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Victoria Patterson is the author of the novel This Vacant Paradise, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Drift, her collection of interlinked short stories, was a finalist for the California Book Award and the 2009 Story Prize. The San Francisco Chronicle selected Drift as one of the best books of 2009. Her work has appeared in various publications and journals, including the Los Angeles Times, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the Southern Review. She lives with her family in Southern California and teaches through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and as a Visiting Assistant Professor at UC Riverside.

31 responses to “Waiting Tables”

  1. Zara Potts says:

    Lovely portraits, Victoria. You’ve captured the human condition eloquently and with compassion.

  2. Don Mitchell says:

    I agree. They are lovely. I’ve read many “waiting tables” kinds of storys and non-fiction. Most of them make fun of the diners and hold back what the server/author thought about it all — what was going on inside her. Yours are different, and that makes them very fine.

    And by the way, Victoria, I finished Drift not long ago.

    Great set of stories. They all held my attention (even while reading in bed, which is not easily done). Some I found heartbreaking. Nice, nice work. You recommended Girl Trouble to me, and I have it. It’s up next.

    • Thanks so much! Thanks for reading Drift. I really appreciate it. I’m glad I kept you awake!

      I have Anne Pancake’s Strange as the Weather Has Been and intend on reading it next–from your recommendation. I’m looking forward to it.

  3. Don Mitchell says:

    Arrgh. Make that “stories.”

    • Oh, I didn’t even notice! I had to read it again to find it. We should be allowed to make all sort of spelling and grammatical errors in our comments, no? That way no pressure. I’m always so tired that I misspell on my comments and then they don’t let you go back and edit them. So on the one hand, I have to be careful with my comment, but on the other hand–I just want to comment without making some serious well thought out statement. I’m still getting used to the forum, I think. Sometimes I’ll read a post and the comments are just so fascinating as well and then I want to comment but I can’t really contribute anything quite as articulate, so I end up not posting! Because really all I have to say is thank you for writing that it made me think, etc.

      Okay, now I have a long messy comment!

  4. Simon Smithson says:

    Oh, man. Loving this collection of snapshots, Victoria.

    That’s so sad about the possibly-homeless women. And about that whole brownies deal as well. What the hell?

    What is ‘candied’ bacon?

    • Smoked Candied Bacon–they marinated the bacon in brown sugar as I recall. I don’t eat pork but apparently it tastes amazing because the customers would just go ga ga for it. I remember it smelled good. The food at this restaurant was so amazing.

  5. Carl D'Agostino says:

    I did a little waitering years ago so I fully identify with the eccentricities of the regulars. Sold shoes part time too and knowing the customer’s name and putting aside a few new items in their size for whenever they might drop by made them feel so special and was a sure sale. And the Mrs. always trusted my opinion for the matching handbag which the boss really loves to see. My ex-girlfriend( we’ve stayed pleasantly in touch) related that she visited her mother on Long Island and mom took her to a place where she eats several times a week for a decade. The long time waitress came right over and exclaimed “Oh, Jennifer. How delightful to see you! It’s been five years since you’ve been here. We had thought the worst.” Hmmm. It wasn’t Italian either.

  6. Love that story. Yes, the personal touch goes a long way. I worked at this place for over ten years so I got to know the regulars really well. When a customer said, “Thank you,” we were trained to never answer, “Your welcome.” We were supposed to say: “My pleasure.”

  7. Irene Zion says:


    These are really wonderful character descriptions.
    I enjoyed reading every one of them.
    You’re good at this, Victoria.

    • Thanks, Irene. I replied by accident on an individual post, so don’t know if you got my thanks…Jeezus Khrist–maybe someday I’ll get this forum/comment thing down..

      • Irene Zion says:

        Hi Victoria!

        No worries, the glitches in TNB seem to prefer screwing with me over everyone else.
        (Or, I could be paranoid. Who know’s?)
        I do like reading about your people, though.
        I’ll be watching.

  8. Thanks for the kind words, Irene!

  9. Joe Daly says:

    I’ve found that it is impossible for me to date girls who are rude to servers. It’s a powerful litmus test.

    What’s cool here is that you describe your feelings in such a way that people who have never waited tables can still relate. Which makes this a really nice read.

    Whatever happened to Henry?

