[Image by Emily Hingle]

The Longest Serving Gentlemen Waiters of Galatoire’s

07:00 March 08, 2024
By: Emily Hingle

NOLA's Long Serving Stewards of Fine Dining

Bourbon Street may be famous worldwide for cheap, strong drinks, loud bars with raucous bands, and a plethora of strip clubs, but there are a handful of establishments lining the street that maintain an air of elegance, class, and true New Orleans culture.

Galatoire's Restaurant has stood the rigors of time and changing taste. Originally opened in 1905 by Jean Galatoire in the former Victor's Restaurant, Galatoire's Restaurant draws visitors from near and far to its vivacious and lively dining room every Wednesday through Sunday. In all of this time preparing fine French fare for excited diners, Galatoire's has cultivated a staff of servers who have provided the utmost hospitality to its clientele, which is a key ingredient to Galatoire's recipe of success.

Fine Dressed Men

[Image by Emily Hingle]

The longest-serving member of the waitstaff currently is Charles Grimaldi Jr., who started his job at Galatoire's on September 17, 1986. After working at Pontchartrain Cadillac for 20 years, followed by a few years at hotels, Grimaldi came to Galatoire's because his sister-in-law's father persuaded him to do so. He recalls, "My sister-in-law's dad worked at Galatoire's for 40-50 years, and he told me to come and work. I said, 'I've never done it.' He said, 'Can you talk to people? All you gotta do is listen to people when they talk.' I've been here 38 years."

Though Grimaldi doesn't work the five-day, 80 hours-a-week that he used to, preferring a part-time role, he likes that his job keeps him active. He noted, "You just get into a rhythm. I'm not going to retire. Too many waiters retire, and they're not doing anything. I'm 83. Why would I want to quit? I'm able to get around, I'm moving, free lunches. I enjoy what I'm doing."

The next two longest-serving members of the waitstaff began working at Galatoire's within months of each other 31 years ago, and both of them came to the restaurant because their fathers had been working as waiters here for a long time. Bryant Sylvester had worked at other restaurants in his early 20s before settling at Galatoire's at the age of 24. "I've been at Christian's, the Fairmont, a few places before I got here. My father worked here for 42 years, so I just went to follow in his footsteps."

While it may seem that much hasn't changed at the storied restaurant in 119 years, Sylvester has seen technological advancements in how he does his job and a controversial decision that caused an uproar from the regulars in 1996. "When I first got here, there was no ice machine. It was all block ice, chipped ice," he noted. "We had a lot of disturbance about the ice machine when it got here. The chipped ice would hold up a lot better in their drink, it wouldn't melt. It was all cash, no credit cards—no computer system. It was all hand-written, ordered, and picked up in the kitchen. Now we have an ice machine, credit cards, and a micro system. It's a lot more efficient now."

Billy Fontenot's father Harold, who worked at Galatoire's for many years before retiring in August 2012, didn't want his son to work as a waiter at all. "My dad didn't want me to, but I did anyway. He didn't want me to work as hard as he did," he confessed. "I went to school to become a CPA, but then I started doing this and got good at it. I love my customers, so I just stayed." Eventually, Harold came around to Billy being a full-time server just like he was, and father and son spent many years working side by side. "My dad and I worked together for 29 years. We were very close."

Much like his famous father, Fontenot touts his regular customers who live locally and nationally that ask to be seated with him. "Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, California, Florida, Georgia—I have a lot of regulars," he shared. "All my customers are active and keep me busy. You're starting to see some of the younger generation from your older customers come in. I've watched their kids and grandkids grow up. Now, they're my customers."

For the Customers

[Courtesy of Galatoire's]

Waiting on regular diners and entire families for decades, as well as working with each other, is a perk of the job for all three servers. Sylvester shared, "Having regular customers is like waiting on family. You know what kind of drinks they want, you know what kind of food they like. It's simple to wait on them. And I like the people that I work with. I've worked with guys for 20 years, 30 years here. It's like a little family."

Fontenot concurred, "Being a server is rewarding. You meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends. I love the people I work with. A lot of us have been together for a long time. We're like family. It's a great career if you make it a career, but it's a dying career."

Fontenot believes that far too many restaurants these days focus on "get them in, get them out," rather than allowing customers to enjoy the dining experience, which leads to a dearth of long-lasting servers. "This is not fast food. If you go to a restaurant, you want to sit," he observed. "People just make friends quick. The regulars start talking, and they'll invite in some guys for wine. I would never work where I had to run people in and out. I couldn't do that. Not my style. So I guess I'm a dinosaur."

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