Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favourite establishments.
I got a job working as a hostess for a high-end restaurant the very first day I arrived in New York, fresh out of college in the Midwest. I had no experience and I should not have been hired. But my roommate worked at one of the chef's other restaurants, and as soon as she found out I had come to the city with an unpaid internship and no plan to bring in cash, she became very inspired to find me a job. One day after work, a few months in, the bartender started telling me how all these rich Tribeca moms ask him for pills like Xanax or Klonopin.
I happened to have a huge stockpile of Klonopin from a prescription I had been refilling since college, so he started sending over these women who'd ask him for drugs, and I'd put pills in their coat pockets. They had no concept of how much any of this should cost, nor did they care about money at all. I'd give the bartender 10% of whatever they'd give me, and we started a pretty healthy business.
The bartender would just tell them it costs $20 for a 2mg pill, which is just outrageous. It would cost, in a normal situation, at most $10—and that's by pricey New York standards. But nobody really cared about how many pills they were getting or weren't getting. They just wanted to give me enough money so that when they came back they could get more without any conversation. Generally people would just tip me like $60 to $100 and I would put a few Klonopin in their pocket.
Just imagine you have a dog that won't stop barking, and you need your dog to chill the fuck out and get to zen, so you give it a tranquilizer. [Klonopin is] like that for humans.
These women would just come up and say "the bartender told me you can get me a table and check my coat," and that meant they wanted pills. My customers weren't all women, but I'd say about 80% were. Eventually, moms started telling more moms about it, and business grew. They'd just hand me their coat, go grab a glass of wine, then come back 20 minutes later to pick up their coat and hand me a bunch of cash.
During this time I also became the most highly paid hostess. I was making $18 an hour even though I literally did nothing but sit and smoke cigarettes, hang up people's coats, and seat people. Well, and sell drugs. I'm not sure how much waiters made, but they made like no salary and all had to pool tips. Between my little drug-dealing triangle and my hourly pay, I don't think there is any way I didn't walk away with more money than the entire waitstaff.
If you've never taken Klonopin, just imagine you have a dog that won't stop barking, and you need your dog to chill the fuck out and get to zen, so you give it a tranquilizer. It's like that for humans. You will literally go from crazy high energy to seeing a person murdering another person and just casually mention, "Oh, well that was crazy." Then you'll return to a state of complete indifference. These Tribeca moms all had kids and they all had nannies to watch their kids, so they just wanted to escape their privileged lives.
Luckily, supply was never an issue. In college someone told me about this tell-him-what-you-want doctor, and he just wrote me prescriptions for all the things. So we'd just drink Carlos Rossi and take Klonopin and black out for days at time. If you drink on Klonopin you basically turn insane. You could come to days later and people would be like, "Oh my god. Last night was so crazy. I can't believe you got up on the stripper pole." And you'd be like, "Haha. I totally remember that." It's a complete memory eraser.
I made more money selling pills than any of the first three career jobs I had. It even got to the point that people started sending me Christmas cards with money in them as a thanks for hooking it up. The director of a major New York art museum used to send me $100 checks every single Christmas.
Eventually, I started getting addicted, so the doctor would just keep upping my dose. I just had a ridiculous set of prescriptions that no doctor should ever supply to anyone. I eventually stopped taking it when I saw on the news that all these celebrities—like fucking Stevie Nicks—had Klonopin addictions, and that scared the fuck out of me. But I just continued getting the prescription refilled, because it just seemed like that was the smart thing to do.
And it turned out to pay off big in the end. My whole scheme went on for about eight months. Things got a little weird in the summertime because nobody really needs to check coats in the summer, but the people who really wanted it found a way by wearing thin, fashionable coats even in the middle of July. Things also go weird when my daytime bosses came into the restaurant. I was doing the New York City hustle, interning in high fashion in the day and working at a high-end restaurant at night. My fashion bosses would occasionally come in, and I was this meekly intern who was embarrassed that she was the only one who needed to have a second job, but there I was selling drugs in front of their nose.
But I made more money selling pills than any of the first three career jobs I had. It even got to the point that people started sending me Christmas cards with money in them as a thanks for hooking it up. The director of a major New York art museum used to send me $100 checks every single Christmas, even for years after I stopped working at the restaurant, just because I somehow never got taken off their Christmas bonus list.
At the peak I was definitely bringing the restaurant a bunch of customers, which actually was the downfall, because the coat check got so busy that we needed to get a second girl to start working with me. When we got an assistant coat checker it became more difficult. It finally came to an end because I went on vacation for four weeks and they gave away my job. But then all these people kept coming in and asking for me all the time, so it looked like all the customers just loved me. After they had essentially fired me, they called me to try to get me back, but I was too offended that they gave my job away in the first place. I left and got a job at a shoe company, before eventually starting my own fashion company. But to this day, years later, I can still go in for meals and not pay.
It was the most fun job I've ever had, but also a series of the most fucked up encounters I've experienced in my life. We used to have really big celebrities come in from the owner's home country, and the owner would keep us on the clock to go out with these guys, flirt with them, and show them a good time. And he'd tell me to call my pretty friends to come sit at the tables in front of the window in exchange for free meals, so it would look like we were busy with attractive girls.
But overall, I'd say it's the best thing that could have happened to me as a girl from the Midwest who had never worked at a restaurant. It was like the school of hard knocks, and taught me more about how to live in New York than I've learned through any other experience: roll with the punches, always have a side hustle, and—if you have the means—keep a stockpile of pharmaceuticals, because you never know when they'll come in handy.
As told to Brad Cohen
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in July 2016.