Servers thrive in Park City
The mumble of conversation and the clatter of dinnerware heighten the anxiety rookie servers may feel during Friday night’s dinner rush.
For some, however, that’s the "game-on" buzzer.
"There’s a passion for the industry and a love for the crunch. I tell you, for as long as I’m getting in the zone and rocking peoples’ world I’ll keep doing this. It’s an adrenaline rush, it’s not like you are base jumping, but (it’s a ride)," Said D.J. Curtis, lead waiter at The Grub Steak and part-time waiter at The Blind Dog Grill.
Curtis, like other servers in Park City, enjoys the demanding work. Most of them also enjoy the flexibility their jobs offer.
"It just opens up a little free time," Curtis said. "I do a little mountain bike guiding in the day and there is a little flexibility in my scheduling. It gives me some free time to do a little traveling."
The lead server at the Blind Dog, Josh Pfriem agrees.
"Serving is a lifestyle," Pfriem said. "Its not about the amount of money you can make, it’s about being able to ski five days a week. You can take off any time of the year and always be able to pick up a job, if you have experience.
While Pfriem may like the play time his job enables him to experience, he also has a love of fine food and wines.
"I enjoy serving," Pfriem added. "It complements things I enjoy, I appreciate wine and food. The job itself is enjoyable."
Curtis, a 20-year server, said he enjoys the dynamics of the food industry.
"I still enjoy what I do, to me that’s pretty important," Curtis said. "I like the front of the house in the trenches more than the management position. I make more money. I thrive on it and getting unsolicited comments from customers saying ‘You brought a little extra in the evening.’ I take that ball and I run with it."
Pfriem, a college graduate who recently had his first child, also works as a server because the money is good.
"I make enough money to support my family, pay a mortgage and have two cars," Pfriem said, "It definitely pays the bills and leaves some extra. The money is so good here. I don’t want to work all day, I got job offers to work from 9-5 but I would get a 50 percent pay cut. If I stuck with it I’d make more money but I wouldn’t have seven days to play."
Pfriem also hopes to own his own brewery, and the knowledge he’s gaining from his restaurant experience will help him in the future, he says.
Erika Wexler, a waitress at the Morning Ray Café, has been a server for 8 years. She also has career plans involved with her work.
"I suppose the reason I’m still doing it, to some degree, is I want to own my own place someday — a café on the beach somewhere," Wexler said.
"The Morning Ray is fun," Wexler added. "It feels like a team effort. (The owners) are a young family and it was their dream to start the restaurant. I learn from cooks. You can spend $30,000 in culinary schools or you can work in restaurants."
Wexler also enjoys the job because of the flexibility associated with it.
"The job at restaurants has always been for me," Wexler said. "Learning about the food and energy of being with people all day and the flexibility. Traveling is quite a passion of mine. Working in restaurants, I’ve been able to get through school and travel a bit. It’s definitely been good for me."
Serving tables is also an effective way for new residents to adjust to Park City.
"It’s an easy thing to do if you move to a new place" Wexler said. "It’s a great way to meet people, anywhere where people are eating and drinking.
"You get to talk a lot and exert some energy. I like the idea that I’m influencing people. You meet all kinds of people."
"Part of the asset is what I’ve gained working tables," Curtis said. "I’m referring people to where to ski and what happens around town. You are truly a liaison and ambassador around town. It gives you the love connection."
Pfriem’s social life has also benefited from being a waiter.
"I see the service crew when I’m cruising in the backcountry, I see people that work (as servers) in town. A lot of people I’ve met, ride or climb with are people I work with," Pfriem said. "It’s a lot of fun to talk with people; the nights go by so fast."
Most the servers admit, however, that there job isn’t all fun and games.
"Its hard work," Pfriem said. "I get tired, it’s very physical. I’ve heard that waiters walk 10 to 20 miles a night. We get stressed out.
"You have several bosses; you have to meet the manager’s expectations and your customers’ expectations. It’s hard when you have six tables at once and the kitchen is behind and everyone wants something," Pfriem said.
While Curtis also enjoys the benefits of his job, he also recognizes the downside of working every night.
"My hour of operations start at 4 p.m., but there’s a tradeoff," he added, "you don’t see movies or plays. You have to be able to live with those tradeoffs."
On the other hand, he says, "The schedule flexibility, without question, is paramount," Curtis said. "I could go sailing or body surfing when I lived in Hawaii, to enjoy what I do is huge. I can go skiing mountain biking and do any daytime endeavor.
There are many traits that will determine whether a server can be successful. Most of those traits go beyond merely having a great knowledge of food, although that helps, like a desire to learn, Pfriem said.
"It takes a personality that has some thick skin," Pfriem said. "Little points and details. I’m waiting on some of the richest people in the world. It’s got to be perfect. They don’t have room for mistakes. Servers should have be hard working and have a detail-oriented eye. They should have the ability to be elegant and address people’s needs and the ability to be adaptable."
Wexler believes there are more important aspects to serving than focusing solely on the details of her job.
"It’s much more important to be organized happy and emphasize good service as opposed to taking away all their silverware before desert," Wexler said. "Those are some details, but you have to pick and chose when you get busy.
"You kind of get your own style. I like engaging in conversation. My style is a lot more open and interactive hands on style. The longer you do it, it’s a groove and style that you make your own," Wexler added.
Servers make mistakes, but that shouldn’t stop a good server from giving their customers an enjoyable dining experience.
"We’ve all been served by people that are terrible and it’s miserable," Wexler said. "Hopefully you can make the experience better if you have a healthy attitude."
When there is a mistake, Pfriem acts quickly, even if it’s not his fault or responsibility.
"Servers should have knowledge and grace to step back humbly and fix the situation immediately and be willing to offer something, like free dessert and make it happen so fast so (customers) don’t have time to react."
For Wexler, a waiter or a waitress should be satisfied of their job. She explains, it’s an honest living and one that has afforded her opportunities.
"You make $3 per hour plus tips and you try to be proud of what you do," Wexler said. "I definitely enjoy the work. There’s days, as there is with any job, that you go home sick of work. But taking home cash every day, it’s instantly gratifying."
People looking for a server job have no shortage of opportunities in Park City
"If you had any food service skills, there are over 100 places to sit down and eat," Curtis said. "In the last couple years, there’s more help wanted (ads) for servers. That should be appealing for anyone who is a transient. You can find work easy."
"Best thing to do is walk in and ask for the manager and owner," Wexler said. "If you’ve done it at all, you say ‘I’m good, do you have any opening positions’ and say ‘when can I start?’ There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get hired."
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