Dear Catastrophe Waitress: The Kit

Welcome to Autostraddle Kits, a new series where we tell you all the stuff you need to be or do a thing you want to be or do. Lesbian Activist? Heartbreaking DJ? Wanton Sex Goddess? Food Historian? Sort of like if Amazon’s Listmania and Amazon’s “So You’d Like to Be A…” had a same-sex marriage and then had a baby.

It’s like a playlist, but for all of your senses!

Got a request for a kit? ASS me!


this is a picture taken at the macaroni grill with my co-workers but nobody is in uniform except marc cause we're just having dinner, but it's all i got, so.

Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Waitressing is so terrible and its terror is so wonderful! Nevertheless, you can either be sullen about it and snap your gum a lot like they do in movies about waitresses who are too tired to be sassy, or you can really make the most of this character-building experience.

I waitressed at like five kabillion restaurants including, as I mention from time to time, two entirely different corporately-owned Italian-American casual dining restaurants, and I think we can all agree I have exceptional character at this point.

Even if you’re not an aspiring waitress, you can still be a Dear Catastrophe Waitress with an imaginary restaurant. That’s what plastic food is for.


1. Food & Drink

First, get yourself a nice flask. You deserve it for putting up with that 15-top of pre-teen figure skaters last night.

gelfling via

Or keep all your sins condensed into a handy Cigar Holder/Flask.

After that, you’re going to need  this:

Gum is important:


2. Attire

Some restaurants give you uniforms…

just the right amount of flair

Some restaurants dress you up like Little Debbie and Mother Hubbard had an illegitimate daughter.

roseanne is not messing around in that outfit

Some restaurants dress you up like a kickass tomboy Newsie from Tribeca.

coffee, tea, or larger cup of coffee?

… and some restaurants let you wear jeans or even an outfit of your choice!

via lovelyjubbly2000 on

Ideally, you’re going to be the girl in the Newsies hat. But let’s be real, it’s a shitstorm of a world out there and chances are good you’ll be asked to wear an oppressive men’s shirt of some kind along with black pants, black socks and black shoes.

For pants, you’ll need to hit up a sort of trashy clothing store like Mandee where you can get pants that give you a tip-worthy ass but you’d never wear them outside of a restaurant unless you were being ironic or it was 2002. I can’t find this for you on the internet — you’ll know it when you see it. It’s usually on the sale rack. You’re sexy and it’s time to exploit the patriarchy while doodling anarchist fantasies in your server notepad.

After a few washes of your Cheap Pants you might start getting little white “fuzzies” on your ass. You can either buy new pants or you can buy a sharpie and just draw over that shit.

For black shoes you need to either make a statement or buy the ugliest most comfortable stupid shoes in the world. Ask yourself, “would my grandmother wear these shoes to mall-walk?” and if the answer is yes, then buy them. You can rock that shit no problem. The key to this job is to never forget your inner rockstar.

rachel w. via IS READY TO ROCK

Mid-day you’ll want to re-apply your makeup and perfume, just to feel like a brand new girl who doesn’t already hate everyone and want to shove bread into everybody’s ears.

Listen, it’s a tough life, but it’s also a kickass life, mostly ’cause when you come home after having spent the last ten hours running around in that muck of food and human need, you feel like you really EARNED it. You’re an AMERICAN! You’ve WORKED and now look at all your MONEY!

brandon knows the value of a hard day's work


3. Objects & Things

Also, you need PENS. Get twelve and you’ll make new friends by being the only person still willing to loan out a pen to someone without subsequently standing hawkishly over the pen-borrower like the fucking Kremlin. You are bringing the best parts of socialism to the expo line!

The best kind for waiting are Pilot G2 Retractable Premium Gel Ink Rolling Ball Pens.

Put a YOU DO YOU sticker on your server book. Print out this tip card and stick it in for easy reference on who Sucks Balls and who Made Your Day. Also, a wine key, it just comes in handy for crawling under the bar and popping open a beer in a pinch.

by Richard Sibley


4. Background Reading

Back when I was in the ‘biz, there were only two “servers complain about their tables” websites on the internet. One was New York-based, to swap stories about working conditions at various spots (Steve Hanson’s restaurants were always hot topics) and another was for server nightmare stories, which I think was Waiter Rant.  Now, there’s heaps! Start with Stuck Serving or visit the tumblr blog You Know You’re a Waitress When (which to be honest is kinda tepid.)

A rare entry in the “memoirs about being a waitress” genre is Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress. Sometimes after work you want to talk about work, but all the other servers have some kind of “don’t talk shop” rule. That’s when you can read this book. It’s like listening to someone who’s still up for gossiping and talking shop.

I also found Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly somehow educational, or it made me feel like restaurants were really important and therefore I too was important. I seem to recall the author of that book since becoming unlikeable in some context.

