The waitresses and bartenders who work at Martha’s Vineyard restaurants have their work cut out for them: During the fast-paced summer, they must keep smiling. When all those visitors leave, they must smile some more: In the off-season, they’re serving their friends. Six servers shared the ups (serving regulars, feeling like family) and downs (not many) of off-season life at the Island’s favorite year-round places .
Samantha Bach and Heather McCarthy, Waitresses, Linda Jean’s Restaurant, Oak Bluffs
HM: I always wanted to live here … and I know I wanted to work here. Just because it was my grandma’s favorite place to eat breakfast. This is the only place I’ve worked since I moved to the Island.
SB: I moved here in 2010 from Dallas, Texas. And Linda Jean’s is the only place I’ve worked here. I live in Oak Bluffs, and like the neighborhood sense: You see everybody, in the grocery store, the Post Office …
A social place
SB: You’ll see people you know at the restaurant; there’s no fanfare here. Sometimes we recognize celebrities: OK, that’s that person, but what do they want for breakfast? We are kind of low-key — everyone is here for the same thing.
Every morning our regulars usually come in the same time … some right at 6 am when we open. A few of them have left for the season — they fly to Florida. On any given night we will know everybody’s name in here. If some of our people don’t come in, Rachel will call them up and say, “Is everything OK? You are missing the spaghetti and meatballs!” And later, “You forgot to tell us you are not coming …” Being a year-round restaurant allows us to have that relationship. After the summer, we catch up: “Hi, I haven’t seen you all summer.”.
SB: People meet here. Heather met her husband here.
HM: It was my first week; I was in training. I waited on him and we started up a conversation — we got talking about baseball. It snowballed from there …
SB: Fun stuff like that. This is the only place like this … I will see customers at the beach, and I may not know their names, but I know what they like. We get wedding parties, tour groups, cycling groups; those are fun, when the spandex comes in.
The Linda Jean’s women
SB: We are all friends at Linda Jean’s. It’s all women — we have guys in the back, but all women waitresses. A food runner may be a guy in the summer, but for the most part, it’s a female crew. It’s all good … we all go out for each other’s birthdays. We all pitch in. Mark does the schedule, and a lot of us have the same schedule every week. It’s a nice flow; everybody is laid-back. If someone is sick, we are all on it. The majority of the family works here, and if one sister can’t work, the other one will come in. Grandma watches the kids; sometimes you’ll see us walking around with babies. It’s a nice sense of community.
And the community extends farther than Linda Jean’s. You know the bankers, the people at the dry cleaners, the Post Office, UPS drivers, the wine shop.
HM: Even my parish. I have a nice relationship with the priest here.
SB: Mark is a good fundraiser: He will donate money and food to community needs.
Winter and summer
SB: Well, we have fun, but it’s crazy in the summer. This is our down time.
HM: It picks up around the holidays. Now we are consistently on the slower side, but Sundays can be a little hectic, and weekends busy. We have weekend trippers; if the weather is nice it can be a little busier with day-trippers. We have a different set of people in the summer. A lot of the tourists in the summer crowd. People on the Island are more laid-back, easygoing, and relaxed. We have to remind the others that they are on Island time, and there is no need to be in a rush.
SB: It gets so busy in the summer. We have our regulars, they don’t know the flow. It’s usually a New York flow that doesn’t flow here … It’s me, me, me! You need to keep your smile on, keep moving … After customers have waited outside for two hours, they are not in good moods. And they have a boat to catch — we all have a boat to catch — good thing it’s across the street.
SB: My other career would be acting. I dropped out of college and went to acting school. I always wanted to be an actress. I haven’t done anything in so long. Now I just watch the people watching the people.
HM: I’d like to be a professional photographer. I take lots of pictures. I entered some in the Fair, but no ribbons. For me, it’s more about capturing the memories. I took a picture of all the kids of Linda Jean’s. All five little girls. I always have my camera on rapid-fire, just in case.
SB: I always recommend blueberry pancakes or cinnamon-swirl French toast.
HM: We are known for chowder-baked haddock and the lobster roll. The roll is fresh when you order it, really made to order, with heavy mayo or light mayo or none. They mix it right then. The local bay scallop season is upon us, so people just come in to get their scallops.
SB: It’s down-home, everyday cooking.
HM: I feel very lucky to be here … I feel like other [restaurants] don’t have it as good as we do.
SB: It’s a good place to work, and we are lucky to work here.
