Posts tagged #Waitresses

The Diner Preference: Leave Formalities at the Door

Annie - Venus Diner. Gibsonia, PA

Annie - Venus Diner. Gibsonia, PA

Career waitresses have been dishing out everything eggs to insults for up to 60 years and they do a lot more than serve food. They are part psychiatrist, part grandmother, part friend, and they serve every walk of American life: from the retired and the widowed, to the wounded and the lonely and from the working class to the wealthy.

In a culture where chain stores mandate employees to speak to every customer who walks through the door, it’s refreshing to come to a place where people know each other and the staff can just be themselves. Diner waitresses are often rewarded for sharing their personality and their mood with the locals; whether they are pleasant, indifferent or cranky. Irregardless, there is an authenticity and honesty in diners that is missing in our everyday lives. Even though there are regulars who socialize at the counter at chain restaurants, corporate rules are still in effect. To avoid lawsuits, the staff monitors what they say to each other and to their customers, making it a more structured, formalized and regulated environment. Mae say she prefers working in a diner where formalities are left at the door. In her Kentucky drawl, Mae says, “I could never work in a fancy restaurant. I’m too liable to holler at people and ask them if they want their usual when they come through the door. You can’t do that in a fancy place.”

Mae. Edith's Cafe. Central City, KY

Mae. Edith's Cafe. Central City, KY

In diners, waitresses are also free to tell their customers exactly what they think about the latest political scandal or local gossip — as opposed to servers who work in upscale places where the staff is told to never discuss religion, race or politics. Diner patrons tend to be friendlier than customers in upscale restaurants, where they expect a different type of service. When people are spending more money, they often expect a servant. Sammi, a waitress at the Seville Diner in New Jersey says, “I prefer working in diners. I’ve done the fine-dining where people think that because the checks are high, you’re supposed to kiss their butt. People who spend $200 for dinner think that you owe them something. I don’t care if the bill is $2 or $200, I treat everybody the same.” 

Sammi. Seville Diner. East Brunswick, NJ

Sammi. Seville Diner. East Brunswick, NJ

So the next time you see a veteran waitress wiping down a table in a diner, take a second look and appreciate her lifetime of service. Say thank you and leave at least a 20% tip. National Waiter and Waitress day is next week on May 21st.

8 Interesting Facts About Diner Waitresses



1. Women didn’t patronize or even work in diners until after the 1920s. Diners were parked across from factories and filled with laborers. They had a saloon-type atmosphere and women generally didn't feel comfortable in them. It wasn’t until WWII that women were encouraged to work and eat in diners.

2. In 1941 in The Diner magazine, writer Sam Yellin listed the reasons why women should work in diners, he said:

      A. Women will work for less pay

      B. Women will work harder than men

      C. Women are always happy

      D. Women can talk and work at the same time

      E. Women are cleaner and more efficient than men

      F. Women are more honest than men

      G. Women don’t steal

      H. Women won’t stay out late drinking and call in sick the next day

Buttercream diner waitresses (est. 1950s). Napa, CA

Buttercream diner waitresses (est. 1950s). Napa, CA

3. The stigma that diner waitresses have loose morals may have come from the 1920s when prostitutes lied and told police that they were waitresses (to explain the cash they were holding). 

4. The average career waitress makes $20 to $30 an hour with tips.  

5. Regular customers are their lifeline. Some regulars come in three times a day. Many career waitresses in Counter Culture have waited on four generations of the same family and if a waitress quits and moves to another restaurant, her regular customers will follow her throughout her entire career. 

6. Seniority pays off. Despite the common assumption that waitressing offers no benefits, some diners offer their longstanding waitresses a higher hourly wage, health insurance, retirement benefits, Christmas bonuses and paid vacations. 

7. Waitressing is easier for lifers. Being experienced and having regular customers cuts their serving time and labor in half.

8. The physical nature of the work actually helps older waitresses age better. Ina Kapitan, age 83 says, “Waitressing helps my arthritis. If I stayed home and did nothing I would be crippled. My doctor says whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” 

For more about diner waitresses see Counter Culture


Ina Kapitan. Miss Florence Diner. Florence, MA

Ina Kapitan. Miss Florence Diner. Florence, MA