Waiter Legs

I walk into my gym at 9:00 AM on a cold Sunday morning. It’s an ungodly hour for a waiter to be awake, but after returning to the restaurant life I promised myself I wouldn’t backslide into bad habits like sleeping until noon, skipping breakfast, late night pizza, and drinking too many post shift libations. Besides, I don’t want to regain the twenty pounds I just lost.

“Hey there,” the lithe blonde girl manning the front desk says.

“How are you?” I reply, swiping my membership card through the reader.

“Exhausted,” she says.

“Too much partying?”

“I wish,” the blonde snorts. “I was working my other job last night. I didn’t get home until one in the morning.”

“Ouch,” I reply. “What’s your other job?”

“Banquet waitressing”

“Man,” I say, wincing. “That brutal.”

“Tell me about it. We had a huge wedding reception the other night.”

“Where do you work?” The girl tells me. It’s a banquet hall known for grinding up and spitting out its employees.

“Been there long?” I ask.

“Six months,” the blonde sighs. “I hate it. I’m always tired.”

“I just went back to waiting tables myself,” I say. “I forgot how physical it is.”

“Your feet hurt yet?” the girl asks smiling.

“I couldn’t feel my feet when I got out of bed this morning.”

“That bad, huh?”

“The worst.”

“You’ve got to get your waiter legs back,” the blonde says.

“They better come back soon,” I say, walking though the turnstile and onto the gym floor. “My knees are killing me.”

“Have a good workout,” the girl says, “If you can.”

“I’ll try. Thanks.”

I haven’t been to the gym in three days and I need to sweat out the badness. With the exception of two loudly grunting juice heads, the brightly lit weight room is empty. The driving techno beat coming out of the sound system makes the place feel like an empty after hours nightclub. I walk into the locker room, change, and head over to a lat pulldown machine. The moment I start my back routine, however, the exhaustion of working two double shifts in a row hits me. Iron plates I moved effortlessly the week before seem to have doubled in weight. My joints feel like they’re gummed up with sand. After ten minutes of exertion, nausea starts teasing my stomach. Dogging it, I half ass my way through the weights and head over to the cardio room to ride the stationary bike.

Ten minutes into my pedaling the blonde from the front desk walks into the cardio room and starts refilling the antibacterial lotion in the hand dispensers. As I admire her derrière I notice that’s she walking a little funny – like she’s got a mild case of waiter butt.

“Hurting from last night?” I call out from my machine.

“Oh my God,” the girl says, “My thighs are killing me.”

“I feel you pain,” I say, “Believe me I do.”

“We have to carry trays up a flight of stairs!” the blonde says. “We call it ‘Satan’s Stairmaster.’”

“Waiting tables sucks,” I say. “Doesn’t it?”

“Big time.”

The blonde finishes up her chores and leaves. I smile to myself. The girl is half my age, in amazing shape, and she’s hurting from waiting tables. I’m nearing forty. What chance do I have? A friend of mine worked in one of Manhattan’s most vaunted eateries for years. At 38 her left foot imploded. After the orthopedic doc told her waiting tables was no longer a viable career option she went back to school to become a psychoanalyst. I always kid Lana that her body knew it was time to leave waitering before her conscious mind did. Will that happen to me?

I’m not going to lie – I’m a little ambivalent about waiting tables again. The restaurant biz might be a good home base as I plan my next book project, but taking orders from a twenty-four year old kid and starting at the bottom again is a drag. During my short stint at Café Machiavelli I’ve already had to tamp down the urge to walk out the door twice. Luckily the angels of maturity and reason have swept in and convinced me not to act like an asshole. But I wonder – will my body force me out the door like Lana’s did? Early heart attacks force traders off Wall Street before reason tells them it’s time to quit. Maybe orthopedic problems are nature’s way of telling waiters it’s time to throw in the apron.

The timer on the exercise bike hits twenty minutes. I stop. I should go for another twenty but I’m too tired. I skip my sit-ups and stretching, change back into my sweats, and head for the exit.

“Leaving so soon?” the blonde girl says, smirking.

“Stick a fork in me,” I reply. “I’m done.”

