All the kids coming home from college and starting summer jobs have brought back memories of the summer I managed to get what was considered a plum job: I was hired to be a “salad girl” (a type of waitressing job) at a famous, Colonial-era, New England inn.
As one might expect, the job involved bringing salads to tables. There were, however, many other tasks such as assembling baskets of fancy breads and delivering them to tables in my assigned area. Even at lunch there were multiple courses, a la Downton Abbey. Each course required its own place setting including ridiculously-heavy pewter plates that were for decorative purposes only. The worst part, however, was carrying tray after tray of ice water.
At 18, I was the youngest and newest salad girl. Naturally, this meant I got the worst tables. There were three locations where food was served: the dining room, a pub (only slightly less formal), and a courtyard that was a ten minute walk from the kitchen.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I grew to loathe that courtyard. It was not only far, far away from the kitchen but involved navigating various interior passageways, a long narrow porch with oversized hanging plants, and a dozen or so creaky wooden stairs that led, finally, to the outdoor seating area.
Arriving at the courtyard, however, was when the real challenge began. It meant traversing deep, crunchy, bluestone gravel. Now, I like gravel. It’s very attractive but I can assure you it is exhausting to walk on, hour after hour, despite the required sensible shoes we had to wear. Meanwhile, there was the obstacle course comprised of wrought iron tables, each with its own gigantic umbrella for shade, along with shrubbery and statuary placed in such a way that one wondered if it was intended to make the wait staff trip.
Accidents involving dropped trays meant immediate dismissal. I am proud to say that somehow I managed to escape that fate although I admit there were many close calls.
Still, I was almost constantly in trouble. On my first day I ate a piece of leftover bread, not having been told that this was forbidden. My brother had worked as a waiter at a steak restaurant and was encouraged to eat leftovers, so I had the idea (wrongly) that this was customary. Had I not been so young and inexperienced, I would have asked first.
And then there was the uniform: Prim black dresses with white starched aprons that were supposed to be tied in a perfect bow in the back. My bow either sagged or it was so stiff I looked like Sally Field in the T.V. show, “The Flying Nun.” The woman who owned the inn would spot-check the place several times a day, and on many occasions she would literally grab me, drag me aside, and re-tie my bow.
My worst offense, however, was removing a cat from the dining room. He was an enormous orange tomcat I’d seen hanging out on the front porch of the inn. No one told me that this was the owner’s cat. In fact, it turned out that the cat was the inn’s mascot and enjoyed free reign of the premises. I will never forget being yelled at for putting him outside. How was I to know?
My summer at the inn taught me many things. Chief among them is that I have a lifelong appreciation and respect for those who work in the restaurant business.
And, as my friends will tell you, I am invariably a very, very good tipper.
What was your first real job? What did you learn from it?