Donna Lenz Wright/The Week
(Published Oct. 25, 2007, 2:09 p.m.)
For more information, or to purchase Did I Say Thousand Island? ($13.99), visit www.didisaythousandisland.com or call 723-2144.
We've all seen it: A person being very rude or loud to a waitperson as other diners try to ignore it and look uncomfortable. Nobody really knows what to do--most times including the fellow diners of the obnoxious one.
When a person sits down in a restaurant, why do they sometimes morph into a mean person?
"Generally people are nice," says Patti DiVita, producer and director of Did I Say Thousand Island? a new independent film about the restaurant industry.
The emphasis on "say," referring to those who insist on ordering things that aren't available.
"I can remember bad stories from 15 years ago because they leave an impression--they hurt you," DiVita says.
DiVita, of Elkhorn, has been a waitress for over 30 years. She waitressed at Gilberts and the Red Geranium Restaurant in Lake Geneva, and many others in her travels. A horse riding injury ended her waitressing career in 1999, but not her love for the job.
She hopes her film will make people think about how they treat people in the service industry; and the vast majority of people waiting tables aren't doing a job they hate--they love it.
"I loved waitressing and I loved my life," she laments.
Did I Say Thousand Island? was filmed in beautiful Summit County, Colo., where DiVita waitressed for much of her career.
"I got to live where people saved all year to travel," she said. "That's where I lived, shopped and went to church. How great is that?
"People don't look at waiting tables as a real job. They'll say, 'When are you going do something with your life?' Or they're embarrassed that their parents or children wait tables. I don't get that.
"What's wrong with playing during the day, working at night and traveling when you want to? People choose the jobs they work in.
"Yeah, we're just normal people," DiVita says.
And there are a lot of them. In Wisconsin the restaurant industry employees 277,000 people and takes in $6.5 million annually, according to DiVita's research. Nationally, 12.8 million people are employed--second only to the United States government--and the industry grosses $537 billion annually.
"That many people work in this field, including me for over 30 years, and nobody knows National Waiters' and Waitress' Day is May 21," she said. "What does that tell you?"
The film follows the lives of employees--two in particular--of Silver Hills, a restaurant in the Rocky Mountains near Denver, Colo.,
It's Cathy's 30th birthday and she's questioning her career choice as a waitress, mostly due to the lack of respect the field is given and in spite of how much she enjoys it. Maegan, on the other hand, is a waitress "lifer" and completely happy with it.
From behind the swinging kitchen door, they swap horror stories of their jobs. There's the man who keeps sending his steak back because he ordered medium rare, but actually wanted medium. "I ordered it medium rare and it's still pink inside," he barks at the waitress.
And the two men who get into an actual fight about who's paying the check, and end up blaming the waitress for the disagreement.
From in front of the swinging kitchen door there are the pleasures of the hours, they all agree. "Alarm clocks, panty hose and traffic jams? No thanks," Maegan says at a bonfire party after hours in the movie.
The regular customers who are more like family members. The staff knows more about them than their own families do, and if they don't show up at their regular time everyone worries.
And the good feeling it gives to be able to accommodate a last-minute family of eight to a Thanksgiving dinner.
"When customers walk out that door happy, boy, what a great feeling that is when that happens."
But we've all had bad wait-people--the ones who ignore you, leaving you sitting there waiting and waiting. What about those?
"I get tired of people who come to work and don't care or don't like it."
Like anyone in any job they don't like, DiVita's advice is simple--do the best you can until you get a different job.
"I knew zippo zilch nothing about making a movie," DiVita said. "I was a photographer in Nashville for a while and I took a film class in high school, but that's about it."
What she lacks in knowledge and experience she makes up for in passion, energy and determination.
The idea just came to her, she says. And until she decided to go for it she couldn't think of anything else.
"After the third day of not being able to get it out of my head I said, 'OK, I'll do it.' Then I could sleep."
Films overwhelmingly portray waitresses as trapped in their jobs and hating every minute of it. DiVita set out to make a film about the good side of the same story.
"I didn't have a story line or anything else," she said. "Then when I was driving one day it hit me like a ton of bricks--make it a love story."
As go-getter by nature, DiVita began reading everything she could find about how to make an independent film. She got her actors and actresses for 80 speaking parts and many others through word of mouth and advertising in the local newspaper and the vast majority came with zero acting experience.
"It was crazy," she said. "Everything about this movie just kept falling into place, one thing after another."
Three years later, it's done and ready for the masses.
"Not bad for someone who didn't know beans about making a movie," she said.
After hundreds of viewings, its relatable honest premise told as a story has been met with positive reviews.
And last week she spoke to restaurant franchise CEOs, presidents and leaders about her film at the Chain Leader, Insight for Restaurant Executives convention in Newport Beach, Calif. Members attending the conference included CEOs of Chilis, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Arby's, Bennigan's and many, many more.
"They're thinking about showing it to all of their new employees," DiVita says. "And you wouldn't believe how many CEOs take potential employees out to eat just to see how they treat waitresses and waiters."
DiVita is willing to show her film at any interested venue. And while she'd like to find a major distributor, she's much more interested in getting her message out.
"It's not about me being a filmmaker. I have no intention of ever making another movie. I just want to enlighten and educate the public of who we are.
"Don't snap your fingers or whistle for me; I'm not a dog. And if we're really really busy and I forgot your extra butter, I'm not an idiot and I'm doing my best for each of my tables, so please remember I'm human.
"I'm not looking for world peace, but how about a little politeness?"
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