“Don’t stop coming here,” the blonde warns. “Exercise keeps waiting tables from damaging your body.”

I stop in my tracks and look at the girl. I’ve seen her lift her body weight and run like a gazelle. She probably knows what she’s talking about.

“How about a training regimen for waiters?” I say. “You could write a book and call it Waiter Buns of Steel.”

“Maybe I will,” the blonde says, laughing.

“I’d buy it.”

The girl flicks a professional eye over me. “Think about doing some yoga too,” she says “You like to lift but strength is useless without flexibility.”

I tell the blonde she’s probably right and ask for the gym’s yoga schedule. She gives me a pink colored handout with December’s classes. I thank her, walk out the door and head back to my apartment. Once inside I drink a glass of milk, take a long hot shower, and crawl back into bed. The exhaustion I’m feeling is my body asking me to conserve energy. I have to work another double tomorrow. I need my rest. Hopefully this over tiredness will disappear when my “waiter legs” return. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if I can’t bounce back like I used to? Will my body betray me? Maybe doing yoga’s a good idea. Before sleep overtakes me I look at the clock on my nightstand. It reads 10:15 AM.

Goddammit, I’m sleeping until noon again.

18 thoughts on “Waiter Legs”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Housekeepers have the same problem. When I was a housekeeping manager, I knew plenty of 50+year-old women whose bodies were destroyed from doing that work for decades. My friends would say that housekeepers exercised all day, but I told them that it wasn’t the kind of working out that’s good for you.

    Whenever I hired a new maid, I would warn them that the first two weeks would be brutal, but if they just stuck it out, their body would adjust. 80% of them still quit before the work became easier.

  2. Liz says:

    When I came home from a long shift I used to lie on the floor with my legs against the wall. Bascially you make your body into an L, back flat against the floor, and scoot forward until you can rest your legs vertically against the wall. After twenty minutes the ache in my feet went away and I never woke up with them hurting. I was only a waiter for 6 years though.

  3. SFBartender says:

    That sounds like a good tip, Liz. Where I’m working now every shift is 11-13hrs. Because the owner doesn’t want to hire more people, we work from 4pm to 3am, aproximately. Needless to say, I’m dead when I get off.

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  5. Dave says:

    Combine waiter legs with waiter butt and it’s a lethal night. You know life is bad when soap hurts. Ugh.

  6. daniel says:

    9:00 A.M.?? Don’t you remember middle school where you had to wake up at around 6:00 A.M.??

    1. Chelsie says:

      I don’t think you were up waiting tables until 3 am when you were in middle school…

  7. Stephanie says:

    Loved your post…waiting tables sucks…my feet are killing me. ….What are you up to now, in the year 2014??

  8. Susan says:

    I waited tables from my early twenties until my mid forties. Even after I had ruptured a disc in my back and was suffering from sciatica. Finally throwing in the towel when I got tendinitis in my elbow. Now 5 years later at age 50, I am told I have arthritis in both of my knees. All of these lovely physical ailments I have, I sincerely believe were a result of waiting tables for over twenty years. So before you make a career out of it, I would suggest consulting with your doctor and a physical therapist on preventative measures, such as an exercise regime to strengthen certain parts of the body and how to treat stressed or injured body parts and most importantly know when your body has had enough, get out before you suffer any permanent damage.

  9. Rita Black says:

    I have been serving for over forty years, the last twenty two years full time. I am sixty six and am starting to feel like someone has beaten me up when I get off work. I work six to seven hours six days a week. We get no breaks and never sit down. I admit it is starting to get to me. Maybe I should get a physical to make sure I am not doing permanent damage. Thanks everyone for your tips.

    1. Kelly says:

      I am the same way i feel like i got beat up .The company i work for has no buser no host no cashier so we do it all for 8 -10 hrs straight and I am 55 feeling alot older .

  10. William Williams says:

    Nice bit of writing. I’ve gone back to waiting tables at 44, which is now less painful with better shoes. Sometimes I bike to work, I take the dog hiking everyday and, though my body hurts it’s not too bad. My secret: I try to freelance half the week and keep the table waiting down to 25 hours a week. Lunchtime fine dining is a wondrous thing.

