my liberal arts degree cost me. And at the end of the night I get my shift drink, count the money, and go home with a few good stories and, if all goes well, a stack of cash.
Rebecca deWinter (not her real name) works in a restaurant somewhere between the Shinnecock Canal and Montauk Point. This is her first column for The East Hampton Star.