Something I worried about ahead of time turned into a boatload of fun recently, when I got the chance to be a “celebrity”—their word, certainly not mine—waiter.

It was for a special lunch to raise money for the United Way’s ALICE assistance fund. That acronym stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” and funds raised will help individuals and families who are working, but still struggling to make ends meet.

Because I’d missed a training session, I had no idea what I’d be doing, and that made me nervous.

Thankfully, when I got to the event that day at Park Lane Tavern behind Spotsylvania Towne Centre, it quickly became clear there was no cause for worry, as real waiters were there to take the orders and bring the food.

I discovered that my efforts were to be directed toward pressuring, wheedling and otherwise finagling the good folks at my two assigned tables for tips.

It helped that my large table was filled with folks I work with here at The Free Lance–Star newspaper, and they had a much better idea than I did on how this shakedown was to play out. And they had cash to donate.

I took baby steps at first, following the advice of other “celebrity waiters” I knew at nearby tables.

That meant charging a dollar, or five, to anyone who wanted silverware, water, iced tea or a soft drink. And then making them pay to get salt and pepper, napkins and straws.

Soon, it became clear that I could get money by doing embarrassing things in full view of the entire restaurant.

That started off innocently enough, when our publisher, Dale Lachniet, gave me a challenge truly fitting of our industry. He said he’d fork over a big tip if I would make a pressman’s hat from a section of our newspaper.

And because he correctly figured I wouldn’t know how to do that off the top of my head—no pun intended—he brought along directions for folding newsprint correctly to make one of the paper hats.

I tried, but couldn’t follow the directions as well as he could, so I wore the hat he made for the rest of the day, and he was gracious enough to tip me for trying.

In short order, my crew had me sing a lullaby I used to sing to my children, had me play patty-cake with fellow celebrity waiter Cedric Rucker, sing a song to Stafford Sheriff David Decatur, dance the “Macarana” with a host of folks and more.

It took me a moment to find Rucker, the associate vice president and dean of student life at the University of Mary Washington. That’s because he was wearing an eagle mascot head —something he had on all day that proved what a good sport he is.

As for that song I sang to Decatur, a guy I thankfully have met a few times previously? Well, guess what popped into my head when my table told me to serenade him?

“I Shot the Sheriff,” the Bob Marley tune made famous by Eric Clapton.

To lessen the impertinence and dark tone to it all, each time I would sing the chorus to this law officer, I’d add, “Of course, I’d never really do that!”

It was all moot for the first verse or two, as my tablemates had also tasked me with putting on a panda’s head that happened to be sitting on a nearby table before I started singing.

I ended up tilting the panda’s head up so I could be heard on the choruses, though had I been thinking more clearly, I’d have left it in place in the hopes of avoiding any post-song contretemps.

Like all of the event’s attendees—people from all manner of businesses, institutions and organizations raising money for the good cause—Decatur was a prince about the whole thing.

Not only did he refrain from putting his cuffs on me for my confessional ditty, he scooted over a few minutes later to give me a sizable tip.

Other challenges were tossed my way throughout the luncheon in a good-natured way by fellow employees Phil Jenkins, Allen Schmidt, Jane Henshaw, Gayle Yanez and Lachniet.

And though I’m reticent to toot my own waiter’s horn, I am pleased to report that for all the silliness and fun, I ended up with $505 in tips from the giving folks at my two tables.

Credit the givers, as I was just being a goofball, though I did come in fourth out of 13 money-raising waiters. In all, the event is expected to bring in a net of about $19,000, much of it from pre-event sponsorships. We waiters brought in almost $5,200, though, for our shenanigans.

The top earner was none other than my good friend and former basketball pal Barney Reiley, who raised just under $900 for the day.

Did I mention he also talked me into getting up on a counter to dance to and sing The Village People’s “YMCA”? It was apropos for him, because he’s the director of that very organization for our region.

He had the moves and words down better than I did, as I found myself as concerned about falling off the counter as getting the hand motions right.

It felt good getting out of my comfort zone for a bit, even if I was surprised to find there was a video of our table-top dancing making the rounds by that evening.

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Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415

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