    Now, I should also mention that “not too bad” includes an achy part of my back between my shoulder blades, that sometimes goes numb, and a nagging ankle I busted two years ago. Comrades in “argh!” Are we.

  11. Clay says:

    I’m 16 and I got my first job as a SA and waiter where I work and I can say the money us nice forr my age and gow much im working but I worked my first double today and I cant regret it more Ive played football all my life and work out daily but I honestly didnt know what I was getting my self into when I pickrd up that shift.

    1. Lottie says:

      I’m laying in my bed right now reading this after a failed attempt to get up and grab food from the kitchen at 1:30 am. My legs and feet are so sore. I am also 16 and I bus tables at a pretty nice restaurant. I usually work a few weekdays, Friday and Saturday from 4pm-11pm, and Sunday from 11am-11pm. Recently we have been incredibly understaffed so I have been the only bus girl on our busiest nights trying to keep up with 2 rooms inside, a large patio and porch. I am in pretty good shape and play some sports but come Sunday night I can hardly move.

  12. vanessa says:

    I really enjoyed your article and yes, you should take up the Yoga, a gentle practice would be great to stretch those tight muscles. I just turned 59 yrs. old and had to start waiting tables again due to a lay-off from my full-time job. I think you all should release a special exercise book for those in the restaurant industry. I sit here now with lower back spasms and a heat wrap. Wear and tear, and especially when you have to do doubles. One thing that works miraculously for me is I change shoes and socks for the second shift! Your feel will love it – air them out somewhere briefly (in the bathroom, your car or home if you get a break) and spread your toes, then put a fresh pair of supportive socks, anklets, etc. and shoes. Also, someone mentioned putting your legs up the wall, 90 degree, and just relaxing for 5-10 minutes. Your legs and circulation will love it. My neuromuscular therapist just told me to apply heat to my back before very shift and then apply ice pack wrapped in thin towel at the end of the shift when I get home. Athletes and people who work out regularly do this, and we, servers are like athletes, if you think about it! Also, just be glad your moving, because the ones stuck behind a desk all day have a whole other set of physical problems from NOT moving enough…our problem is too much, maybe…but we have to learn how to unwind besides reaching for alcohol, because it can be addictive and not good for your body if it’s abused. Hang in there everyone!!

    1. Leslie says:

      I work a sedentary job Mon thru Fri and work as a waitress on weekends. I have only be doing this for 3 weekends but I find that my thigh is numb when I leave my waitress shift and my feet are throbbing. it’s been 23 years since I waited tables so I am thinking that my body is trying to get adjusted. And of course, i am not a regular exerciser so I am definitely sure that is a contributor to my aches. I am really hoping that it get easier soon because at 47 I am trying to finish paying off a student loan and find some financial freedom with working 2 jobs. I wish all well on this post and I hope I can at least continue this for a year. Wish me luck!

  13. DeadWaiter says:

    Honestly a lot of people here have had decades of experience in that industry and are hurting. I was a gamer type of a guy but had to get a job. Im not sure working doubles from 10am-1am will keep me alive for more than an year before my legs and back give out.

  14. ana says:

    I thought waitressing used to keep me skinny. Not sure it works any more. I do it part-time when I can but no longer work doubles. I became very sick from doubles in my 20’s with chronic fatigue/epstein bar. After a year I finally took some food bases vitamin and ate better and was fine. omega fatty acids, avocado, raw organic nuts, olive oil etc are very important for body an we need it everyday. The spraying of pesticides back then didn’t help. Anyway, I do not think anyone should do doubles; once in a while fine but don’t do it. It’s torture. Some soreness feels ok but I know that feeling when it hurts to walk or roll over until a day passes. But it is a great skill to have just don’t over do it and drink lots of water. I like the idea of working out to help and warm bath, herbal tea. I once paid $20 to have feet rubbed, it worked. : ) I worked one place and they said no sitting for 9 hours, no break, except 5 min smoke break. Nj has no break laws. I also worked one night a week banquet to supplement income and could understand how some girls did more than one night.

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