I’ve never met an entry-level job I disliked so much that I had to quit. I’ve been a dishwasher, a hair salon receptionist, a secretary, a sales associate at Express, a bar back, and the girl at the catering job who served the hot dogs. Some of these jobs were bad. Some were hard, and some were boring. Some had stupid uniforms. But none of the bad days at these jobs were so unbearable that I decided I would rather have quit than earn some cash.
This was true until December 1, 2011. I disliked being a cocktail waitress so much that I didn’t care what leaving immediately said about my character, nor did I care that I would be eating yogurt three meals a day for the next month. Recently, I handed in my uniform and went home to make my own cocktail.
It was a double.
This is why I quit – and why you should never, ever start – being a cocktail waitress (unless you foresee a future in serial killing for yourself):
1. Your uniform is something awkward, uncomfortable, revealing, or all three.
Maybe it’s a black mini skirt so short you can barely walk in it, never mind bend down to pick up the glass that guy left on the stage because he thought it was the bar.
Maybe you have to wear a large nametag, with a font so bold even the locals who have the class to come in at 5 p.m. can address you by name while they snap their fingers.
Lucky them (lucky you).
Or maybe, as it was in my case, your uniform is a black vest, a plaid shirt, a sheriff badge, and cowboy boots –- so every man you serve can ask you, in that wink-wink-I-think-I’m-hilarious way, “So, who’s the new sheriff in town?” or, “You’re not going to arrest me for ordering another shot of Patron, are ya sheriff?”
No sir, but I would love to have you arrested for violating the unwritten law of annoying your overworked cocktail waitress by making the one joke that five other men have already made and 100 more are doomed to utter.
2. You have to stay up until at least 3 a.m. And your shift starts when your friends are about to go out for dinner and drinks.
It’s 4 p.m. Not only do you have to don said skirt/tag/vest, but you also have to leave your roommates in the kitchen to cook bleu cheese burgers and drink Guinness, while you catch the bus to watch more people drink Guinness. It goes without saying that you cannot drink beer –- or anything stronger and thus more palliative –- while on shift.
After eleven (yes, eleven) hours of shouting, “Excuse me!” to people who can’t hear anything except “Let’s have another!” and rushing to pointedly serve first the few people who are both coherent and polite, the lights finally come on. Freedom (after you count your $55 for 11 hours’ work and tip your bartender 20%)!
You have to call a cab because you don’t have a car and the buses don’t run that late. You wait in -10 degree weather and by the time you get home, you are so cold and so overtired that your only recourse is to plop yourself in a lukewarm bathtub for an hour –- with your wine glass –- and wait for sleep to come upon you.
The next morning at 9:30, you wake up a Gargoyle who refuses to speak to anyone until noon. After noon, you realize you must go back to work in three hours and you feel it’s best to remain silent instead of whining.
It’s time for the third cup of coffee.
3. Harassing the cocktail waitresses is not only seen as appropriate for all the rest of the staff but also as highly amusing.
Yes, I am a B-cup who buttons her blouse up almost all the way. No, you may not throw pieces of paper into my cleavage. And yes, I am going to get angry when you try. And no, jokes about my lack of cleavage are not funny.
By 11 p.m., so many butts are slapped and so many inappropriate jokes about breasts are uttered that you will have to ask yourself:
Did I just time travel into the Mad Men office as a secretary, or is this bar actually a strip club in Las Vegas after 10?
3a. The staff assumes that the cocktail waitresses are dumber than them.
Bartender: “Bridget, if I gave you 5% of my tips tonight, would you give Andy a kiss?”
Me (playing along is better than letting loose all of my evening’s rage): “How much are you making tonight?”
Bartender: “Maybe $500?”
Me: “$25 bucks? No way.”
Bartender (utterly flabbergasted): “Guess I can’t play this game with you! You can actually do math!
4. Drinking seriously skews customers’ perceptions of their relationships with you. And not for the better.
At 12:30, you’ve seen 100 people you don’t know and are hoping for one you do. Finally, John comes in. You wave enthusiastically, but John looks right through you like he’s never seen you before in his life (in fact, you ate Thanksgiving at the same table with him). Actually, he’s looking right through everything, including the large pillar he just walked into.
It is a sad state of affairs when, an hour after this alcohol-induced slight, you are wishing everyone in the bar shared John syndrome. Unfortunately, your other customers are suffering from the opposite problem: mistaking you for their best friend in the world.
“Bridget, beautiful! Let’s do some more shots over here!” By “let’s”, he means the people at his table, of course, not including you.
“Hey darling,” with a pat on the hip and then an inappropriate amount of lingering after the pat, “Another Jack and Coke, if you would!”
(You’ll want to tell him you wouldn’t. You’ll get the damn drink anyway, and try to smile).
One guy invites you out for pizza three times. You say no three times and receive a hug and a kiss on the neck. Another woman runs out the door without signing her credit card slip; it must’ve been the eight consecutive glasses of pinot grigio she’s consumed in the past hour and a half. When you gently tap her on the shoulder and request a quick signature, she embraces you and sloppily kisses you way too close to the lips.
“I love you!” she shouts.
Um, lady, what’s your name again? Oh, right, it’s here on your unsigned credit card slip for $55.25.
5. Despite numbers 1-4, you must smile and act like you are having the time of your life. For the sake of the business and your sanity. And your wallet.
What do you think would’ve happened if, after the following exchange, I had sneered instead of flashing my biggest and most realistic fake grin?
Me: “Would you like to settle now or start a tab?”
Man (presenting me with his card): “Well, baby, I’m the sugar daddy.”
No 20% tip, without my gratuitous giggle. Maybe even a complaint about the grumpy, humorless cocktail waitress.
God in heaven, how could that possibly be?
The occupation of cocktail waitressing obviously adheres to the sage advice, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” “It” being, specifically, money. Fake it, you will.
Lesson learned: I’d rather be an imbiber than serve 200 of them at a time. I’d rather tell jokes than be the butt of them (or have my butt slapped by a complete stranger. Ew). I’d rather dance than cringe when people are too drunk to walk, never mind to shake their hips.
This is a plea. Please be nice to your cocktail waitresses. Don’t kiss them, call them pet names, assume they can’t do simple math, make fun of their outfits, or touch any of their God-given parts without their permission. Especially (I’ll say it again): don’t kiss them.
Oh, and for goodness’ sake, tip them. Now that I’ve got a new job and can afford to drink gin and tonics instead of serve them, I know I will.