How Working at a ‘Breastaurant’ Taught Me to Be a Better Person

“Think of it like an acting gig,” she said.

It was as much as I could do not to perform a theatrical gulp to reply. I was sitting across the table from Diana, the mohawked matriarch of the Phoenix branch of Twin Peaks; that is, I was sitting in front of a woman I desperately needed to become my new boss. I had just moved states at very short notice, draining my savings account in doing so, and I needed to make money. Fast money, at that. I had meandered into Twin Peaks three days prior, in need of a drink to soften the rising panic of my situation, and the first words that had come out of my mouth upon arrival had been, “Are you hiring?” 

The answer was yes, so three days later, there I sat: dolled-up, sweaty, nonplussed. And somehow – despite my complete lack of serving experience and obvious discomfort with the dress code – I got the job.

I was elated, for obvious reasons, but nevertheless, it was supremely awkward to introduce the concept of the Twin Peaks Girl™ to the friends and family who had hoped I’d end up with a respectable desk job of some variety. Twin Peaks is a gastropub/sports bar, but with a twist. Akin to Hooters, it’s a dining experience that brings good old fashioned family fare to the people of America, with a heaped side-serving of glittery cleavage, bare thigh, and lipsticked mouth. To my knowledge, so-called “breastaurants” like Twin Peaks don’t exist in other countries. Only America – a country hell-bent on injecting sex appeal into anything and everything – can literally bring boobs to the table in this bizarre way. 

Whether you agree that such establishments ought to exist or not, it’s undeniable that Twin Peaks has the formula nailed. The mountain chalet theme, the promise of “scenic views,” all down to the name “Twin Peaks:” it’s beer and it’s boob banter, as uncomplicated and earnest as its target patrons. Moreover,  if you look closely enough at the breastaurant phenomenon, it’s clear that such establishments are goading the problem as much as they’re cashing in on it. These businesses know that men will keep coming back and giving them their money – however it is that they’ve earned it – because they like to drink, they like to eat, and they want to converse with women that might not bat an eyelid at them in real life. They’re facilitating the game, yes, but they’re also gently making fun of it.

For us waitresses, playing the role is absolutely an acting gig of sorts, but in my case it’s a very specific one. Elements of pantomime – gaudy costumes, relentless enthusiasm, low-brow humor – mingle with all the sidelong glances and muttered asides from an episode of “The Office.” Trust me: I didn’t end up a TPG because I liked the idea of squishing my boobs together and stroking men’s egos all day long. For most of my life, I was a classic Hermione Granger; a hand-up, A-plus, crooked teeth kind of Brit that ought not to have nosedived into buxom beer-brandishing. Unfortunately, when confronted with hardship, one must turn to one’s most marketable assets – and, for a little British woman standing in the ashes of a life punctuated by spontaneous decision-making, the assets with the greatest immediate revenue were my fake boobs and my plummy accent. 

This is where I’d roll my eyes, if I were telling you this face-to-face. But the eye roll would only be to illicit a quick laugh, which is something I’ve become distinctly adept at doing. The thing is, I must admit I’ve developed a sincere fondness for my hammy, not-entirely-horrible job – much to the surprise of everyone I knew from previous points in life, including myself. 

Marrying my former bias against appearance-centric vocations with this newfound thrill was a problematic thing for me to grapple with at first. It would have been easy to sit back and tell all my friends – many of whom have grown-up jobs, career paths,  families and whatnot – that I was only doing it for the money, and that I detested Twin Peaks from its odd obsession with taxidermy to the tacky dress-up weeks. But I couldn’t, because the truth is, I believe very fiercely that this job has made me a significantly better human being.

There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, the primary goal of the job is good-natured hospitality. At Twin Peaks, we’re in the business of reading people and improvising on cue to do them a favor and cheer them up, and that in itself – to me, at least – is a commendable profession. We do this in different ways for different people, several people at a time, all day every day. We dress up, we make jokes, we bring booze, we deliver food, and most importantly of all: we talk. We talk and we talk and we talk, because the thing about Twin Peaks that sets it apart from other restaurants is that the diners don’t tend to come in for some peace and quiet. Far from it, in fact: they come in their droves to see the pretty ladies in plaid who are paid to actually talk to them. The big bosses at Twin Peaks can really pat themselves on the back for this one, because they were on to something when they realized that while pretty girls are a dime a dozen, pretty girls who can communicate with strangers from all walks of life are gold. 