Michelle Alton, Bartender, Sharky’s, Oak Bluffs
I am from the Vineyard, born and raised here. I came back to the Vineyard after college, lived a couple years up near Boston, then left to go to the Caribbean for the winter. I’ve worked six summers and three winters at Sharky’s. I love to be here in the summer, and now I’m back full-time. It’s a beautiful place to live. I love going away, but I love coming back.
Yes, I houseclean on Sundays.
Busy times: Summer and winter
This time of year we are steady, and on some weekends a little busier. Often the happy-hour crowd from 4 to 6 pm fills up the bar. I kind of like it best when we are just steady, not totally packed, because you can actually have conversations with people. When it’s steady, we keep busy but you still get to chat with everyone coming in.
Sometimes in the summer, tensions run high: When it takes customers two hours to park, by the time they come in to eat, they are frustrated. This time of year people are much more laid-back and relaxed.
Our very busiest day was the Monday of Columbus Day weekend … Just because we have less staff in the fall and winter, and that Monday we were really busy. Everyone coming in for the lunch shift, then to catch the boat to leave … from the minute we opened, we were just slammed! We survived it, though.
Other career goal
I always wanted to work with animals. I just don’t want to go back to school yet; I’m not ready for four more years. This is my pastime now … I was a biology major in college. Animal medicine has always been interesting to me; it’s just a hard process to get into. I haven’t gone that route yet.
Learning from customers
You’d be surprised what people will talk to you about. That’s always the nice part. We get people of all shapes and sizes in here; you’ll meet someone who is a scientist or a veterinarian who you can chat with — conversations about football, then about politics — you learn a lot from people.
The best part about working here in the winter is that we do have regulars who come in, so it becomes a family with not only your staff and co-workers but customers as well. Many are on a first-name basis. That part is really nice.
I’ll take breaks through the dead of winter … when it’s snowy here, we’ll go on vacations with friends and family. My favorite things to do in the winter: Go out to dinner, do trivia at the Wharf and P.A. Club — they are a lot of fun. The bowling alley is great.
Sharky’s as family
In Sharky’s we are so small we are really close-knit. It really is a family over here. We reach out to one another, and usually, depending on other work schedules, someone will cover you easily should you need to be off. The best part of Sharky’s Oak Bluffs is how close the co-workers are … we will have family dinners and pumpkin-carving parties. Margaritte [Burell] is the mom of Sharky’s — she takes care of all of us. We really appreciate her for that. It’s nice to have co-workers who would do anything for each other; it makes it a happy place to be. It’s fun when you come in and you enjoy the people you’re going to see. That’s really the best part — the people that I work with.
A heartwarming story
From Alex Schilcher, manager
In the Edgartown Sharky’s last year during the holidays, a gentleman saw a woman with three kids and no husband or boyfriend around … He saw me at the bar, and said, “Could you put their meal on my tab, and don’t tell them it was me. I want to pay for them.” This happened more than once that same year; in fact, it happened three other times. I’m hoping to see that again this year.
Nancy Joseph, Bartender, Ocean View Restaurant, Oak Bluffs
What brought you to the Vineyard?
My husband’s job, six years ago, brought us here. I’ve been at the Ocean View ever since.
What else do you do?
I’m a mom; I have four children, three at home; one is grown. I live in Vineyard Haven, so two are at the Tisbury School, one in the high school.
What happens at the Ocean View?
Oh, wow … I’m a bartender: I make drinks, I chat with people … It’s a cast of characters that comes through the door. The bar is one gigantic table, it’s like a community table. The Ocean View is a local spot for Oak Bluffs; the Wharf is for Edgartown. We have a strong regular base here.
Stories at the bar
I love my job. It’s a gigantic plus — it’s social — especially since being a mom, your job becomes your social scene. It’s my time for community. We have a great group of people; I love coming to work … we are not just fellow employees, we are friends. Friendships are truly made here.
Winter and summer
We are busy in the winter. We are busy fall, winter, and the beginning of spring. Then, once more options open up, we start to quiet down. My busiest time? Many, many times; always you want your bar to be busy. If not, no one is making any money. I would be pressed to find any bartender who doesn’t like to be busy. Standing still hurts — I like to be busy, I never sit down. How many hours? 8½ hours a day. It’s good for your body. It’s bad to sit — those are the killers [the desk jobs].
I’ve been doing this for 25 years, I don’t know if I’m good at it yet — maybe another 30 years!
Meghan McDermott, Waitress, The Wharf, Edgartown
I was actually working at a restaurant off-Island, and a friend and I were thinking of what we could do differently. One of the bartenders there said he was moving to the Vineyard to manage a restaurant. So we came too. That was in 2010, so I’m on the Island five years now. I’ve worked in lots of places here. I started at the Wharf last October. I love the Wharf.
