Pot Luck

Tales from the Trenches: My Time at The Shack

I worked as a hostess at an unnamed Houston restaurant for several years. The manager was the nicest sociopath I ever met, and the Latino members of the staff called him El Diablo. El Diablo was famous for firing the waiters in fits of rage, then calling them the next day to come into work, acting like nothing had happened.

Several of my girlfriends hostessed with me over the years, and we liked to call the place The Shack - and, sometimes, The Cesspool. The Shack definitely had fine-dining pretensions, and it wasn't cheap. It had loyal regulars who loved it. Hell, we all loved it. But the place was an unsanitary den of bad behavior.

This was my second job in the service industry, and luckily I'm not squeamish. Yes, it is true that some of the waiters devoured unfinished plates of food. But the main thing I remember is the rats. A good friend of mine claimed she saw a rat as big as a cat out near the Dumpster. Once, a rat died in the wall right by the entrance -- candles were lit in an attempt to mask the smell. Then there was the waiter who saw a rat headed for a table of big spenders and ran and got in its path, diverting it to another part of the restaurant. Rat stories...there were millions, and they were just part of the fun.

As anyone who's worked in the service industry is aware, you don't know humanity until someone has tried to get your attention by throwing vegetables at you. People suck. And they are weird. There was one particularly flirtatious waiter who was requested again and again. Couples got off on him shamelessly hitting on the women as the men looked on. Then there was the regular couple who always requested a corner table that seemed private but really afforded the employees a view. There were servers who loved to try to get a peek at just what the man's hand was doing under the table. These same co-workers also liked studying the topless photo a customer had given one of them. It was kept behind the bar for that very purpose.

Maybe The Shack wasn't the best environment for young women -- but I'll be honest with you. We just didn't care. In fact, in some ways, hostessing at the Shack was the best job I ever had. We herded the masses to their tables for a few hours, then drank all the wine we wanted, rats be damned. Perhaps the absentee owner would have minded the free flow of wine down our gullets, but El Diablo loved to treat the hostesses. And we considered the wine part of our payment for a job well done.

We'll be sharing more tales from the trenches in the weeks to come. Are you a service industry employee? Tell us your story in the comments.

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Cathy Matusow
Contact: Cathy Matusow