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The Hostess with the Mostless

Tales From The Stand

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!

Thank you so very much for joining us. Do y’all have a reservation on this lovely evening?” “Table for TWO!” “Booth please.” And thus your night begins.

If you understand the satirical yet boldly way-too-close-to-home snippets of real-life conversations above, then you have most definitely worked in a restaurant before.

You might have even been a host or a hostess yourself in your current or past restaurant life. Yay for you? Congrats? But no really, it’s a great job that one can have a lot of pride in.

You treat your host stand as your own little business, just as a server does with their section, a bartender does with their bar, or even as an expeditor on the hot line.

Creating a thin veil between the front and back of the house. Though this may be where stuff begins to get dicey, and we aren’t just talking about the onions in the mirepoix.

First off, several snippets and stories and conversations from this article are based on my real-life experiences working in restaurants as a teenager through about twenty years old.

These stories are also about myself, the restaurants and bars I worked in, my customers, co-workers, day-to-day work life, after-party extravaganzas, and everything in between.

I already decided that I won’t be naming any names but if you think something is about you…it just very well might be.

My very first recollections of working in a restaurant revolve around being a hostess.

The first job I had in F&B was as a hostess at a local, mom-and-pop version of P.F. Chang’s,  if you will.

My dad took us there regularly as kids.

 The scent of savory dishes in the air that I couldn’t yet pronounce still to this day makes me hungry.   As regulars, my family was close with the owner. 

We were periodically invited to special  Chinese New Year celebrations.  

As soon as  turned 15 I turned in my application to become a hostess,

Caitlin @ 15

Caitlin @ 15 | Image by Caitlin @ 15

I still frequent this place today, it is truly the best Chinese food in South Carolina. If you’re in Greenville you know what I’m talking about.

I quickly realized I love the freedom of getting out of the house and making my own income.

At 15 I was the youngest one working there, the baby of the crew.

This restaurant is where it all began for me, I got to dress up, style my hair, look cute, and accessorize for work.

I learned what table numbers are, seat numbers, and sections.

I learned the ins and outs of restaurants, rotating servers, and accommodating requests.

I now understood the ins and outs, at least as far as the front of the house is concerned.

Caitlin & Friends

Caitlin & Friends | Image by Caitlin & Friends

I found my footing. and what I considered my people. 

 I moved to Charleston,  SC to go to college.  I just so happened to apply for a job at a restaurant called Rue De Jean.

With my experience and conversational French, I was a perfect fit. Rue changed me and my career path forever. 

After a couple of years in addition to being a hostess, I was food running as well as an SA.

I absolutely loved this job and met some of my best friends in college here working here. 

I changed my major once more, settling on Hospitality and Tourism Management.

 

 

My most memorable moment at Rue featured Charleston’s very own Bill (Fucking) Murray.

 

It was after a concert next door, that our bar was swamped with the audience. Amidst the buzz, there was Bill, in the middle of a heated exchange with a woman and her friend over an unsolicited selfie.

As the situation cooled and he approached my host stand, he complimented my black and red faux velvet Forever 21 dress.

Then, with a grin, Bill scooped almost all the individually wrapped toothpicks from our rocks glass into his jacket pocket, gave me another smile, and left.

Bill Murray 2

Bill Murray | Image by Bill Murray

The good

It just kept getting better. Being a hostess was about the memories made during my time at the College of Charleston.

It was an absolute blast—fine dining, good money, and building friendships with coworkers.

The perks like shift meals, including sushi, mussels, and steaks, were amazing.

I saw celebrities, worked at fantastic events, and networked with fascinating people who handed me their business cards, hoping I’d join them post-graduation.

This role was my introduction to the hospitality industry, unlocking numerous opportunities. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

It all started at that little hostess desk at the front of a restaurant, a crucial step in my journey.

The bad

Well, every job has its downsides, but the good always outweighed the bad for me.

Those “$100” tips might not have been worth my sanity or self-respect, but I damn sure took them and got you a table.

Back in my college days, that kind of money was tempting enough to compromise.

But, that money was quickly spent. After-work hangouts with older coworkers from both the front and back of the house led to heavy drinking at 18, getting wasted without ever showing ID, and befriending bar and club managers.

 

$100

$100 | Image by $100

I was still just a kid, getting entangled in things I shouldn’t have—random hookups, drinking and driving, earning a DUI, all-nighters, drug use, and sometimes skipping class because I was too hungover.

 

The Ugly

I’m 30 now, having started in the restaurant industry at 14/15, and the experiences I’ve had are wild.

The things some establishments allow are beyond comprehension, but that’s the restaurant world for you.

As a literal teenager, eager to work and excel, it seemed my efforts and the job done were never enough.

I’ve had men and women scream at me for delays in their reservations, been called an “IDIOT BITCH!” over dessert mishaps, and consoled guests who forgot to book for special occasions, like Mother’s Day, when it was too late to help.

All this while working holidays far from my family.

I’ve witnessed crowds trying to snap photos of celebrities like Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds and even had a restaurant owner propose a threesome with him and his girlfriend. More than once.

Through it all, as a hostess, you learn to embody the first and last impression for guests, no matter their experience.

Always smiling, always saying thank you.