The Wharf as family
Everyone here treats you like family. They are very close — everyone is like a close friend now. The customers are great. We have so many regulars who come in. It’s so nice to see familiar faces.
Winter and summer
I make new friends in the winter. I like walking by and saying, “Hey, how’s it going?” I like the shoulder seasons, only because it’s warm. It’s so crazy in the summer; in the shoulder season it’s your time to explore the Island and get to know people. There is more of a local crowd: They are there to help us through the winter, helping us stay open.
Other jobs and careers
I work a couple nights at the Ocean View on the bar and waiting tables. They have their locals, and Edgartown has their locals. There’s no crossing over.
At some point, I would love to go back to school for nursing. It’s just the time and money to figure out. They are doing some programs at Cape Cod Community College, and making it easier to do classes at the high school. Eventually, I think I’ll look into that.
My favorite app is mussels with white wine and tomato broth, and extra garlic bread. For sandwiches, I love the chicken panini, with salami and roasted tomatoes. The favorite entrée is the cheddar-stuffed meatloaf — it’s so good; as soon as you put the fork into it, the cheese oozes out. And a new grilled chicken dish with rosemary sauce is really yummy.
Most challenging task: Prioritize
My most challenging task is making sure I prioritize when it’s busy. I’m OK with it now, but when I started, it was difficult. I try to treat my section as a whole, deciding what’s more important to do first. It’s an issue for most servers in the beginning. Trying to prioritize when it’s busy is really important.
The part of the job I Iike best is being a people person. Pleasing people, making people happy. Putting a smile on people’s faces. When I suggest something and they end up liking it — that’s nice.
Robin Ayers, Waitress and Barista, Waterside Market, Vineyard Haven
Getting here and working
I was born in Illinois. I first came to the Vineyard with my boyfriend — he had a friend from the Island. Six weeks later, we moved here. I had started bussing tables when I was 13 or 14 at home in Illinois.
About Waterside Market
I’ve been at Waterside two years in April. I love my bosses, I can really say. Two of them are young enough to be my kids. They are wonderful, just very nice people. No, they are not Islanders: Anthony is from Missouri and Susan from Pennsylvania. Not sure where the others are from.
Waterside is mostly counter service, so we are taking orders at the counter, and that’s fine, I really enjoy it. I’d never been a barista before, so when I started I had to learn to make cappuccinos, lattes, and a latte made with cream. I sometimes get an education from my customers, who know how to make what they want. We have alcohol now. We serve beer and wine only, and it has to go with a meal — it’s a state law with the beer and wine license. It took a lot of getting used to, because we pool tips, typical of a coffee shop. Anyone that works or lives on Main Street gets a 10 percent discount, and we also take the Island Card. We have a lot of kids come in who work at the Green Room, Rainy Day, or Leslie’s; also people from the bank.
One of my customers, Brett who works at Radio Shack, gave me a camera one day. I told him I had a 30-year-old Minolta. He stopped by one day with a newer Minolta and said, “Here, take it … you need to take it.” It was the nicest thing. That was special.
My customer Jan Van Riper invited me to lunch for my birthday. I’ve met so many wonderful people.
I have a pen pal who is 100 years old: Bob McGinnis. He used to be a piano tuner. I met him when I was working at Linda Jean’s, and since then he’s been sending me birthday cards. I can’t even remember for how long … now he can’t really write, so he is having his caregiver send letters to me.
Though I have had a couple waitress jobs since I left Linda Jean’s, I keep being drawn back to Waterside because I really like the people. I think that’s important.
I kind of go the extra mile to make people happy. We give gift certificates if something bad happens, like they don’t like their food, or something spills. That’s a policy my bosses have. They want it to be consistent — the place where everyone wants to go because they feel at home. I feel that way too.
I really like the Tex-Mex. It looks so nice in a bowl. Anthony made the Tex-Mex and he made the CAB sandwich, and it aired on the Food Network on September 25th for the first time. And the frittata made with egg whites; it can also be on a bed of greens instead of toast.
Sometimes in the summer we don’t even have a chance to interface with customers. And they are strangers; some are just here for the day, some getting on a boat — very fast-paced. In the winter we can talk to people.
Travel plans or not
I’d love to go somewhere warm in the winter like Key West … But I’m here, I have a daughter and her husband and two kids who live in Edgartown. This is beautiful [the view out to Vineyard Haven Harbor]. It’s really a beautiful town. It feels like a little village.