Tab Tries: Working Formal Hall

Soup, Serbia and absolutely no spillages: LEAF ARBUTHNOT takes her passion for the buttery one step further and works a shift as a waitress at formal hall.

awkward babies Buttery College food Formal gown leaf Serbia soup tab tries waitressing Wine

This week, I tried waitressing at formal, and it was a hoot worthy of Pigwidgeon. I didn’t expect it to be an eye-opening, back-straightening, sock-pulling-up experience, but somehow it just was.  

Usually, waitressing is pretty grim. I used to do it at this joint near my house; I worked like a mule for a boss who kept warning me that he had undercover friends about to check up on me.

In comparison, formal was a cinch. There were no cigarette butts to sweep out of the restaurant doorway, no customers requesting extra ginger in their smoothies, no demands for the chef to come and taste for himself how bleeding cold his fish pie was.

The evening was, however, dominated by feelings of awkwardness. I arrived in their throes, dressed in practical black trousers, sturdy black shoes and a functional white shirt. The legit waitresses were standing around chatting in languages I didn’t understand. I was given a bowtie, waistcoat and ‘waiter’s napkin’ to be hung artfully at my hip. In short, I felt like a tit.

Check out the napkin

Wine-buying collegians shuffled into the buttery where all the waitresses, including your humble servant, were assembled. I tried to keep a low profile – thinking grey thoughts, looking vaguely melancholy – to encourage the rest of the ‘team’ to treat me as they would any newbie.

And then it all kicked off, as most good things do, with vegetable broth. It was a bit of a nightmare; the bowls were shallow and the soup was slopping all over the shop. There was a chap whose gown was trailing on the floor, a serious trip hazard, but I negotiated it nimbly. And before we knew it, we had to clear away and give out the main course.

I dropped a knife. I dropped a knife. It clattered. I shattered. The girl who it belonged to looked more embarrassed than I did. It was awful.

So profesh

This is where the shit really could have hit the pan. Pleasingly though there were no other cock-ups. The chef was cracking jokes, and the waitresses were chatting to me about babies and Serbia and stuff. It was awesome.

By the time I was giving out lemon tarts, balancing three plates on my newly muscled arm, I felt I’d been born a waitress. The shitty Italian essay that had previously been sprawling across my mind now felt inconsequential.


Of course I would dominate it – I could balance three plates on my arm! I could snuff out college candles with my bare hands! I could catch snippets of conversations and contemplate them in silence, unburdened by the pressure of replying!

All in all, the holistic experience was most satisfying. I’ve heard it rumoured that some people get involved in sports at Cambridge, and the whole evening had the vibe of a game – you’re in a team, you’re constantly running, you’re in your special kit, so are they. I can see the appeal.

I would do it again, though only for some heavy dollaz next time round.

And I’ve learnt some lessons too. Next time I go to formal, I will:

a) Not pour wax on the table. It’s a bit annoying.

b) Be bloody polite to anyone serving me.

c) Be extra polite if it’s soup. Soup is tricky.