  10. So, Henry kept coming in, and he must’ve noticed that I was never the one to wait on him, and he started being friendly to me. Finally, I waited on him, and it went okay. Nothing bad happened. I’d just built it up in my head so big that I was convinced he was out to get me or something. So I waited on him many times over the years–but I never did like him. He would try to have these conversations with me, showing how incredibly smart and profound he was. It’s not that I hated him. I just did not like him. Even if he hadn’t gotten me in trouble, I don’t think I would’ve liked him.

  11. Jordan Ancel says:

    These are like little Polaroids that come to life. I love these.

    I always find it interesting what you can glean about someone just by a series of brief interactions with them. The relationships created by regular customers fascinate me because through this casual familiarity, they begin to feel like they know you and trust you, revealing things about themselves with a simple statement that says SO much.

    Like the Littles. In an instant they went from cute old wealthy couple to monumental racists.

    I bet these vignettes are only the tip of the iceberg.

    Nice work.

    • Yes, so true! Fortunately I kept journals all the years I waited tables. So I have much detailed material. Many times, people I’ve waited on will see me out and about, just in real life, and they’ll give me this very odd mystified look that says: I know I know you but I’m not sure how. And I know you know me in this kind of intimate way but again, I’m not sure how and it’s really kind of freaking me out right now as I stare at you because I don’t even know your name but I get the feeling that you know things about me that no one else does.

      Sometimes, they’ll say: How do I know you?

      And, depending on various factors, I’ll either let them know or not. If I say, Oh, I waited on you many times at ___, they’ll say, Oh, that’s it! Phew! That’s right. Now I remember.

      But I think it’s mostly a good feeling when they see me, even if they don’t remember how. Because, if you think about it, I’m the one that delivered the food and drink that satiated them. So it’s definitely not a hostile look they’re giving me. More of a I LIKE YOU BUT WHY look.

      • Jordan Ancel says:

        Yes, the mystified look of someone trying to put another person in context can be amusing to watch as they try to work it out.

        During these encounters, it would be great if you could finagle another tip out of them.

        • I don’t think I could do it! Hmm. I’m trying to imagine it. Maybe by saying something like: “You know that one time you left me a really bad tip. Well, that’s okay if you don’t remember, because I do. It’s never too late to make up for it?” And then I’d just put my palm out.

  12. reno says:

    hi, victoria-

    i can so identify w/ these stories for i worked in the restaurant business for over 10 years. i did it all: dishwasher, prep cook, line cook, busser, waiter, bartender, then manager. it was a grueling ride. fun, you bet, but a hustle if there ever was one. i came out of it alive. well, somewhat alive.

    this was a fun read. you nailed it. great desciptions. i could see the smoke coming out from the kitchen. most folk don’t know the batches of shit that servers go through to make their scratch. i’ve left the table (once or twice) because i was eating w/ some jerk-off that was “running” our waiter.

    i lived in vegas all those years and waited on many celebrities. or quasi celebrities. funny times. my highlight is me waiting on gladys knight for like 6 months. i didn’t hassle her, didn’t even acknowledge her celebrity, and she requested i wait on her all the time. i was raised on her music. then one day i couldn’t hold back and told her how much i loved her music. we sang the opening lyrics to “the best thing that ever happened” together. i was in tears. she hugged me and gave me her autograph. pure R&B heaven. gladys!

    okay, victoria, i’ve bored you enough. i could go on and on with restaurant stories. wild times. wild times, indeed.

    reno j. romero

  13. I love that story! So cool. Gladys Knight! More stories, please!

    I also waited on celebrities and pseudo-celebrities as the restaurant is in proximity to Hollywood. Catered many a celeb-infested party as well. My best tip came from Rick Dees (radio personality). He came in alone, left me a hundred dollar bill on something like a twelve dollar breakfast bill. I waited on the guy who played Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigalo (can’t remember his name). So funny. On and on.

    I agree: such a hustle. I was so physically tired by the end of a shift. Waited tables through two pregnancies. That was the worst. I don’t miss it. I just did it for way too long. If I’d gotten out sooner, I might have better feelings about it.

  14. angela says:

    these are fascinating snapshots. you’ve really brought these people to life.

  15. This was such a pleasure to read, Victoria.
    I have to second you and Joe up there in the comments, Anyone that is rude to servers is a no go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out and been horrified, I’m sure we all have. It was very nice to hear about life from the other side of the table. You constructed it beautifully.

    Looking forward to reading more of your work.

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