Some of the perils of waitressing

John Key pulling hair has raised the issue of how waiting staff are treated and what they have to put up with.

Jess McAllen is a journalist who has worked for seven years in the ‘hospitality industry’, a job that often has to deal with inhospitable clientele. She recounts some of her experiences at Stuff in Waitressing has its perks, but

At the end of the day, or night, we’d exchange tales over our staff drinks. The finger snappers, ass slappers, arrogant yellers and creepy dwellers: stuff that comes with the territory of bustling around on sub-par pay to serve food and drink.

When our Prime Minister’s dealings with a ponytailed waitress came to light, the response was unanimous: that’s creepy.

Not unanimous, there are some defenders and excusers of Key’s behaviour.

McAllen gives examples of what she and other waiting staff have to deal with.

Only days into your waitressing job does a certain type of man surface. He wears a suit and has a pretty good job. His arm is of the snaking kind; his breath lingers of craft beer. I’m trying not to generalise too much but advertisers, bankers and businessmen were usually the worst.

The men-in-suits table would usually tip well but at the expense of your dignity. They were the ones who slid their hands onto your lower back, who made crude jokes, who left you their number on a receipt.

Perceptions of power plus money and booze can bring out the worst in rudeness with some people (I don’t think that applies to Key).

Waitresses tie their hair up, not only because it’s a health hazard to let it loose but because balancing trays and moving your head around means you can be pulled into a dark vortex when turning suddenly (as I learnt, aged 16, when my hair got stuck in a Burgerfuel milkshake machine).

But tying hair up (a ponytail is tied up hair) doesn’t prevent unwanted attention.

Pity the waitress with long frizzy hair, she’s dubbed Pippy Long Stockings for the night when she tries to plait it and the temptation for customers to tug is double.

So tied hair can be an occupational hazard

To make up for my passive approach, when a rude customer started yelling and I had a couple of tables in my section I’d take a few steps back. The customer would have to really project their obscenities. I’d change my body language to submissive, the rest of the section listening to my profusely apologising while some guy was cussing about his hollandaise dressing.

It’s fine (and important) to complain about food or service when justified but in a supposedly civil society it can be done civilly.

There’s no profession quite as disempowering as serving people food and drink. Wait staff often have 5 to 10 tables in their area that they are looking after and have timed food and drink orders precisely. When you’re carrying four plates, remembering two drink orders from separate tables because you can’t write it down on your note pad and someone starts clicking their fingers at you like you’re a dog, things get flustered.

A friend would collect numbers given to her on receipts, and hand them out to men asking for her number.

That could be interesting, but it could be occupationally hazardous. Pissing off arseholes could have repercussions if they are regular customers.

My creepiest customer was Charlie. He never pulled my hair but he would follow me around, knowing  and knew it caused me great discomfort – which seemed to double the fun. He came in every afternoon for a round of beers with a bunch of middle-aged men. He’d come up and talk to me while I was punching orders in the till. He’d go past all other staff to be served by me.

One time he asked: “do I scare you?” as the manager told him to leave me alone.

From then on he would repeatedly ask me that question, despite his friends telling him to leave it. When I saw him outside of work at a train station I felt petrified as he followed me onto Queen Street.

That’s very creepy. I hope one of Charlie’s friends reads this article and shows it to him. Perhaps there will be a few members of families with Charlies in them who read it and ask questions.

You get a social fix. When you’re in the zone, balancing trays, drinks and banter you feel like a comedian doing a great set – connecting on a high level with the audience like some jedi waiter. You can get lost in the job. Other days it’s miserable – hell on earth.

Anyone can have a bad day. It’s not nice when it’s others who deliberately make it a bad day.

“If you remember all four of our names by the end of dinner we’ll tip $50,” said one group of men over their $100 starter..

“Take a photo with us and we’ll give you $30,” declared a man downing whiskey during an All Blacks game at a Eden Park bar.

“I’ll give you ten dollars for everything you do right but take ten dollars of for everything you do wrong,” said another.

I wonder if men like that treat prostitutes the same. It wouldn’t be surprising if they were that sort of clientèle.

Drunk men grab your ass, touch your back, hug you. The tugging of a ponytail was usually brief and never long enough for fear but sparked annoyance and a sense of not owning myself.

My friend who waitressed for a catering company said her worst experience was when a guy at an awards evening tried to pull her top down as she leaned forward to pick up his plate.

Some of the worst arseholes are drunk leering touching grabbing arseholes.

Other friends have caught men trying to take pictures of them on their cellphones, have had men firmly plant their hand on their lower back while taking orders, been asked if they have piercings “down there”.

In their day jobs most of them probably manage to maintain professional relationships. In their social lives they reveal their personalities, albeit lubricate with booze.

As for being called babe, baby, honey and the ever common “girl”, it’s part of parcel of the job.

Offensive, demeaning.

If you’re the customer that repeatedly tugs a waitresses hair, smacks your hand on the bar, yells out ‘hey, hey, oi, you’ the bartender or waitress will certainly look – but only to know who to serve last. When you run the country, that’s a different story.

Yes, a different story. See Key “didn’t deliberately intend” to abuse power.

Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  26th April 2015

    I suspect the perils of being a politician are rather more severe and frequent.

  2. David

     /  26th April 2015

    Sorry I totally fail to see the connection to Key who was out for a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning with his wife and goofing around.
    Having been in the public eye for a decade and had the Labour Party dirty tricks department running around the world looking for dodgy shit there has never been any reports of Key behaving like a sleazy bully, in fact the complete opposite.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  26th April 2015

      Yes, obviously little happened in a cafe full of customers most of whom would have been ogling the PM.

  3. Concerned Kiwi

     /  26th April 2015

    It is another crock, not unlike Billingsley and Logie, and what has happened to that?

    • RonJeremy

       /  26th April 2015

      Would it be a crock if I were to wander up to Bronagh and gently giver hair a tug? I wonder if the security detail would react to me? Your thoughts?

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  26th April 2015

        Context is everything and we have none. Eg, if you were a cute two-year-old? If she had been teasing you about your toupee? If it was drooping into your soup? We don’t know what interaction or banter was involved. We have one side of the story filtered through an implacable political enemy in Bradbury.

        So colour me sceptical.

        • No. We also have an acceptance of the waitresses story by kep and an acknowledgement by him that he was silly, he was wrong to do it, and he totally misread the situation. And he’s expressed apologies a number of times.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  26th April 2015

            None of that adds any significant context to let us judge the incidents.

    • Mike C

       /  26th April 2015

      @Ian. Is Jan Logie still the Green Talibans spokesperson for Employment as well as Womens issues ???

      If so, then she has been unusually quiet. Wonder if it is because of the upcoming Billingsley case 🙂

  4. kittycatkin

     /  26th April 2015

    I can’t see any connection between the behaviour described above and what happened with John Key-and have yet to encounter anyone who has any sympathy for the attention -seeking Amanda wossname.

    I also wonder just what sort of restaurant the waitress above works in and why she doesn’t find another one. It does sound as if she’s willing to take the money that these men offer-which means that she’s condoning their behaviour. I have never seen anything like this in any restaurant that I have ever been in.

    And it’s Pippi Longstocking, not Pippi Long Stockings,


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