Celebrity Waiter Night, which has been an annual event in Aiken for nearly 20 years, is a time to eat good food, enjoy friendly service and raise money for a good cause. It also can be a time to have fun.
“We are being a little bit silly,” said Jane Page Thompson, who was a Celebrity Host at The Restaurant at The Willcox during the 19th edition of Celebrity Waiter Night on Monday.
The activities at The Willcox included the opportunity to dress up in wigs, hats and huge sunglasses and take selfies with a giant sock monkey.
People also could put decorated brown paper bags with eyeholes over their heads before snapping their photos.
“Our theme is brown paper packages and brown paper bags,” said Thompson, a well-known local Realtor. “Some of our favorite things come in brown paper packages and brown paper bags. We have brown paper bag centerpieces on the tables and a brown paper package for people to drop contributions into. We also have a specialty drink of the night, an appetizer and a dessert that are being served in brown paper bags.”
The goal, Thompson added, was to end up with “a big brown bag full of cash.”
If people at The Willcox didn't want to dress up, they could relax and try some oxygen therapy.
“It's very refreshing,” said real estate broker Paula Blessing, who owns Aiken Properties, where Thompson works.
The Restaurant at The Willcox was one of 14 Celebrity Waiter Night locations.
Proceeds from the fundraiser go to Children's Place, which works with families to decrease the abuse and neglect of children.
The organization's other missions are to increase stability in families and improve children's readiness for school.
“It's all about the children,” said Darlene Murdoch, who was a Celebrity Host at Savannah River Nuclear Solutions' private party at Newberry Hall. “I can't tell you how many lives Children Place's programs have touched. Their influence has been vast.”
Murdoch is a member of Children's Place's board of directors. At Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, she is the director of quality assurance and operational excellence.
“Tonight the senior managers are the waiters, and the other employees come and sit at the tables,” Murdoch said.
In addition to dinner, there was a live auction with 40 items.
Dennis Cheeks, who works at Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and also has an auction company, served as the auctioneer.
“It's not really hard,” he said of his role on Celebrity Waiter Night. “People understand you are raising money for a good cause, so they are a little bit more relaxed about giving you their money than they usually are.”
Arthur Hughes is a Savannah River Nuclear Solutions employee, but he wasn't at the company's private Newberry Hall party.
Instead, he was serving as a Celebrity Host and helping wait tables at The Swamp Fox restaurant in downtown Aiken.
“I go where I am needed,” said Hughes, who has been helping out with Celebrity Waiter Night for 13 years.
Hughes' wife, Dorothy “Dot” Hughes, is Children's Place's educational director.
“I'm not good at waiting tables at all, but I enjoy doing it,” Arthur Hughes said. “I haven't spilled anything yet, but I have taken an order wrong. I try to be responsive and friendly, and the people I serve are usually very generous. They know the money is going to help children, so they leave great tips.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013.
STAFF PHOTO BY DEDE BILES Carolyn Walden, left, and William Walden chat with Arthur Hughes during Celebrity Waiter Night at the Swamp Fox on Monday.×
STAFF PHOTO BY DEDE BILES Darlene Murdoch, right, pours a glass of wine for Dawn Moore during Savannah River Nuclear Solutions' private party at Newberry Hall during Celebrity Waiter Night on Monday.×
STAFF PHOTO BY DEDE BILES Rachel Watford, left, and Matt Sayer are ready to greet guests with smiles during Celebrity Waiter Night at The Restaurant at The Willcox on Monday.×
STAFF PHOTO BY DEDE BILES Carol Barry, center, collects donations that will provide the opportunity to win a pair of diamond earrings from Angela Martin, left, and Marsha Franklin during Savannah River Nuclear Solutions' private party at Newberry Hall during Celebrity Waiter Night on Monday.×
STAFF PHOTO BY DEDE BILES Shannon Ellis, left, co-owner of The Willcox, and Newkirk Barnes are dressed for fun and ready to pose for a selfie with a giant sock monkey during Celebrity Waiter Night at The Restaurant at The Willcox on Monday.×