An unexpectedly entertaining part of our travel experience has been the waiters we’ve met along the way. Now, this is a group for whom I already have a soft spot in my heart, since I put myself through college and law school by waiting tables. I still believe I learned most of my critical life skills working in restaurants. I acquired multi-tasking, teamwork, and process management skills, while learning to read and interact with people, plus some basic crisis management and finance. There was the time I worked the early evening shift (by myself) when the entire cast of “Oklahoma!” from the Community Theatre next door arrived for dinner. Then there was the time the Bloody Mary slipped off my tray and onto the beautiful white jacket of my elderly female customer. You just don’t learn how to handle this stuff in business school.
I find that waiters and waitresses typically have a good side story. They are often waiting tables while pursuing some other career or their education. They usually have interesting hobbies and diversions, and are generally engaging personalities. A waiter is like a good tale waiting to unfold.
The Canadian waitpersons we met on our recent road trip were a particularly interesting bunch. Whether they were a microcosm of Canadians in general or we hit the jackpot I don’t know, but we thoroughly enjoyed our interactions with each of them.
First was Kyle at the Grant Hall Dining Room, in a lovely restored hotel in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. We met him earlier in the day on the way to the elevator, when we asked him where the World’s Largest Moose statue (I happened to read about in my guide book) was located in town. He gave us a lively and detailed run-down on the location and history of the Moose, Moose Jaw and the historic hotel. Later, as he waited on us in the restaurant, we learned that his day job was as a Personal Life Coach. He was also contemplating a move to British Columbia so he could better pursue his semi-professional love of outdoor sports such as rock climbing, mountain biking, snowboarding and kayaking. His enthusiasm for life was contagious.
In Calgary, we stopped at the Galaxie Diner, a hole-in-the-wall place noted for having the best breakfast in town. Our waitress was Brie (“like the cheese”), an energetic young woman with spikey purple and black hair. As she calmly and methodically waited on the packed diner single-handedly, she engaged us in a running conversation, in clipped question and answer format. We looked forward to hearing the next installment each time she appeared at our table. We learned that she also freelances as a photojournalist, blogger and event planner. She recently passed sommelier exams, not because she wants to be one, but because she enjoys learning about wine and someone told her women are under-represented in the field (“that bothered me”).
That night, also in Calgary, we dined at Vero Bistro Moderne, which I noticed was rated the #1 restaurant in Calgary by Trip Advisor. We called ahead to be sure we could get in and were told to come “right now.” The place was packed, but Michael (who was also our waiter) greeted us warmly and seated us quickly. Michael, we soon learned, was also co-owner with his wife Jenny, the chef. That night, for whatever reason (mistaken identity perhaps?) we were treated like VIPs. Michael spent a shocking amount of time at our table telling us how the restaurant came about, how he and Jenny close the restaurant for 3-4 weeks each fall and travel to Italy to sample food, while singing the praises of his wife’s cooking skills (she can pick out tastes and smells of individual ingredients from complex flavor combinations) and sharing some of the specialties of the restaurant. He even brought us food and drink samples and Jenny came out from the kitchen to greet us. When he came to our table to say good-bye, we thanked him for his gracious hospitality, and he told us how much he enjoyed talking to Americans.
Finally, we spent three nights in the Lake Louise/Banff area. Savin was our waiter at the Post Hotel restaurant, and we called him our Renaissance Man. Besides us, he had a wedding party and a table with three food critics, and he never missed a beat. He was pure sunshine and optimism, with a sparkling personality, and he managed to attentively and expertly wait on us all while carrying on a lively conversation over the course of the evening. We learned that there was nothing Savin couldn’t do. Among other things, he is an expert camper, skier, and hunter, fly fisherman, musician, cook, and food and wine connoisseur.
The next night, we dined at the Fairmont in Lake Louise, and met Adam. He was an excellent waiter, a bit more reserved, and his back-story came out a little slower. But by the end of dinner, we learned that he was a trained astro-physicist and engineer working in the oil and gas industry, and, at age 32, decided to leave that field. He is currently “taking a break” and will next be transitioning to a new career in sales in the alternative energy industry. He came from a family of engineers, medical doctors and scientists. Holy cow!
Our breakfast waiter each morning at the Post was a burly young man named Darcy, who formerly played on the Canadian national soccer team. He was all sass and swagger, and we enjoyed trading jokes and barbs and anecdotes with him. The day we left, he told us he would miss us, even more than “that table” (he said, pointing at the people next to us).
We’re going to miss Darcy, too, and all the other delightful Canadian waitpersons we met. They’re a good crew, eh?