Confessions of a Former Bottle Service Waitress

A former NYC bottle waitress tells all, from sex in the bathroom to getting tipped in cocaine.

Once upon a time, when my liquor tolerance and threshold for bullshit were higher, I was a bottle service waitress in New York City. I was a precocious 19 year-old junior at NYU, and two years later, I’d quit the nightlife industry just as I became legally eligible to drink. But by then, I’d had more than my fill… and not just of booze.

I worked at a few bars and lounges, but the majority of my time was spent at a prominent Manhattan rooftop bar and lounge. When I started, just days after my 18th birthday, I was the youngest waitress on their roster. It started with a training shift. I was told to wear something black and above the knee, high heels, and makeup. I’d never waited tables before, something I’d blatantly lied about on my resume. But things went well. So well, in fact, I was awarded with coveted the Thursday, Friday and Saturday night shifts. I was in.

The hours are long, the liquor is free, and everyone sleeps with each other

The floor manager took an immediate liking to me, which is the best case scenario for a waitress, since the floor manager is responsible for sectioning the space and seating reservations. Getting in his good graces meant getting the best clients. What I didn’t know was that he had a girlfriend… one of the other waitresses. This sort of daytime soap-level drama is standard in the hospitality industry. The hours are long, the liquor is free, and everyone sleeps with each other. It’s one big, dysfunctional and incestuous family- one that fucks in the bathroom while you’re waiting for your $15 mojito.

When I started working, I never drank on the job. I didn’t really drink period. (I was 19, remember?) I was in this for the money, not the thrills. But within a month, I was taking shots of Patron every half hour. In the summers, shifts would start as early as 3 pm, and you might not leave until 6 am the next morning. Nothing like 15 hours in heels to turn you into a full-blown alcoholic. Now, no establishment really encourages their staff to drink. It’s typically forbidden, but everyone does it. And for a bottle waitress, drinking with your “clients” is a diplomatic way of getting them to spend more money. So managers would turn a blind eye to the girls they knew could hold their liquor. Basically, if you could accurately count your money at the end of the night, you were good.

Looking back, I feel like an accessory to our country’s economic collapse

Speaking of money, I made more of it than any teenager ever should. It was not unusual to pull in $2,000 on a busy Saturday night. This was just before the 2009 recession, and the venue was a favorite of New York’s finance crowd. A group of five investment bankers would easily run up a tab in the tens of thousands of dollars. Looking back, I feel like an accessory to our country’s economic collapse.

Every establishment has it’s core patronage, and this is largely dictated by the ownership’s taste and prejudices. Our owner was quite the character. Well into his 60s and looked like a Scrooge McDuck. He had a thing for Asian women, as was reflected by the demographics of our waitstaff. He was also particularly insistent that the DJ never play hip-hop or rap music, as to not attract what he considered to be the “wrong crowd,” re: black people.

yes, some girls do take their work home with them. Or rather, they go home with their work

Bottle service is competitive. Career bottle waitresses, or “hosts”, as they’re sometimes called, have their clients on speed dial, and fight hard to keep their loyalty. So to answer the question on everyone’s mind, yes, some girls do take their work home with them. Or rather, they go home with their work. Even for the waitresses like myself, who kept things strictly vertical, the line of propriety between you and your clients is a thin one.

You’re paid as much to serve liquor as you are to look hot and flirt. You’re not just serving cocktails, you are providing an experience, and it’s mostly, if not entirely, for the men. You’re job is to make a nobody feel like somebody, and a somebody feel like a nobody. You’re banking as much on your looks as you are on the 20% gratuity that comes included with every bottle you sell. And with bottles generally ranging from two to eight hundred dollars, you could easily pay your rent by the end of the night. I once watched a girl get sent home in tears, because she didn’t put on makeup that night. At the time, I didn’t really grasp how misogynistic and objectifying the industry is. But what I did understand was that objectification paid. Well.

moderation is the only thing that’s off limits

The thing about working in nightlife is that it very quickly becomes a lifestyle. I was fortunate to have school to tether me to reality, but for many of the girls I worked with, this wasn’t just their job, it was their life. Drugs are obviously a huge part of it. What gets confiscated from patrons by security typically just gets ingested by the staff. Many barbacks and busboys sell cocaine, and customers would often try and tip with it. The people that stay in the industry are either active addicts or sober ones. When you work in nightlife, moderation is the only thing that’s off limits. ​

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Thibaud Saintin

Julia Reiss is a Los Angeles-born writer and humorist alive and mostly well in New York City.
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