After a summer of silver trays and sweaty button-up shirts, I can proudly say that I've penetrated the glamorous New York City elite in their world of summer parties.
As a server.
In the gateway course to the Creative Writing major, we received an eavesdropping assignment. We were told to choose a place on campus to sit for an hour. We were to listen in on conversations and record observations. The flaw in this plan was that on a small campus, it's hard to hide. Almost all of us chose to sit in Slow Train. Within fifteen minutes we were all either interrupted by someone we knew, or lost our subjects as they packed up and moved to a table farther from the clear eavesdroppers.
I've tried a few techniques to successfully spy on strangers. I've gotten better at listening to people without looking up at them. Working in NYC helps because people are actively trying not to notice you. But never have I succeeded more in people-watching than in my job as a cater waiter. The tie and vest are like a cloak of invisibility.
This invisibility has enabled me to haunt the social scene. I could be leaning my face in a foot from some socialite sharing gossip that would make US Weekly do backflips, and if they were asked an hour later if they recognized me, they would have no memory of my presence. With this newfound superpower, I return to you with a full analysis of the people at these parties, and the way to approach them as a waitress.
Without further ado:
The Seven Kinds of People at a Posh NY Gala
(And how to serve them during cocktail hour)
1.The Centerpiece: The most important person at the party. They are usually the most famous, the person who has blessed the rest of the party with their attendance. Even if most guests will not get a chance to speak to the centerpiece, their presence elevates the party. It leaks out to the other partiers, who dance and eat and schmooze in their sparkly presence.
Server: This person will eat dinner if it is a sit-down meal, but they don't want passed hors d'oeuvres, or dessert. They will have one glass of wine to hold so they look casual. Once the centerpiece leaves, it's time to start clearing the crystal, because the party is over.
2.The Host: In a rare occasion the host may be the centerpiece, but usually they are just posing as the centerpiece. They make the speeches and the toasts, and they either paid for everything or are there to ask everyone else for money. If this is a benefit, then the host is high profile. But their real magic is their connections.
Server: The host wants to try one of everything to see what they ordered, and they will take it from your tray with a grandiose gesture as if you should thank them for noticing. They will have a few glasses of champagne, and stay until the very end of the party, but do not ask them for any instruction.
3.The Regular: For the regular, this isn't a "gala." This is "the gala season." The regulars talk and laugh loudly and gather in groups to block the walking flow of the party. They extend the first syllables of one another's names dramatically. "DAAAAAAAAAARby, PAYYYYYYYYYton, so good to see you!"
Server: The regular is all in for the hors d'oeuvres, and also wants to comment on them and offer them out to their other regular friends. The shrimp is pretty good, but the crab was better at Bloomberg's Christmas party.
4.The Model: They were one of the chosen members for a benefactor's table: someone who paid the 50,000 to invite ten friends who would make them look good. The model makes the event look good but the other people look bad, floating over their heads in vintage Chanel.
Server: There is no need to even approach the model. They are not going to be eating before dinner, though they may carry a cocktail if it coordinates with their outfit. They are too tall to see you anyway, a mistake you may make the first time as you offer a tray to their little waist. There is a possibility that the model will be wearing a dress with a long train, in which case be extremely careful not to trip over it. Hopefully it is long enough that even when you trip over it, you will still be completely under their radar.
5.The Newcomer: They either just came into a windfall and are trying out the newly mandatory party scene, or else they got a seat at a benefactor's table through work and borrowed a fancy dress from their upstairs neighbor. They are trying their hardest to make small talk instead of staring at the server and trying to figure out if that was one of the kids from Fame.
Server: When you give the newcomer an olive tapenade pizzeta, they will say the words "thank you," and you will almost hug them. The prolonged eye contact following this moment will convince them that you were, in fact, one of the kids from Fame.
6.The One Who Came Right From Work: They are famished. They meet up with a large group of people who look calmer and more carefully dressed than they. Their friends will make a big deal out of how hungry they are, and tell you that next time you come out with a tray of mini portobello mushroom cannolis, you should come straight to them.
Server: Take half a glance at this person's outfit and place in the room, and then accept that there is no way that you will be able to find them again. Even if you could find them, they are at the farthest point from the kitchen, and by the time you make it over to the very hungry caterpillar all of your open-faced lobster roll bruschettas will be gone anyway.
7. The Kid: There will be one child at the party. At a party based around avant-garde art, booze, and donating large amounts of money, there is nothing to amuse a child. They will be between the ages of ten and fourteen; the over-fourteens are either beginning to blend in with the regulars, or have refused to keep coming to these parties. The under-tens are home with nannies, as are most of the under-fourteens. The kid is an exception, and realizes as soon as they get there that they are the only exception.
Server: You and the kid occupy a similar space at the party, and as such you feel a camaraderie with them from the beginning. They will follow you around taking all of the appetizers except for the ones that look icky, and you will pretend not to recognize them as they come back for thirds. You will also pretend not to notice as they trip over the Model's train and sneak marbles from the flower arrangements into their pockets.
It's easy to turn sour at a service job. You spend twelve hours on your feet; a guest deposits a dirty napkin with their chewed-up gum on your platter without saying anything; you realize that you've made more money pouring wine than you have with your dance and writing college education, etc. But so far, after a summer of work, I've found that this is excellent field research.
After nights serving a class that I have never seen before, much less been a part of, I travel home with the other servers, the class I've always known. It's what my grandparents (both painters) called "artist class." We're young, usually, but not always. We wear crumpled vests and smell like spilled gin martinis. We loosen our ties and curse and talk loudly, letting it all out after an evening of silent smiling and polite nods. We talk and joke briefly about the event, telling anecdotes about rude guests and glamorous dresses and showing off the Tupperwares of leftovers we're taking home.
Then we move on, asking the question "So what do you actually do?" We tell each other about the plays we're auditioning for, the sculptures we're making, the dance pieces we're starring in but not getting paid for. I tell them about college, and writing, and eavesdropping. We all go back to thinking about the gala, and brainstorm ideas for short stories.
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April 13, 2022