Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Americana, Artist, Book Publishing, Coffee Shop, Diner, Documentary, Food, Labor, Nostalgia, Oral History, Photography, Pop Culture, Restaurant, The New Yorker, Waitress, women
The New Yorker published a slide show of the waitress project. I’ve attached the text portion below, follow the link to see the pictures.
July 14, 2009
Counter Culture: A Photo Essay
“Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress” is a book by Candacy A. Taylor about “lifers”—career diner waitresses. The author, who worked for close to a decade as a waitress herself, interviewed fifty-nine waitresses in forty-three cities across the country. All of the waitresses were fifty and older (many of them were in their seventies) and all of them had worked in diners for at least twenty years.
Many of the waitresses Taylor interviewed grew up working on farms or doing physical labor from an early age. This gave them a strong work ethic, and an interest in a job that requires constant activity, as opposed to sitting in a desk chair. Several of the waitresses interviewed turned down careers in the business or professional world because they made more money waiting tables, or because they liked having the freedom to set their own schedule, or enjoyed the kinds of interaction they could have with their customers in a restaurant setting.
The first American diners were horse-drawn lunch wagons that would set up across from factories. Now they are places where form follows function. Condiment holders are designed to be ridge-less so they are easier to clean. Formica tables are curved at the corners to avoid injuries. Some older diners have mirrors on the ceiling above the counter, so the waitress can check for drink refills and empty plates just by looking up, rather than walking back and forth.
Taylor writes that in many case the seniority status of older waitresses “earned them a higher hourly wage and respect from their coworkers and managers. Ironically, the physical and mental exercise kept them healthy instead of wearing them down, and most important, their regular customers made the job more enjoyable and profitable—they left better tips than strangers who were just passing through.”
Key-lime cake at the Busy Bee Café in Atlanta, where everything is made from scratch.
Taylor writes that the seven years she spent working on this book helped her “to redefine my perspective on life, work, and happiness,” and advises that the next time you see an older waitress wiping down tables in a diner, you should not feel sorry for her. “More likely than not, she’s content right where she is.”
(Images from “Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress.” Copyright 2009 by Cornell University Press & Taylor Made Culture.)
Candacy A. Taylor;
Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress;
Posted by Andrea Walker
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