There’s a lot of people who want to be actors or directors end up being waiters, and then they write movies about it and sometimes get said movie made. The movie almost always sucks really bad. However I’d recommend the movie Waiting, but only see it with other servers. Anyone who’s not a server will acknowledge it for the piece of shit that it is.


5. Art

In 2000, I was working at The Olive Garden in Times Square and taking a photography class at NYU, and for my final project I did a series I called “I’m Not Just a Waiter” and it was photographs of my co-workers in uniform and underneath it had their name and age and the occupation they wanted to have (or did have, in addition to being servers). It was a really wonderful project to do.

All of the final photos — matted with the words and so forth — are in a box in New York City somewhere, which is unfortunate as writing this post might be the first time in my life that project became relevant. Also this one girl looked EXACTLY like Brittany Spears for real. Anyhow!

All the mess-ups are in a folder in my file cabinet, which I feel is a symbolic representation of my life on earth thus far! So I scanned them.

photographs i took of my co-workers at the olive garden in times square 11 years ago. the prints that actually look good are in a box somewhere in new york, so these are sort of rough drafts, so to speak, and doesn't include everyone i photographed. you can click to enlarge.


5. In conclusion






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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3181 articles for us.


  1. This almost motivates me to get off my ass and shower so I can head to yet another in a long line of crappy waitressing jobs… Almost. Le sigh.

  2. This Kits series is already my new favourite AS thing. I totally just bought turntables and can’t wait for a heartbreaking DJ kit!

  3. I love this. I think I had those exact black shoes when I was waitressing at Cracker Barrel a couple of years ago. Except as much as I love looking like a grandma and try to do so on a near daily basis, I think I had to scrub spilled ranch dressing off those shoes way too many times to ever consider wearing them again.

  4. LOVE this! Servers are so under appreciated it’s not even funny. Living off of the generosity of total strangers is scary as hell, but it I did enjoy it. It was like acting most of the time. Acting like I’ve tried everything on the menu and am therefore and expert on each dish. Acting like I don’t mind when you ask for one thing each time I return to the table. Acting like I think you’re children aren’t obnoxious little monsters. Acting like I don’t notice when you literally lick your plate clean. Acting like I’m sober. Acting like I’m listening to you when really I’m thinking about how cute the girl that just walked in would look in my new autostraddle t-shirt holding a bunch of kittens..yeah,,I was a bad server.

  5. As a waitress 12 hours a day every summer I appreciate the hell out of this.
    I also worked in an Italian not-so-casual restaurant where a flask, excess perfume and cigarettes were exceptionally necessary.. Character building is right, I gained an ability to act as if I would really love talking to a stranger’s step-grandfather for a good 10 minutes despite him having severe dementia. Meanwhile I have what seems like 100 other tables waiting for me to make them feel like their individual perfect little dining experience is the most important thing in the world to me. Yes those things did earn me a pretty large paycheck..
    All in all waitressing taught me:
    I hate kids,
    I love alcoholics,
    I hate Oprah (for announcing it is OK to double the tax in every state for a great tip),
    My restaurant is where I live & coworkers are my real family, not that place I sleep at with those people who have never been a server.
    Waitressing makes you “weirder”, in fact, you have to be at least a little weird to be a good waitress.

    • When I’m waitressing I hate kids too, and yet I’m studying to be a a primary school teacher… I think I just hate kids I can’t force to do my will. Actually, I just hate parents.

  6. no need of a flask if you work at a greek restaurant. after every meal we force our customers to drink Ouzo shots. and they often force us (even my 16 year old co-worker) to join.
    enjoyed it at first. now I can’t even stand the smell.

    • ha, i actually did work at a greek restaurant. that’s like a whole story in and of itself, the owner was INSANE, like for real, and we weren’t allowed to talk to each other. like we were not allowed to speak to other servers and when we didn’t have tables, we had to stand in separate areas of the restaurant and when we ate our employee meals we had to sit at different tables. needless to say we were not invited to partake in the ouzo.

      • I will dedicate the next 1000000001 shots I’ll be having to you and the other people who had to work there.

  7. Oh man…I just started a job as a high school teacher, and this is not helping my desire to quit and become a waitress. I know it can be hell and weird and surreal, but there’s just something about it.

    (Plus you don’t have to work when you go home. I haven’t commented on AS in so long…because TEACHING.)

    This series is going to be fun! I love the idea.

  8. Yeah, no. The docs stay at home. It’s really true about ugly shoes being the most comfortable. You should see mine.

    also +1 to Kitchen Confidential.

  9. i work at this killer organic hippie pizza restaurant, and let me have green hair, and i make 20% a good amount of the time…if only i could talk sassy to the customers, it would be a server’s paradise. i LOVE my job…it’s the kind where no matter how much your body aches at the end of a double, you still leave with a smile. (i’m so spoiled for the real world, haha.)

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