An awful thing happened while I was waitressing around America. I got promoted. At a Hilton hotel, of all places, the managers decided I should be “a hostess” and that I should be very grateful for the opportunity. Obviously I wasn’t, and complained bitterly to my housemates, as I was used to tips.
The absolute worst thing was what I had to wear: a white, lacy, low-cut blouse, a red skirt and black stilettos. This was an outfit devoid of era. Some corporate, but weirdly country’n’western idea of subservience. To add to this indignity was a badge over my right tit that bore the legend: “Hi, I’m new but I’m trying”.
“There is no way I can wear that,” I said.
“It’s only at first,” the manager said.
My job was ill-defined but when the guys came down to breakfast or dinner and queued for a table I was meant to chat them up so as to make their waiting in line “pleasant”. Then I was to glide across the restaurant and seat them at a table, making them feel cared for and important.
It’s possible I managed this for about five minutes. All their stories were exactly the same. They were in town for a conference, a little bit of R’n’R and did I know the Beatles.
The waitresses hated me because if we were busy they didn’t want me bringing more people in, but the managers were always on my back to keep the queue moving.
My feet were burnt from standing in very high heels and everything deteriorated quite quickly. After the first hour I would point grumpily at my badge, trudge across the floor, gesture at a table and say, “Just go and sit there.” Some of them looked disappointed, but Americans in my experience are essentially polite. English people are not. Nonetheless there were complaints: chief of these being that I looked bored as they were speaking to me.
“That’s just my face,” I had to explain to my earnest manager.
“Never forget you are a representative of the Hilton brand,” he said.
What was the Hilton brand? All I knew was that while we served decent enough food, during our breaks we had to go through a warren in the innards of the hotel in order to eat slop they cooked specially for workers in a windowless canteen. Everywhere were signs saying: “Smile, you are a Hilton employee”.
One day we were all gathered together to be told some “bad news”. A Hilton in another part of America had burned down. I burst out in hysterical laughter and the manager told me to go to his office. He actually had a book on his desk called How to Deal With Difficult Employees. And I actually felt sorry for him as he launched into yet another speech about the esteemed international brand of Hilton.
“It’s OK,” I said as I laid down my badge. “I’m no longer trying.”