By the dessert course, my uniform was down to black panties and hosiery under a crisp French apron, black heels, and a masquerade mask. A muscular male server lifted me onto the table. I laid back and listened to guests chat as delicate puff pastries were arranged on my body. Then hungry hands descended. Turns out being a human dessert plate is a surprising adrenaline rush. “I don’t feel turned on when I am performing,” a fellow server confides, lying next to me. “I feel challenged. I feel powerful.” We’re both employees of Our Gourmet Life, San Francisco’s erotic supper club. And we do this work — if you can call something this enjoyable “work” — for free.
Our Gourmet Life’s servers are hand-chosen for hotness and basic social skills. More important, the dinners provide a safe space for women to be sexy. Among servers, dancing, flirting, massaging, and kissing are standard company culture.
Before I started waitressing, I had attended an Our Gourmet Life dinner as a seated guest. Over a twelve-course vegetarian meal the chef had specially prepared for me, I’d watched the servers undress and fondle each other. The ladies were Suicide Girl sexy (and the boys weren’t bad, either). One server offered me caviar off her nipple. Another slipped my dress from my shoulders. Most memorable was the finale: a waitress positioned as centerpiece, fork-feeding a guest by means of sheer pelvic fortitude.
The erotic dinners began in May 2011, when hobbyist cook Chris Hubbard and his wife, a dancer, prepared an elaborate surprise for a few close friends at their home, scantily clad servers included. Two months later, his business was born. Their niche clientele are “people with discretionary income who are ‘playful.’” His cuisine is French traditional, punctuated by flamboyant flourishes like coconut-curry popsicles and fresh mozzarella balloons formed with a nitrous tank. “Adding eroticism to the mix is like adding salt to a dish,” says Hubbard. “It brings out the experience.”
After my memorable experience as a guest, Our Gourmet Life’s charismatic “Harem Coordinator” invited me to serve at an upcoming dinner. I was intrigued. He then explained the business couldn’t afford to compensate staff. So that lady forked herself for free? “Our servers feel like they should be paying us for the fun they have,” he explained. “And we’ll feed you, of course.”
When I arrived to my first shift, the converted San Francisco Victorian reeked of chicken. Walking past the dining room to the crowded rooms in back, it became clear that the Harem Coordinator and one or more servers lived there with Hubbard and his wife — like a sex-cult family. Women were primping or lounging, drumsticks in hand. Two fetish actresses swapped lipstick and musings from the set of Kink.com, where they performed as submissives. I greeted the H.C. on the couch; he was casually fingering a server as she chewed fleshy mouthfuls of poultry. I felt queasy. When the zipper of my black pencil skirt broke, I tried to use it as an excuse to bail. But everyone was so friendly; one girl even took my skirt home to mend. Soon I was outfitted from the communal closet.
I was posed as a “statue” — instructed not to move or speak for 45 minutes as the guests arrived. Bent over the table in high heels, I repeated the mantra “Feet are just a state of mind.” Guests boisterously waved open palms in my face. My thighs quavered. My toes were numb. Feet are just a state of mind. A state of mind … What the hell am I doing here? This didn’t exactly sell me on the virtues of being a slutty volunteer waitress. But several months later, the dinners were moved to an industrial loft in SOMA. I heard that their direction and execution had evolved. I decided to give erotic dinners a second chance.
These days, the OGL loft is divided into three spaces: the sprawling dining room and kitchen area, where the dinners take place; a large bedroom, containing multiple beds, where people often migrate after dinner; and, farthest back, a massive walk-in closet serving as the staff’s private dressing room, next to the bathroom — complete with hot tub and shower wall. While housing is still family-style, the space is three times larger than their former location.
Best of all, it doesn’t smell like chicken grease and sex. “We moved towards a dinner that is more refined, more of a tease,” explains Hubbard. “We cut back on the amount of alcohol… And I had to create a ‘no touching below the waist’ rule.” (This isn’t to say sex never happens after dinner, though it’s rare between guests and servers.)
Generally, guests are a bit older than those hot twentysomethings feeding them. They’re mostly couples, some single men, and the occasional ambiguous triad. Between courses, servers are directed to dance, kiss, and touch. Gradually, we dramatically remove each other’s clothing. Like our degree of undress, flirtation with patrons is measured to the menu’s progress: Running appetizers, we may barely touch the guests. In the end, we’re in their laps, feeding them chocolate mousse. The easily distracted eat lightly.
“Our Gourmet Life is my playground,” one server told me. “I can turn up my sensual self without the hassle of dealing with idiots.” I can relate, because this gig is me at my wildest; I’m not comfortable at sex or kink parties because I don’t want to make out with 95 percent of the people who usually attend.
And while the 90 servers in the network are thrilled to staff events, it looks like we’re bound to remain volunteers. “These dinners have cost me all my savings,” says Hubbard, who quit his corporate job to focus on the project. “I’m experiencing the pressure of a small margin,” he says. Typically, seats go for $100 (they range from $100 to $300, depending on the dinner, but pricier tiers are difficult to fill). And while Hubbard struggles to increase his profits, he’s not willing to let his hedonistically high standards go. “I’ll pay nine dollars for a one-pound bag of flour,” he explains. “But it’s sublime flour.” Luckily for him, none of the servers are in it for the money.