They have no job security, unemployment insurance, retirement benefits, paid vacations, sick leave or health insurance. Most don't earn a livable wage, either, and must rely ++ instead on the kindness of strangers.
They're waitresses and waiters. They work as hard as any of us -- usually for much less. Many also endure daily verbal, emotional and sexual abuse, and it's up to us to put a stop to it.
In a busy restaurant in Washington not long ago, a gray-haired, red-faced couple were getting to know each other through a haze of bourbon.
"What's strong enough for me to drink?" she giggled girlishly. "I am," he honked, while their waitress shifted from one sore foot to another.
"Have you got mahi-mahi?" he asked, not bothering to glance at his menu.
"No, sir. But we do have swordfish, shark, dolphin, flounder, monk fish and salmon."
"What about a seafood salad? You got a seafood salad?"
"No, sir. But we do have tossed salad, Caesar salad, house salad, coleslaw, carrot-and-raisin salad and marinated vegetable salad."
In the end, they ordered five appetizers each and told her to bring them one at a time and "make sure the hot ones are hot -- like me! -- and the cold ones are cold."
Her tip, after more than 2 1/2 hours of this "humor," was $6 on a $72.50 bill.
"It happens," she said later, with a lopsided smile. "I don't let them get to me, that's all. If I let people like them bother me or hurt my feelings, they win. I lose."
In a restaurant at Boston's Logan airport, four gray-haired, charcoal-suited businessmen took obvious pleasure in tormenting the young mother of two who served drinks to them for more than an hour, cheerfully and efficiently.
Said one, his hand brushing her backside, "You Italian, sweet thing? I thought Italian women had big jugs -- where are yours?" She moved out of his reach, saying, "Stop that!" She did not, on the other hand, rip his head -- or anything else -- off.
"It embarrasses me when guys act like that. I hate it, but what can I do?" she said later. "My tip was $3.50 on a $48 check. I'm not surprised," she added. "Guys like that are all talk -- in public and private, if you get my meaning."
It isn't just men who dish out this kind of rudeness and abuse, furthermore.
At a posh restaurant in New York not long ago, a well-known book author never once looked at our waiter while barking orders such as: "Put my salad dressing, olives and cucumber slices on the side. Tell them to bake my fish -- no salt. Bring extra lemon slices. Find me a pen."
She tipped him 11 percent (I peeked) at the end of our lengthy -- and beautifully served -- meal, then swept out of the restaurant without a backward glance.
When I went back later, our young waiter shook his head, saying, "A customer like her makes me wonder about people in general. How can people treat people like that?
"The people who read your column ought to know that waiters and waitresses are professionals. We work hard. We care about our work. We're human, too. We have feelings. They get hurt."
Questions should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.