Featured Writer: Jamie Morgan
Life in the Service Industry
JAMIE MORGAN, actress, professional speaker, and former waitress, explains why she’s grateful for the restaurant industry.
The shift started at 4pm. If you were closing, it could go as late as 6am or even 8am (you know, if Jay Z, U2, or Coldplay decided to drop in after hours). Either way, you definitely weren’t going to be out of there before four in the morning. That’s at least a 12-hour shift of pushing trays of drinks and food through screaming crowds and bodies packed tightly together on the first or second floor of The Spotted Pig, a gastropub in the West Village which in 2006 had a 2-hour wait any given night, even in the dead of winter. Working in the restaurant industry in New York City as an artist is somewhat like The Monkey’s Paw: there’s a cost. I had my daytimes free to audition, and I could cover my bills with the tips I made working there, but my very life-blood was drained from me as well. Much like the rack that Cary Elwes was stretched on in The Princess Bride, every night on the floor felt like a year drained from my life force.
However, there’s a certain camaraderie that you build with the rest of the staff when you work in a place like that. You’re all beyond exhausted, but tapping those adrenal glands as you wade through handsy Wall Street asshats, shrill drunk girls, and celebrity sycophants, all while Mario Batali licks your hand as you're taking his order, and some crazed, glassy-eyed, half-naked girl circles Luke Wilson around the restaurant like some horror out of The Walking Dead. The quick wit and banter of your fellow wait staff is the kind of gallows humor that you need to make it through the night. It’s like looking into the eyes of your sibling when a parent has gone particularly mad, and you think, “I’m not crazy. They’re crazy, right?” And the sibling responds with, “Yep. They’re really fucking crazy. It isn’t you.” A survivor’s bond is forged. Some of the friends I’ve made in the restaurant industry, even from way back in 2003 when I started bartending at Café Luxembourg, remain some of my closest friends to this day. It’s a tricky balance to work all night to pay your bills and still make that 9am audition, prepared and looking as fresh as a daisy. It’s easy to get run down and suddenly find months have gone by when you haven’t done a thing; you are simply working these incredibly long and draining shifts so that you can afford the 7x9 foot “room” in the East Village of the fifth floor walk-up with three roommates. Then, often, when you booked a play, the pay would be so low that you would have to dip into any savings you had from working at the restaurant in order to get by while you rehearsed and performed. The actors and the restaurant industry are subsidizing the American Theater, my friends!
Still, as challenging as working in the restaurant industry is, I am grateful that so many artists can make a living doing so while they practice their craft, and I’m definitely grateful for the people I’ve met along the way.
Jamie Morgan, Actress/Public Speaker/Former Waitress