Dishing It Out

Power and Resistance Among Waitresses in a New Jersey Restaurant

Greta Foff Paules
Book Cover
225 pages
5.5 x 8.25

Challenges the uncritical equation of advancement with success


This study challenges the uncritical equation of advancement with success. As a participant observer at a family-style restaurant in New Jersey, Greta Paules reveals the strategies that experienced waitresses employ to improve their own positions rather than aspiring toward management. Through the voices of some aggressive, determined, tough, and resilient women, Paules confronts stereotypical characterizations of waitresses.

Paules finds that certain unique features of the restaurant industry—the tipping system, chaotic work environment, chronic shortages of labor and supplies, and the manager's role as a fill-in man—allow waitresses to manipulate their work environment to protect their own interests. The downgrading of the managerial role in this restaurant has rendered advancement meaningless. Knowing that the "help wanted" sign is permanently posted, the waitresses refuse to submit to management's dictates, to "take junk" from rude or hostile customers, or to internalize the negative self-image usually associated with waitressing.

The colorful and often amusing comments by the women Paules interviewed indicate that they have developed an arsenal of subtle but undeniably effective tactics to combat the exploitive elements of the job, to maximize tips, and to secure the boss's attention to their needs.


"(P)rovides a vivid picture of the bustle and banter of restaurant life from the waitresses' point of view.... Paules highlights the freedom of interpretation that allows workers to resist potentially demeaning aspects of their jobs."American Journal of Sociology

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. "Getting" and "Making" a Tip
3. The Limits of Managerial Authority
4. Sources of Autonomy
5. Up a Crooked Ladder
6. Resisting the Symbolism of Service
7. Conclusion

About the Author(s)

Greta Foff Paules is a cultural anthropologist who holds a doctorate from Princeton University.

In the Series

  • Women in the Political Economy edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg

    No longer active. Women in the Political Economy, edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg, includes books on women and issues of work, family, social movements, politics, feminism, and empowerment. It emphasizes women's roles in society and the social construction of gender and also explores current policy issues like comparable worth, international development, job training, and parental leave.