Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Another Milestone in My Acting Career.

Question: What the best thing to yell if you want to get an actor's attention?

Answer: "Waiter!"

There's some truth to the stereotype. Not all actors are waiters, but it is a job with flexible hours that, if you are good at getting tips, can pay significantly more than an entry-level, 9-5 desk job. When your acting doesn't pay the bills (almost always for 99.9% of us), waiting tables is a good way to make enough cash to pay rent.

Some actors are very proud of the fact that they have never waited tables. As of tonight, I am no longer one of them.

A lot of actors/waiters will look down on me a bit for this because I'm not actually working as a waiter, bartender, or even busboy. Thanks to a friend (who's back in the states after working as a fashion model in Milan), I've landed a job a banquet server. Instead of tips, I get paid a flat rate. It still works out to be more than double what I got as a legal assistant back in Seattle. The hours are sporadic and limited, so it might not be quite enough to pay Manhattan rent, but it's a good start.

They asked me for a resume and a picture of myself. I gave both to my friend, Lauren. She told me a couple days later that they wanted to hire me. No interview. Just a call a day or two later asking me to come in at 6, wearing black pants, black shoes, and a black collared shirt, and to bring my passport.

I came in, filled out a form with my contact info, checked the box that said "male", and handed over my passport for a photocopy. Then I was told to go into the other room and find Geno. Geno didn't have anything for me, so I just milled around the lounge with all the other people in black.

For some odd reason, everybody in the room seemed to think the correct answer to "What is it exactly that we do?" was "Don't worry it's easy." I mean, I'm glad to know it's easy, but... what is it? It was a bit like being a toddler handed a bike with training wheels and told to go ride it in circles. Nobody bothers to tell you how, what part your supposed to sit on, which way you face, or what part you hold onto. They just assume it's obvious. So you just try a few things, see if anyone yells at you, and try not to look like an idiot in the process.

So what I ended up doing was mingling for about two hours with a tray full of drinks to offer a party of 300 venture capitalists. Then another hour collecting empty glasses, toothpicks, napkins, etc. Like they said, easy. And they fed us afterwards.

That was yesterday. Today was a little trickier. Today we actually waited tables at a sit-down banquet.

"What do I do?" I ask. "Don't worry, it's easy." They say.


I'll admit, the pressure was a little off, since I wasn't working for tips, and I was surrounded by other people working other tables who had my back. I had two tables, one with 10 people, another with 11. Only two choices of dish to serve: steak or salmon. To any experienced waiter, it would have been the easiest job in the world. I am not an experienced waiter.

Because of this, there was a lot of bumping of objects, a couple of times I nearly spilled drinks, at least one drink served to the wrong person, and probably slower service than anywhere else in the room. But the only ridiculously bad moment was when I found that someone had served one of my guests the salmon, after he had ordered steak. I was lucky-- he was in the bathroom and I was able to switch it out for a steak just as he got back to his seat. The only problem was that he had lost his steak knife.

Simple enough. I went to the kitchen. No steak knives. I asked about them, and they told me to go to the lounge where they were plating the food. The lounge told me to ask the manager. the manager told me to go to the kitchen, then ran off before I could answer. A second glance in the kitchen didn't yield anything the first hadn't. I checked the bar, the other corner where I'd spotted knifes at one point, the kitchen and serving area again, and asked two more managers. Nobody knew where the steak knives, and all were busy with other issues. I finally scanned the tables near mine, spotted someone who had finished his steak, asked to take his knife, washed it by hand in the kitchen, and brought it back out to my guest, just in time to see that he had managed to finish the thing with his butter knife. Glad I wasn't working that table for tips.

The other thing I'm not yet good at it carrying lots of breakable things containing liquids and leftover food. I was very careful, so no spills, but whenever I was bringing things to or away from a table, I had about half the things any of my colleagues were carrying at any given time, and I was moving about half their speed.

It'll all come with practice.

In the meantime, I just have to get a second set of all black clothing-- what I've been wearing the last couple nights is going to be half my costume for my show. Besides, I really shouldn't work in an environment where spills are so frequent wearing the dry-clean only pants of my black suit. But, neither my show nor my employer has a budget for getting us uniforms/costumes. So it's off to the thrift stores we go!


By the by, completely unrelated, but if you want to help me out with something that will take 30 seconds, I'm choosing a new headshot. I've got my five favorites on this Facebook album: Comment on the ones you like the most! If you have a little extra time and want to glance through the whole album, you can find it here: The password is "joelputnam". Thank you...


  1. I was a catering waitress for one summer during college. The pay was not great, and there were generally no tips, but they fed me every time I worked. I was pretty proud of myself that I could get by on basically one meal a day and very little grocery shopping. You will also pick up the skills very quickly - it's really not to hard once you get the hang of it.

  2. If I managed a 2.5 year waitressing career during high school without so much as spilling a drink within sight of my customers, I'm sure you'll get the hang of it. As clumsy as I am, I'm kind of amazed that I pulled it off.

    Also, after looking at the other photo options, I'll mention I'm surprised #48 didn't make the cut. I like that one.

  3. Your new job fits the latter portion of the subtitle of your blog. Is it possible to use acting skills to train yourself on thie job? ( presume other waiter/actors could answer this question) People underestimate what a hard job this is (as you know I enjoyed the book Waiter Rant). Good work experience to have for that appreciation alone. lv, anonymom