The Nobel Prize has been awarded for less service to humanity.
Unfortunately, there’s not much glory or even a gold watch for a world-class waitress.
Pat Gunn, who turns 71 next month, retired last week after spending most of the last 52 years waiting tables.
By my conservative figuring, more than 2.5 million diners have been graced by this soft-spoken, meticulous Spokane woman during her long career.
That’s like serving every living soul in Spokane County five times.
Being ordered around by so many would give Gandhi the disposition of a rabid dog. But Gunn, who says she’s slowing down and needs to quit, remains incredibly upbeat about a job most of us take for granted.
“I always loved waitressing,” says Gunn, who spent the last 26 years as an efficient, pleasant fixture at Domini Sandwiches, 703 W. Sprague. “There are people I just adore dearly.
“Sure, you get a rude customer once in awhile, but almost everybody mellows out with good service and respect.”
Good service. Respect. This is what separates a pro like Gunn from the army of ornery waiters and waitresses who can’t get an order straight and treat their customers like cattle.
To Gunn, waiting tables is an art form.
“She’s wonderful,” says Joanne Tunnyhill, one of Gunn’s regulars. “If you tip her too much, she tells you to take some of it back.”
“Oh, God, she’s the best,” agrees Al Domini, the restaurant owner and patriarch of the Domini clan. “She’s so honest and almost overly kind. Just terrific.”
Gunn’s inspiration to become a waitress happened while waiting for lunch at an Oakland, Calif., restaurant.
Her wandering eyes focused on a thick ray of sunlight. She traced its path as it streamed through a window and landed squarely on the water glass a waitress had brought seconds before.
“The glass was filthy,” says Gunn, with a look of utter disgust. “The sunlight showed it was all covered with greasy fingerprints.”
Gunn flashes a defiant grin. “I got up and walked out. I was 12 years old at the time.”
She knew she could do better. When she turned 18, Gunn landed a job behind a drugstore soda fountain.
She kept at it, serving soldiers during World War II. She waited tables in Oakland, Portland and Seattle and came with her husband to Spokane in 1952. Somehow, she managed to raise six kids while still working full time.
“I’ve always been a high-energy person,” says Gunn. “I simply can’t sit still.”
Waitresses are like bartenders, they soak up so much human nature that they deserve honorary college degrees. “I don’t pretend to be a psychologist,” she says, “but you do pick up on people’s personalities.”
A career spanning a half-century gives Gunn a lot of memories. Here are a few of her favorites:
Biggest tip - Years ago, a man ordered a cup of tea. He asked Gunn if the waitress had children. She said yes and the man handed her a twenty.
On the way out the door, he gave Gunn another Jackson, telling her to use it for school clothes. “That was one expensive cup of tea,” says Gunn, who regrets she never got the philanthropist’s name.
Biggest Jerk - A cocky guy in a suit once walked into Domini’s and ordered a can of beer. Gunn set it down in front of the man, who pulled out a $20 bill. “Will this be enough to buy you?” he said, leering.
Gunn yanked the beer back. “Out the door!” she yelled, pointing to the street. Outside, the jerk paced the sidewalk several minutes, making angry gestures toward the sandwich shop.
Biggest Smile - Just after she was hired at Domini’s, Gunn had a rare moment of clumsiness. She stubbed her toe, dumping a tray of cola down a customer’s blouse. Domini’s paid the cleaning bill.
“I can laugh about it now,” says Gunn. “But let me tell you, I wasn’t laughing then.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo