My first indoctrination into the world of fine dining was a job I got because I lied about my experience. I was a broke college kid, I needed money, and I did what I needed to do.

I think that my purposeful lying was what got me the job. The managers of the restaurant recognized I was full of it, and to be a waiter, well, you have to tell lies. “What’s your favorite on the menu?” You say the fresh catch, not that the fish was caught two years ago in a different hemisphere.

If you have never been to Savannah, Georgia, you should absolutely go. Great place to visit. But just visit or else you’ll fall in love with it and never leave.

The thing about Savannah, like any tourist town, is that there are two sides. The tourist side and the real side. I lived and worked on the tourist side, which unfortunately has left me a little jaded. At any given time I was two feet from a place where I could buy an airbrushed T-shirt or take a scenic carriage ride pulled by an overworked Clydesdale.

The restaurant I worked at was on the most popular strip in the entire city, a historic cobblestone street along the river, cleverly called River Street. The job title was “fine dining server,” so that’s what I believed I was. I wore a black tie and a long apron and held myself with the confidence of a valet in an ancient manor.

I actually went on from there, as a broke college graduate, to do real fine dining, which is a completely different ballgame, but that’s another story.

The reason that people chose this particular restaurant is that they advertised fresh shrimp and good ol’ Southern hospitality. If you were smart and looked at the menu you would notice that sweet tea was not there. That should be your first red flag at any restaurant in the South, just saying.

The second red flag is that you are paying upwards of $50 for a shrimp dish. Granted, shrimp is not the cheapest thing in the world, but it doesn’t cost that much. Shrimp is also not very hard to cook. If you can cook an egg, congratulations, you can cook shrimp.

In this industry, there are times when you come into contact with less-than-savory individuals. I would guess there is a higher ratio of frustration when you are serving hot, tired, tourists who are paying an arm and a leg for something they could get at a fraction of the cost if they were only two blocks away. Their kids are yelling. Their wife is yelling. They have their emergency credit card and are too exhausted to even try.

This happened on a daily basis. After a while, it got to me.

As a waiter, you work for tips, and the way to getting a good tip is getting people to like you and not screwing up. You also need to get that bill up there and the best way to do that is booze. At this restaurant promising Southern hospitality that didn’t serve sweet tea, there was one Southern gem they did feature. The mint julep.

Call it whatever you want. I call it gross. A mint julep is bourbon served in a glass over muddled mint leaves and powdered sugar. If you make it at home I would recommend taking the mint and sugar out, then you have a decent beverage.

I loved selling mint juleps. I would sell them only to those that really deserved them though. Like the cranky, sweaty father of three on his way to a divorce with his wife that decided to take it out on me because we were out of lobster. Or the flannel-clad woman that raked me over the coals because her salad wasn’t cool and crisp enough.

I loved selling these mint juleps because I got to pick and wash the mint used in them myself from a garden in front of the restaurant.

River Street in Savannah is not only famous as a tourist attraction, it is also one of the only fully open container areas in this great country. Basically, after the sun sets it turns into a two-mile-long bar that doesn’t close until early, early in the morning.

These restaurants and bars are small, and because they are small they have tiny bathrooms. So after say, 11 p.m., lines start forming. Do you know what a fella that’s had too many drinks in him does when there is a long line at the bathroom and it’s go time? Yeah. Right on the mint. I may even know a guilty soul.

If you have never been to Savannah, you should absolutely go. Great place to visit. But if you find yourself on River Street, hungry and in a bad mood, make sure you’re nice to your waiter. Because if you’re not, that’s not just powdered sugar making that mint julep so refreshing.

Chris Walter is a Georgia writer and artist. His latest book “Southern Glitter” and more are available at his website


Recommended for you