The secret life of a teenage hostess

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The secret life of a teenage hostess

Abby Hendrickson, Staff Writer

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By Abby Hendrickson

I take a deep breath and watch as 40 people pile up around my little hostess stand, a flimsy wooden construct barely stretching three feet across, and appearing minuscule against the chaos of the crowd. There was a reservation of 15, then two random parties of 10 that didn’t have the decency to make a reservation but still expect the exact seats they require, then a party of two and a party of three.

It is difficult to describe the level of anxiety I feel having to put on my most dazzling smile while trying to figure out how on God’s green Earth I am going to be able to sit (and satisfy) all of these hungry customers. My head is usually the first victim of all of the acute stress…there is a certain throbbing around my temples that I have associated with that restaurant. Then, my voice and hands start to shake as I dive into my well-rehearsed script. If my friend is working, then I look around wildly for his help soothing this mob of people. 

The routine as a hostess (and busser) usually starts with the manager telling me how the restaurant will be divided that night among the wait staff, which usually outrages a few waiters as someone inevitably will have an area where no customer sits. Then, it is quite calm. I wipe down every menu, clean tables, and do basically anything to pass the time throughout the day. A few scattered parties filter through during the day, but since it is a weekday, there are never many. However if it is a show night (a local band comes to play live on our patio), once 6 o’clock comes around, all hell breaks loose. The sea of people is expected, but never any less daunting for me as I am a naturally nervous person. 

There are so many different elements to this evening rush. I have to keep rotations balanced and ensure that all the waiters and waitresses are receiving equal amounts of heads. But as my manager always stresses, the customer is the priority. So, if three parties in a row insist on sitting in the same area of the outdoor patio, I must oblige. This means that one waitress is livid with me for triple-seating her (she will probably pass off some tables to her friends, which then makes my rotation chart inaccurate as they NEVER tell me they change my assignments). I also have every other waiter and waitress furious at me for not assigning me them tables…but like …I cannot control that Karen over here had five kids that wanted to sit near the playground. 

The waiters and waitresses are a mine-field. There are some who are so kind, helping my confused soul navigate this new area of work for me. My favorite waitress taught me how to make milkshakes with the professional mixer at the ice cream bar. Most of the wait staff often has me leaving work sobbing. One girl comes up screaming at me for not assigning tables, but then also immediately complains I gave her a party deemed “too large” by her standards. It got so bad that when I would tentatively walk up with her assignment, she would dramatically roll her eyes and give me a look that made me want to melt into the floor, then turn to whomever was beside her and loudly exclaim, “I want to kill her!” For those of you who are confused, this woman was a legal adult…talking about a teenage girl trying her best to make a few extra bucks. 

Side note, I was making $5 an hour with a three-percent portion of the waiters’ and waitresses’ tips. Pretty standard. Except my work split up that three percent among the six hosts working, usually having me making less than minimum wage. All right, now that we got that cleared up, let’s get back to crazy lady No. 1. 

One night I finally had it with this girl and called over my manager and went over every detail of her inappropriate behavior, claiming it was stressful and really upsetting me. The next shift I had, that waitress no longer worked there. I claim no responsibility for exiling the she-devil, because everyone told me it was because of her attitude toward the managers. I guess I will never really know. 

Yet another occasion that had me coming home crying hysterically to my concerned parents was after a meeting one night with all of the chefs, waiters, and hosts. We had showed up expecting a typical meeting and civil discussion, but were thrust bleach-stained rags and told to scrub the grease off the kitchen floor. No context given whatsoever about the alleged meeting. Upon our arrival, we were ordered to scrub. And I did. After half an hour of sweeping away food that fell behind shelves and was partially rotted, and scrubbing grease off of everything, we had our meeting. The highlights: waitresses screaming to the general manager about sections and the new hosts (me being one of them). Then, after this hour meeting (that was on a school night I might add), they tossed me a rag and told me to clean some more. I am pretty obedient, but I had just about had it. 

Not only was I exhausted (both emotionally and physically), but angry. The waitress who ordered me to continue cleaning had barked a demanding, “Hey you.” I mustered as much respect as I could while coldly saying, “I have a name. I’m Abby, I have been here for a bit.”

This woman really rolled her eyes and said, “I do not care who you are. You are going to clean this for me.” The waitresses and dishwashers were also expected to help scrub the kitchen. I was so taken aback, I scrubbed for her for about 30 seconds before remembering who the heck I was. I marched up to the manager and asked to go home. God was on my side that day because she agreed to let me off. I went home crying hysterically, convinced I must quit my job. But like any toxic relationship, I let them use me for another three months. 

One of the scariest parts of my job was when the managers did not have a lot of people on the line, and would swoop me up from the stand to fulfill orders, make plates, and deliver them to the right tables. My super close friend who I worked with was really good at this, always nonchalant with the daunting pile of tabs that seemed to be ever-growing. The first night I was forced to work on the line, Daniel was there THANK GOD. I’m 99 percent sure that the managers were not even aware that it was my first time doing it, because they were shouting orders in what seemed like another language. Where are the saucers for soup? Huh, what is chimichurri sauce and what does it go with? Daniel would do his best to mutter explanations under his breath because my terror was pretty evident. At one point, the manager tried to pile three plates on one of my arms, and that is where I drew the line. There was no way I was about to drop three different meals in the middle of the restaurant and mortify myself further. So, I continued to carry one-to-two plates at a time like a chump. When the random plates of food would appear in the window, I would look around desperately for Daniel to tell me what the heck it was called, what sides to go with it, what sauces…basically everything. One super popular plate was the Southwest Nachos, the plate which was extremely hot to the point where my poor hands were scalded as I had to force myself to hold it tightly while delivering them to the customer. Afterwards, he showed me how to hold it where it did not burn as much. Basically, Daniel was a saving grace that night because I was genuinely so stressed. 

There were a lot of things I loved about my job though. I loved how I was always busy and got to deal with so many people every day. It instilled in me a certain level of patience I never had before. But overall, it was a pretty negative experience that definitely was not worth the couple of hundred of dollars I made the entire summer. I won’t list it as a regret because I learned more about myself through the process and grew closer to someone I love a lot. But you can be sure you will never find me working a shift at that place again.