In short, it’s a modern-day circus where the clowns also have to look like ring girls. It doesn’t take a book-smart person, but it does involve a level of charisma and social skill that many people in our digital age sadly lack. Painting our faces a certain way and shimmying around in costume is actually a laughably small portion of what we do; most of it is a precarious balancing act of niceness and no-thank-yous. It takes a deft social IQ to master the art of intimacy at arms length, and the most successful Twin Peaks girls understand this all too well. We generate income through charm and memorable – albeit quick – conversation, and I rapidly developed a healthy level of respect for this endeavor. As one regular guest noted to me recently, between Guinness and Camel wide cigarettes in the smoking area, too many young people are preprogrammed to shut the world out and live through their phones. By making interaction with strangers the forefront of the show, restaurants like Twin Peaks encourage a phone-down attitude that many millennials could stand to learn from.

Furthermore, while there was certainly a point in my life where I would have dismissed a chain like this as a boorish bimbo factory, having danced the dance for some time now, I can safely say that the focus is on empowering women of all walks of life to foster a sense of self-respect that extends to the physical, too. Granted, to an extent the job disqualifies many in that it’s an old boys club reserved for nubile young women, but the physical spectrum of women who work in these restaurants is surprisingly broad. All we are asked is to scrub up in basic ways: wear make-up, ensure hair is did, keep nails tidy. Aside from that, bodies of all sizes are embraced. Many have asked me if I feel uncomfortable in the get-up, but I can safely say that even on what may once have been “bad body image” days, pulling that polyester crop top over my shoulders makes me feel like – well, if not a million dollars, at least like flirting my way to a stack of cash at the end of the night. When everyone is wearing the same thing, it’s hard to feel awkward; moreover, the raison d’etre on the floor is to build one another up. The unspoken rule is similar to that of a women’s locker room: that is, there’s no sense in ridiculing another woman’s body, let alone our own, because we’re all equals when we’re this underdressed.

As such, there’s a strong sense of sisterhood among those of us who have worked – however briefly – in this world. I recently became reacquainted with a long-time internet friend of mine who, for all intents and purposes, has her shit together more than most. She is a captain in the Marine Corps, the expectation of which requires her to be physically fitter and more mentally astute than the general populous, and she embodies this role entirely. And, as it turns out, she worked at Hooters during college. She said one thing to me that resonated more than anything anyone has said to me in weeks: “I figured if I could handle serving chicken wings in spandex, I could handle any of [life’s] other bullshit.”

There it was. The final piece of the puzzle in one short sentence. Learning how to maintain composure when you’re being pulled in ten different directions is character building as is, let alone doing so in an ensemble that was designed to titillate rather than serve a tactical purpose. It’s a skill that none of my beloved school books could ever teach, and I think I speak for many when I say that gaining humility in this specific way is a valuable a posteriori life lesson.

It wasn’t without eating a lot of humble pie that I launched into TPG life. It takes a heck of a lot of grit and much pride-swallowing to walk through that wooden door with a good attitude and a willingness to muck in as much as any of the bussers, chefs, managers, and the other Twin Peaks Girls do to get the job done and get out in one piece. Of course, I do it for the same reason we all do: because that’s where the money is, and for the first time in my life, I’m certainly not getting money from anywhere else. But it’s something more than that, too – a chance to meet people I may once have turned my nose up at, to relate to strangers, to make people a little bit happier. Turns out, forcibly dispelling one’s airs and graces is enormously liberating, and it makes everything thereafter significantly more enjoyable. 

Whenever I tell this story – which has a variety of iterations, depending on the audience, but always begins with a bewildered British girl walking into a bar – it is not lost on me that it sounds like the setup to a good old fashioned pub joke. The punchline is, invariably, also me: falling between two stools, metaphorically speaking, wherein I am simultaneously as awkward as Colin from “Love, Actually,” but expected to look as beautiful as the girls that flock to him when he finally makes it to America. But the niche I have carved for myself here at Twin Peaks is a very fun place to preside, at least for the time being. Don’t get me wrong: it’s abomnible that we live in a society smited by sex appeal being the coin of the realm, but subtly satirizing it is entertainment in itself. And, hey – getting paid to laugh all day long suits me just fine.

The moral of the story here is not that you need to look a certain way in order to earn a crust; it’s that working hard with the tools you’ve got and doing it without complaint is the name of the game. This isn’t a job that will pay out for the slovenly. The money is only there if you can keep up with the tempo and tolerate bullshit ranging from reeking of wing sauce to beer-goggled men mistaking niceness for a chance of a date. Not only do we tolerate these things, but we generate cocaine-induced levels of enthusiasm for all of it, because it’s a tip-for-tat world under the Twin Peaks marquee. Ultimately, every one of us cleavage-baring waitress-ladies simply need money for our own shows to go on; electing to enjoy the process is, at the end of the day, a round of applause that we owe ourselves.

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