Copper Door, 1975

A Slice of My Life....

I was 20 and in college when I waitressed at the Copper Door, a mid-priced restaurant in suburban Philadelphia. I don't think the owners--a couple of jerks named Steve and Lenny--intended it to be a themed restaurant, but it had that vibe. The lights were kept ridiculously low, tables were separated by curtains made of Turkish beads, and the specialty drinks were clearly designed for people with no taste for real alcohol; the Velvet Peanut was a frozen concoction of vodka, ice cream, and peanut butter. (My father, a "vodka up twist" sort of guy, was horrified.)

We had a uniform of sorts--hot pants and a buttoned shirt. We were allowed to wear any color combination of white, yellow, red, and black. We also had to wear tall boots, which was a handy place to stash our cash tips. (It bears mentioning that the "hot pants and boots" look was about 7 years out of date by 1975.) One time, I was reprimanded for wearing hot pants that were not short or tight enough.

Always logical by nature, I put it to good use at the Copper Door. I wrote orders on my pad in a pattern that allowed me to know who ordered what, so I didn't have to say "Who ordered the flounder almondine?" when I brought the food. (No food runners back then, at least there.)

Every former waiter or waitress (I guess I should say "server") remembers the times they were stiffed. It only happened to me twice; one of those times was on the most expensive meal I had ever served--appetizers, lobster, desserts, lots of top-shelf drinks. But most customers tipped in line with the 15% standard of that era.

Steve and Lenny leased the building and occasionally the owner would come in for dinner, always by himself. He was assigned to my station only once. Another waitress said to me, "That's the owner of the building. Treat him like gold." The owner (not sure if I ever knew his name) sat at a small booth by the bar, chain-smoking. He was quiet and respectful. No braggadocio about owning the building.

His check was around $7, which had gotten him one of the lower-priced entrees and a highball of some sort. He had just lit a cigarette when I delivered the check and didn't seem in a hurry to pay. When I went to check on him a few minutes later, he was gone. He had left $25 on the table, which meant a $18 tip for me. It is one of the highlights of my working life.

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