A Female Server

I was sixteen years old the first time a man told me that I was pretty enough to be a server.
I was just a host, but a good one. One of the best, which isn't even bragging, because being a host isn't all that hard if you get trained properly. I remembered the table numbers, I was on a first name basis with most of the servers and bussers, and I learned how to accept that the guests who yelled at me, the host, for the bad quality of their food, was not my problem.
Back when our restaurant cared about cleanliness, hosts checked out the tables of the servers before they left. Knelt under the tables, bent over in booths. It was my job, and I did that well too. Some of the servers were freshly eighteen. Some of them were college kids, returning on breaks. Some of them were adults.
I've never been good at guessing ages, but I would say Dave was in his thirties. He asked me to check his section, so I did. Sometimes, with the servers I like, we chat a bit. They tell me about one of their shitty tables. They tell me how much money they made. We laugh about the absurdity of customer service. It's easy conversation.
Dave sat down at one of his clean tables while I checked the rest. Because I was a girl, I did not bend at the waist. I bent my knees and kneeled on the carpet. I did not want him to stare at my ass.
Dave told me he made good money tonight. I told him I was looking forward to becoming a server once I turned eighteen because that way, I could make more money than I do as a host. Dave told me I was pretty enough to be a server and would get good tips.
I didn't know if I was supposed to be flattered. I wasn't. I avoided eye contact and focused on a straw wrapper beneath one of the booths. I was supposed to tell him to pick it up or bend further and pick it up myself.
Instead, I did neither. I signed a slip of paper to dignify his tables as clean and walked away.
I was eighteen years old the first time I was responsible for a man's training.
I had only been a server for a few months, but I'd worked in the same restaurant for two years. I knew the menu, knew the people, knew the back of the restaurant better than most. Still, I was never trained to train.
I didn't know I'd be training Peter when I started my shift. I clocked in, let my manager know I was here, and they introduced me to Peter. They told me I'd be in charge of Peter for the next few hours while he learned how to food run. I had no say.
Training for food running is simple. I point at dishes before they get carried out to their tables and I ask my trainee what they are. He tries his best to answer. When the restaurant is busy enough, I have him lift the tray with plates on top and walk it out to the specific table. That teaches him how to carry the tray, as well as what the table numbers are.
Peter told me he's a recent graduate of college. Peter told me he just graduated with an English degree. Peter seemed fine, and he seemed old, and next to him I felt smaller than usual. He was a stranger, and not one of the ones that made me want to talk to them.
But I was a woman first, and then I was a host, and then I was a server. I'd perfected the art of pretending to care, pretending to be interested so the other person is at ease. I smiled at Peter and nodded at all the right times.
I pointed at food and showed him what was what. How our computer system worked. He told me he already knew the table numbers. He told me he'd worked at a restaurant before, and it was all pretty much the same. He made me feel smaller every time he opened his mouth.
One of the servers I was friendly with asked me if I could help them and carry out one of their trays. I accepted because my trainee could wait.
I told Peter I'd be right back. I carried the tray out, left it beside a table, and returned to the kitchen. For one moment, the back of the kitchen was so busy that I forgot Peter existed. I began setting up another tray to leave the kitchen.
I felt a hand on the small of my back.
Peter asked me if I was okay. As I did the job I'd done for months, in the restaurant I'd grown comfortable in over the years. He asked me if I was okay on his third day training. He made it sound like he could offer me help. He made it sound like he was the one in charge. He made himself sound big.
I told him yes, I was okay. I trained him for another two hours.
I was twenty-one years old the first time a male guest touched me during my shift.
It was slow in the afternoon, and I only had two tables to worry about. The first was simple, three older women enjoying their meals and not to be bothered. My second table sat down outside of my expected section, but the host asked me for a favor and to serve them anyways. I accepted, because I was a host once, and I remember what it felt like to approach a server I didn't know.
I greeted them like usual. It was two older men. I already said I was bad at guessing ages, but I tried again. I decided they were likely in their sixties. I asked them what they would like to drink. One man asked me about our soups.
Some people don't like to listen to me when I'm serving them, so I pivoted and listed our soups of the day. He picked a soup, then told me what he would like to drink. The other man also picked a soup first, and then chose his drink. He asked me for my name, even though I said it in my greeting.
I said it again. He responded by calling me sweetie.
I brought their drinks and received a thank you, sweetie. I brought their soups and received a thank you, sweetie. I brought their meals and received a thank you, sweetie.
Once they finished eating, they flagged me down. One of them asked if we sold milkshakes, and I told them no. The other laughed. His hand reached my arm, past to my waist. It settled there for just a moment before he moved it away and apologized about his friend being silly. As if we were in on the joke together.
It took me a moment to realize what had happened, and by then, he'd already removed his hand. I walked away and avoided the table as much as I could, but I can't just abandon them. I need to work; I need my job.
I hung around my other tables, checking in on them as the men stood up, put on their coats, started walking out. I walked to their tables to grab their check and see how much they tipped me.
I heard him say sweetie.
I turned around and he was there. He reached out with cash in his hand. Usually, they leave the cash on the table. He had cash in his hand. That meant I had to reach out and take it from him.
His fingers brushed mine. I let it happen.
I felt small again.