A Brief, and Subjective, History of Waitressing

Alison Owings

in Hey, Waitress!

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2002 | ISBN: 9780520217508
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520931220 | DOI:
A Brief, and Subjective, History of Waitressing

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This chapter serves as a brief account of the history of waitressing in the United States. It shows that the first waitresses during the 1620s worked in taverns, and that serving spirits to the patrons was their original purpose. On December 13, 1827, the first restaurant opened in New York and introduced the concept of “eating out.” It was during the middle of the nineteenth century when waitressing began. The discussion shifts to the experiences of Frances Donovan, an outsider who posed as a waitress for some time. Frances's various experiences as a waitress—such as the discussions going on in the basements of restaurants, the types of male customers, and the lack of teamwork among waitresses—are related. The discussion also highlights some of the problems of waitressing, such as the long hours and bad treatment from the public, and the solutions that were proposed by the Juvenile Protective Association. The chapter includes a section on the importance of a workable system in restaurants and studies waitresses in fiction and in movies.

Keywords: history of waitressing; taverns; eating out; Frances Donovan; problems of waitressing; Juvenile Protective Association; male customers; teamwork

Chapter.  8371 words. 

Subjects: Occupations, Professions, and Work

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