Friendly Faces in Busy Places!
“I just like people.”
Such a simple phrase, but one uttered not nearly often enough. In fact, give most people 10 minutes interacting with humanity, and chances are nine out of 10 of them will start Googling ways to move to an isolated island.
That 10th person is probably in the service industry, where talking faces, crowded spaces and busy places are like catnip to a server eager to take part in a conversation about “Why, yes, Arkansas is the best state in America” or “You’re right, it’s never too late to learn to love Brussels sprouts.”
Not all servers are created equal, but the good ones—sigh, the good ones—are a special breed indeed. Their biggest joy? Your joy. And that, folks, is pretty rare.
Perhaps the best tip exchange isn’t the one from our pockets to theirs. Maybe it’s that little reminder-by-example for us to smile at a stranger and enjoy their story as though it was your own.
Let’s meet a few of the folks in our area who “just like people” and aren’t afraid to let it show..
The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota | Lead Bartender
It’s not often you hear an Icelandic man and former Trump Hotel bartender tell you his favorite drink is a daiquiri. “Yeah, but our daiquiri is different. It’s not cloying, sweet or frozen. It’s super simple: white rum, fresh lime juice and simple syrup. And it is so well balanced,” Ingi Sigurdsson declares. Ingi will tell you the daiquiri changed his life and now he’s committed to changing others’ lives through the power of the cocktail. “I get so much pleasure from teaching folks and inspiring them to be as interested as I am,” he says. “I am genuinely interested in creating flavors,” says the former brains behind the bar menu at the Trump Hotel. “There’s no better place than Sarasota and I’d love to bring big city cocktail culture here.”
Sardinia | Server
Michael Patterson has been in the restaurant industry since he was 16 years old. In February, he turns 50. That is 34 years of asking folks if they’d like dessert. So, what keeps him coming back? “Everyone is a bit different. You talk about life, where people are from, you learn about other cultures, you learn so much just from talking to people.” More importantly, people want to talk to Michael because he always has a smile on his face. “I have a good time. I’m always in a good mood,” he says. It means the world to Michael that the whole restaurant shares the sentiment. “We want you to feel like you are coming into our home. When people walk in the door, we want them to know we care about what we do. They should leave with a smile and want to come back and see us again.”
Drunken Poet Café | Server
Orasa Pitakserichal is one happy woman. She takes joy in her job and delights in the interactions with her customers. “I love talking to people,” Orasa says in a heavy accent, having moved here only a few years ago from her home in Thailand. “It’s like family here. The owners, the staff, the customers—everybody is so nice. It makes it a very happy place to be.” And who doesn’t want to be in a happy place? Orasa continues that it’s more than the smiles that keep patrons coming back, “Everybody is so pleased when they try the food, and it gives me so much pride. It’s nice to talk with customers and make them feel good. I like to see the customers come and enjoy themselves.”
Indigenous | Manager
“I love that you never know what’s coming to the door, it’s always different,” says Adam Bolduc, one of this writer’s favorite waiters in town. “You’re constantly surrounded by characters, both coworkers and customers, which keeps it interesting and never dull.” And Adam knows characters: His first job was being a popcorn salesman on Disney’s Main Street in the Magic Kingdom when he was a kid. Nowadays, Adam looks to learning to keep things exciting. “Knowledge means a lot in our industry. Knowing and loving food and beverages is important and allows you to teach the customers. Educating someone gives me the most pride. Take the Brussels sprouts salad, for example. Educating a 60-year-old man on why this dish is different than what his mom used to make, a man who refused to eat them his whole life, and watching him have a new love and appreciation for this vegetable… It makes my day.”
Tommy Bahama | General Manager
“My mom had a restaurant when I was growing up and I just kind of fell in love with the whole industry,” says Thai Branton. Just like the others in this article, for him making people happy is what it’s all about. “That’s the number one rule here: Make sure the guests leave happy. If you do that, you’ll always have pride in what you do.” Turns out, happiness and pride seem to be the main ingredients in a delicious meal. But, for Branton, it goes beyond pride. “At Tommy Bahama we give service that cares. It’s not just service with a smile, we truly, genuinely care. We find out what our guests’ needs are and we make the effort to accommodate them.”
Polo Grill and Bar | Bartender
Jim Pollet has a theory: “When you go out for dinner or drinks,” he hypothesizes, “it’s not about either of those things. Otherwise you’d sit at home with takeout. It’s about an experience. As a bartender, I like reading people and understanding what that experience means to them. You can tell a lot of things about people sitting at a bar, like if they want to be left alone on their first date or if they are snowbirds looking to be entertained. Not everybody is looking for the same experience.” Jim is a master at tailoring an experience. Before Sarasota, Jim learned how to connect with a crowd, big or small, in the nightclubs of Detroit. Although Polo Grill doesn’t need him perfecting his Fireball bottle flipping routine any time soon, it sure doesn’t hurt to have a man who knows his drinks (and knows his drinkers) standing ready behind the bar.
Cafe L’Europe | Waiter Assistant
Mike Sanchez—or Mr. Sanchez, as everybody calls him—came down for the season 40 years ago, picked up a couple of shifts at Cafe L’Europe and never left. He’s a mainstay at the restaurant and guests regularly call to request to be seated in his section. “I take pride in my work and hold myself to high standards,” he explains. “It’s important to remember the customers, to know what they like, how they take their coffee,” he says, adding, “I like to be very in tune to the clientele and their needs.” That kind of attention should be standard operating procedure for every server, but let’s face it: It isn’t. The best servers just shine. They make an impact, they make the meal more memorable than the most flavorful morsel ever could. That’s what Mike aims for. Rumor has it, he hits the mark.
Shamrock Pub | Manager/Bartender
The Shamrock is quite known for its guest bartending events, where everyday folks take a turn on the server’s side of the bar, slinging brews to locals in the name of charity. That’s how Annie Prault-Stone, an insurance saleswoman at the time, got her start as one of the most beloved bartenders in town: as a guest. “You can’t really teach a bartender how to interact with a customer,” Annie says. “You can teach them the logistics, like how to run the register, but having a personal connection with customers is crucial. Whether it’s two minutes or two hours, being able to lend an ear is important,” she adds, as though lending your ear to a stranger for two hours is an easy feat. Although, at Shamrock, there aren’t any strangers—at least not for long. “It’s truly a neighborhood bar where everybody eventually becomes a friend,” she explains. “Come exactly as you are. Come in a suit or your board shorts. Either way, you’re more than welcome.”
Libby's Bar + Cafe | Server
Regina shares the same sentiment as her fellow servers in this story, the common thread that unites them all: She absolutely loves interacting with her customers. “I love hearing people’s stories, especially the older crowd. It’s so fulfilling to hear their wonderful stories.” Regina came to Sarasota 15 years ago with her musician husband. She opted to stray from her previous career spent at office desks and try her hand at waiting. She’s never looked back. “I love that you have so many things happening, so many different people. It’s not like working with the same people day in and day out. There are always new people, new cultures, new conversations.” She adds that the key is simply being friendly. “I always try to make people feel welcome. Every day I try to make somebody feel special.”