Racegoers at the Caulfield Cup

Working as a waitress at both Caulfield and Flemington Spring Races last year in the luxurious corporate and committee rooms gave me an up-close look at the mishaps and drunken misdemeanours — and the realisation that race-day glamour is skin-deep, or at least, short-lived.

You may not pay us much attention, but it’s our job to pay you attention — and often we learn more than your drink of choice.

At the Flemington races last year, the female wait staff were required to have their makeup professionally applied. I was headed to the corporate marquees, where high-end business men and women impress their clients with our service. Like other waitresses, I geared up in red lipstick, suspenders, a bow tie and a fedora, and huddled under an umbrella.

It was worth it — wait staff often get tipped generously. I’ve heard of staff paid upwards of $500 from betting winners. Generally though — and on Cup day especially — it’s a comfortable $100, and we almost double our pay cheque.

Mostly it’s a genuine tip. But on the rare occasion, it’s quite obvious the tip is part of the glamour facade. A guest announced loudly to his friends that he would “take care of me”. Others chimed in: “He will, he’s a vault.” Away from the crowd, however, the wallet was nowhere in sight.

Scrunched-up losing bets litter the tables and floors. At Caulfield we’re instructed not to throw them away until everyone leaves, or we’ll be fishing for them in the bin — just in case.

And even though the canapes are artfully arranged, once buckets of chips make the rounds, people push and shove for a handful.

The shift from being friendly and articulate to being well-lubricated and grabby is fast. When drinks are downed, friendly service with the backdrop of Spring Racing luxury can be mistaken for flirtation. One boozed-up baby boomer slurred down at me, “So are you early to bed and late to sleep?” Naively I replied, “I guess, sometimes I read before bed.”

But unwanted attention isn’t only directed at the wait staff. At a fashion show accompanying a charity event during one of the Caulfield races earlier this year male models weaved through tables.

An unprovoked, clearly uncomfortable man heckled from his seat, “Yeah but do you know how to use a shovel?”. It was awkward for everyone.

And as the day ends, it’s impossible to pick the marquee guests from the soggy ticket-holders hanging around the track.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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