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January 04, 2004

  • The Waitress Mystique
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    Last week was the 50th Wedding Anniversary of my Great Uncle and Great Aunt. They live in Muskoka, so my family unit went up to Bracebridge to celebrate the occasion. We took them (well, my parents took them; I was along for the ride) to a restaurant that specialized in Greek and German cuisine (the convergence is due to the ethnicities of the married couple that own the place).

    Like so many of the best restaurants, it wasn’t much to look at outside, and inside it was decorated in what I can only describe as chintz without postmodern irony (ie. Like the rec room at your parents’ place). But, oh my, the food was extraordinary. I live just south of Toronto’s Greek restaurant district and I have to say that the souvlaki and baklava I had in Bracebridge would put most of the fare on the Danforth to Hellenic shame. And they made a Caesar salad right at the table and it was undoubtedly the best I’ve ever had.

    It’s something of a miracle that I even noticed this. I was rather busy engaging myself in that most manly of pursuits—flirting with the waitress.

    With good reason, I hasten to add. Our waitress that night was an incredible woman. She was disarmingly open about her life (over the course of four hours I learned she was 38, she lived with her daughter, her parents live in Bracebridge, she spent the night before at Casino Niagara…) she had a fantastic sense of humour, she had great suggestions to do with the food and the wine, and she was a sparkling conversationalist. And she had really nice eyes. She pretty much pushed all my buttons.

    By the time the evening was over, I was wishing I was on the Danforth so I could make a fool out of myself and ask her out. But perhaps the restriction of being hundreds of miles from home is just as well. I suspect I would have been turned down. This isn’t lack of confidence on my part, just a statement of fact: at the end of the evening I was in a restaurant, and flirting with the waitress is what happens there.

    My childhood best friend had a theory that went like this: all waitresses are attractive because they bring you food. If memory serves me right, my friend devised that theory because, back when we used to spend Saturday afternoons eating an old fashioned English fry-up at a local caff near Kilburn tube, we were sure that the waitress was flirting with him and he was too shy to try anything on. I used to subscribe to that theory myself for a long time—which once caused me to almost become victim of castration by dessert spoon when I said that to a women’s studies student of my acquaintance. And yet, I don’t think my friend was trying to make any kind of statement on gender roles: I think his point was that there’s something primal about having someone bring you food, that when layered on top of ordinary attraction, creates a bond between eater and food-bringer.

    Nowadays, I’m not so sure. But the older I get the more I’m fascinated by the very real allure waitresses have.

    When I was a teenager, I used to tease my father relentlessly about how, when we would go to The Olive Garden, my Dad—possibly the most faithful, decent person I know—would puff out his chest a little and tell lots of really bad jokes to whatever pretty Sheridan College student happened to be waitressing that night. I’ve never known my father to so much as look at another woman, but at The Olive Garden, in a small way, I watched my Dad—in the geeky way that only Dads can do—flirt with someone else.

    When I was in University, I remember being out for dinner with a woman who most decidedly did not want to be my girlfriend who got incredibly jealous of my banter with a waitress (a student at McMaster in Philosophy, if I remember correctly) at a Kelsey’s in Hamilton. I didn’t even notice that I was actually flirting with this waitress, but the experience taught me that I was getting more out of chatting with her than the person I allegedly wanted to go out with.

    Flirting, it seems to me, is a necessary component of the dining experience. The person waiting tables—man or woman—who get good tips are people who can extrovert themselves in such a way that you are happy they are there, even though, by definition, their work often intrudes on your space. It is therefore inevitable that might involve some level of flirting—a casual, yet intimate, level of interaction. Interaction that doesn’t have to be hot-and-heavy but it is nonetheless there under the surface.

    You can see this idea, disturbingly, taken to its logical conclusion at Hooters. Last summer, a friend (whom shall remain nameless only because I owe him money) and I were sufficiently drunk enough to walk into one purely as a sociological experiment (okay, we were really drunk). And, as such, it was fascinating. As near as I could tell, Hooters approach is to say: “Waitresses who are casually flirtatious with male customers is a basic component of all restaurant experiences. Why not reduce it to its most basic essence, and give the customers T&A on top of that?” Thus you have waitresses who are casual enough to even sit down with you at your table for a moment, wearing tight t-shirts and orange hot pants and whistles that they insist are not rape alarms.

    To my credit, I have only ever asked out a waitress (never at a Hooters, either) once and a bit: The one time was at The Stock Pot, a popular greasy spoon on Old Compton Street in London. There was a young waitress who was American and beautiful and lovely to talk to. She was so charming that I eventually asked her if I could give her my phone number. The ‘and a bit’ was a waitress at a pub in North York who had me so captivated that, without my knowledge, a friend of mine—in fact it was the aforementioned women’s studies student, which goes to show you that feminists do not bear grudges—wrote her a note on a napkin saying that I was a great guy and gave her my phone number.

    Neither of them, of course, called me. But I wasn’t particularly surprised at that result, either.

    Restaurants are probably one of the last places where a heterosexual male can flirt with a woman casually with mostly no consequences (my family thinks it’s funny when my Dad does it) and no actual expectations. I don’t know whether flirting with waitresses is good or bad. It just is. Something for me to ponder when I take the bus to Bracebridge next weekend.


    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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