Charlie “The Singing Waitress” Jennings, shares a laugh with customer Allen Teter of Macon at the Maple City Family Restaurant. A waitress for 30 years, Charlie added a new service when she began singing through a wireless headset microphone while she tends to tables at the restaurant located on Highway 63 in Macon.
Travelers who happen into the Maple City Family Restaurant in Macon could assume they’ve found a typical small-town diner. Judging by the menu and the décor, they’d be right. The difference, though, takes the form of an energetic strawberry-blonde waitress wearing a headset microphone.
At first glance, customers might think Charlie Jennings is talking to motorists in the drive-through, but this restaurant only offers sit-down dining. By the time their eggs arrive, they’ll be aware of country music being broadcast over a sound system. If they lift their gaze from their omelets, they’ll see that although the music is pre-recorded, the vocals are performed live.
“Some people don’t know that it’s me until I get close to them and then it’s like, ‘Wow!’” says Charlie, who sings to karaoke tracks while waiting on tables. “We have a lot of customers who come in here who have never been serenaded before at all. They really think that’s neat.”
Charlie “The Singing Waitress” has dished up a side of Patsy Cline or a helping of Crystal Gayle with the day’s special entrée for about five years. For the past two years, she’s worked at this small diner on Highway 63. Previously, the Macon Electric Cooperative member sang and served meals at a restaurant in Brookfield.
Charlie, whose real name is Jeretta, works at the restaurant every Sunday through Wednesday, serving breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. A waitress for 30 of her 45 years, Charlie works efficiently, moving quickly from table to table and returning to the kitchen often to ensure that customers’ meals are served fresh and hot. As she clears dirty dishes and fills coffee cups, she jokes with regulars she now considers friends.
From time to time, though, Charlie pauses by the large speaker that sits in the corner across from the cash register. She glances at a handwritten play list and drops a CD into a boom box before returning to her rounds. She reaches down to the little black box she wears along her apron and flips a switch, turning on her wireless microphone just as the sound of steel guitars fills the air.
Charlie sings while sweeping the floor.
Charlie smiles with just a hint of self-awareness as she begins to accompany the music in an appropriately twangy voice. At times she is in her own world, singing as she runs a carpet sweeper between tables and chairs. Other times she works the room, making eye contact and directing the lyrics to individual customers.
No matter what her approach, the music never strays far from its Nashville roots. With a repertoire that includes “Crazy,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Who’s Cheating Who” and “18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” there is no doubt what kind of music Charlie enjoys.
“Only country,” she says. “I love Patsy (Cline). Loretta Lynn. Those are my two favorites, really. There’s not many Tammy Wynettes I can do, because she sings higher than I do.”
Ironically, Charlie studied violin — as opposed to fiddle — as a child growing up in Kansas City, Kan. She learned to sing in choir. “Of course, none of my teachers thought I was good enough for solos,” she says.
Charlie can recall only one customer who objected to her restaurant singing, though.
“I did have one couple. Oh, it was probably last month. They got mad,” Charlie says. They were going to leave. They were like, ‘We did not come in here for this!’”
Fortunately, most diners enjoy the unexpected service of a singing waitress. Many, in fact, say they visit as much for the entertainment as the meals.
“She’s the reason we come. Well, not the only reason — the food’s good, too — but we come here because we love to listen to her, and a lot of other people do, too,” says Sally Watts, who ate lunch at the Maple City Family Restaurant recently.
A tip jar allows allows customers who sit in other waitresses’ sections to express their appreciation.
Watts is president of the Macon County Historical Society and enlists Charlie to perform at society events. “She’s wonderful. She’s delightful. She’s just great,” Watts says. “She’s just got personality all over the place.”
Michelle Zeciri, who operates the Maple City, says the idea of a singing waitress was new to her, but the unusual waitress has brought additional customers to the diner.
“It’s been really good,” Michelle says. “All the locals know what days she works. People from Brookfield, where she’s worked before, they’ll drive just to come and see her and listen to her sing. She’s getting known around.”
Charlie says her singing definitely helps her tips, believing that customers are more generous because they enjoy the entertainment she provides. A small tip jar next to the cash register allows customers who sit in other waitresses’ sections to express their appreciation as well.
When not waiting tables, Charlie lives on an 80-acre farm near Bevier, where she raises miniature horses with her husband, Mike. For vacations, the couple rides a Honda Gold Wing motorcycle on cross-country journeys. As her reputation as The Singing Waitress has grown, Charlie has expanded to venues beyond the restaurant. She has performed at the Bevier Homecoming each of the past three years and has been seen twice on a Columbia TV station’s morning variety show. This year, Charlie competed in the Colgate Country Showdown at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Although she enjoys the opportunity to perform for audiences in and around mid-Missouri, she has no delusions of her waitress gig leading to a career on stage. While it’s possible that some big-shot Nashville producer would happen into the Maple City Family Restaurant and discover her, she doesn’t expect it.
“I have no intention of that happening,” she says. “If it does, that would be great, but I doubt it will, and that’s OK with me.”
The Maple City Family Restaurant is located at 409 N. Missouri St. (Highway 63) in Macon. Charlie works from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m., Sunday through Wednesday. For more information, call 660-395-9969. To book Charlie for an event, call 660-385-3825.