Joyce Advey, 81, of Ebenezer, has worked as a waitress for more than 60 years, most of those at the Deerhead Inn, where she still works today. (Her first waitress job was at old Hotel Richford downtown.)
Working weekends at the restaurant would be a tough task for most people her age, but Advey does more than work. She golfs. She teaches Sunday school. And she only recently stopped skiing.
A 1949 graduate of West Seneca High School, Advey was married for nearly 60 years to her husband, Bill, who died in May.
She has three children, seven grandchildren, one great-grandchild and a treasure chest of stories to tell them all.
You can find Advey working weekends at the Deerhead on Clinton Street in West Seneca. Look for the woman with the twinkling blue eyes. Chances are she’ll be wearing a smile.
People Talk: Where did you start your career?
Joyce Advey: Downtown at the Hotel Richford. I was between my junior and senior years in high school, and I worked in the salad room. The dining-room manager was right out of a ’40s movie; I’ll never forget her. The next year she put me out on the floor, and all the women who liked me as a salad girl did not like that I got to be a waitress. They didn’t want me near the bellhops.
The headliners would stay at the Statler, but the comedians who opened stayed at the Richford. I waited on people like Sammy Davis Jr.
PT: Why are you still working?
JA: Because I can. Right now I need it emotionally. But it is getting tougher to work, more stressful because they don’t make waitresses like they used to.
PT: How has the job changed?
JA: Some waitresses don’t care.
PT: How have your customers changed?
JA: People do not know how to relax. They do not know how to go out and dine. You greet someone at a table, and they’re ready to give you their food order when you’re asking for their drink order. If there’s a time problem, tell me. It’s nice to know.
PT: And what about the dietary restrictions?
JA: We’re beginning to address that in the kitchen. Some people get a little annoyed that our food doesn’t meet their needs.
I always had candy back there for the children, or the dishwashers. On Fridays they always ask: “Where’s the chocolate, Joyce?” Now I avoid anything with peanut butter.
PT: What do you order when you go out?
JA: Rare filet. Always an Absolut martini on the rocks, dry and never dirty. Very rarely do I order chicken. I’m very fussy about chicken.
PT: Did you ever refuse to serve an intoxicated customer?
JA: Not any more, but years ago, because people were heartier drinkers. There is no drinking anymore. In sports bars, yes, but not in this type of restaurant. I can leave here on a Friday and pass other restaurants that are closed by 10. Before they didn’t close until 1 a.m. even if there was nobody in there.
PT: What’s your opinion on separate checks?
JA: I don’t like it, especially on a Friday. You know that when they’re people my age, all the dinners will be the same. But you do it.
PT: You must have many regular customers.
JA: I have some wonderful priests who have been following me around for a long time. I consider them close friends. My golf partner of 45 years started out as a customer at the Hobnail way back when.
PT: You are an athlete.
JA: I’d say so. You had to be. That’s all we had. What else could you do when you were our age growing up? We played tennis. We skied. Our first skis had leather straps. When I was a senior in high school, my brother took me to Caz [Cazenovia Park golf course] to play golf.
PT: What else do you do for fun?
JA: I play poker once a month with the girls from the phone company. When I finished school, I got a job at the phone company. Everyone had a job there. All those girls I worked with are still my friends. I have another group of friends, and we go to Ellicottville.
PT: Where do you get your vitality?
JA: My mom. I was 5 when my dad died in 1936. She had six children. My parents were born in Germany. My maiden name was Schroeder.
PT: How did you meet your husband?
JA: It was after a basketball game in a bar in 1948. But I had to lie to my mother about his age. He was six years older than me. Today that’s nothing.
PT: What is key to your happiness?
JA: I like everybody. I trust them, I do. This is a tough job on marriages. I have seen more waitresses’ marriages go down the drain.
PT: Are you a whiz at multitasking?
JA: Is there any other way? Tell me.