By Yishi Liang
Many students may not realize just how simple getting a job off campus is, but Jumi Bello ‘13, Zoe Rodriguez ‘13, and Will Jackson ‘13 can all attest to the ease. They work at three of the higher-end restaurants in Grinnell: Prairie Canary, Relish and Peppertree, respectively. Despite the variety of differences between each eatery, the three jobs share a few key similarities: the pay is great, the hours are long, and all the students had to do to get them was walk in and ask..
Will Jackson has been working at Peppertree, a restaurant he describes as being “the closest thing we have to an Outback Steakhouse,” for just under a year. And despite not having any waiting experience, Jackson was able to get this job without any trouble.
“I walked in and talked to the manager. They happened to be hiring, and they hired me.”
But just as with any job, working as a waiter has its ups and downs.
“The best thing would be the pay,” Jackson said. “I have a lot less financial constraints. But the worst thing would be not being able to start my homework until like 10:30.”
The pay may be one of the best things about working off-campus. But Jackson and the rest of the waiters at Peppertree work almost entirely off tips. Because of this, their pay relies mostly on the generosity of the patrons.
This past Halloween, though, Jackson was able to earn some extra tips by dressing up as a turtle. He has also been able to see some musicians who have played live at the restaurant.
Jackson, a Sociology major, has found that he is able to incorporate his studies as he works.
“I think that waiting tables at a restaurant is really fascinating. Seeing the expectations that people have of how they’re going to be serve is always interesting. Some people demand a lot, and some people are really understanding.”
Post-graduation, Jackson has plans to go into teaching, perhaps grades K-8. His job has taught him many key skills needed for that profession, which include patience and knowing how to attend to many different kinds of people.
Jumi Bello has several years of experience in waiting, at quite a few restaurants. Her previous employers include Relish and Peppertree, and she also currently works at Chuong Garden. But her job at Prairie Canary is one of her favorites, largely because of the atmosphere.
“The best thing is definitely the energy, all of the managers are just really excited to be running Prairie Canary,” Bello said.
But the good pay and free food are also things that Bello, and any college student, can appreciate. Bello and her coworkers get to taste all the specials being served for the night, have a free meal at the end of their shift, and if they are 21 or older, have a free drink, too.
The free drinks don’t stop there, though.
“The weekend of 10/10 was the weekend before the opening so we had to come in for wine and liquor tastings,” Bello said. “So Saturday of 10/10 was pretty awesome, because we spent three hours drinking wine and learning how to taste wine and recommend it.”
Because Prairie Canary is a relatively new establishment, some difficulties have arisen. During her first few weeks, Bello and her coworkers had to learn everything from scratch without the guidance of experienced employees.
“This is my first time working at a restaurant that’s new, that doesn’t have an established history,” Bello said. “It was an equal challenge for all the waiters because we had to learn how the system works and how we were going to wait.”
Though Bello may have had a lot of waiting experience, Prairie Canary is open to employees with any experience level.
“We need more staff. You can be a newcomer, you’d just have a lot to learn,” Bello said.
Bello notes that in addition to serving food and memorizing the menu, working at a restaurant also requires a lot of people skills. It hasn’t been too hard for her though.
“I have a Mohawk so that’s a pretty good conversation starter.”
Zoe Rodriguez knew from the very beginning that she wanted to have a job off-campus. She started at her job at the beginning of her first year, back when Relish was called Phoenix, and has been working at the establishment essentially the entire time she’s been at Grinnell.
Before it was Relish, this restaurant was Phoenix for about 15 years, and it is still under the same management. Rodriguez believes that the biggest change has just been the name.
“The owners decided to do a corporate restructure,” Rodriguez said. “It’s somewhat different in style, but it’s more than 50% the same food, which is a funny mix of Mediterranean, British, and American.”
During her years on the job, Rodriguez has become extremely close to her coworkers, which mostly consists of young adults like herself, and her managers.
“I go in there, and I actually can’t think of anything else,” Rodriguez said. “All the school stress is gone, and I just focus on what I’m doing. My managers are the best, and working there is like my family at Grinnell.”
Because it is one of the more upscale restaurants in Grinnell, Relish is a top choice for many visitors.
“Often if there are speakers [at Grinnell], they bring them to Relish so sometimes I get to interact with semi-famous people,” Rodriguez said. “And the English department is always fun.”
Overall, her job has been a very valuable experience. Her only complaint would have to be the time commitment.
“It can be very busy and tiring to work a six-hour shift and then do my homework. It’s also hard to have to be cheerful and on my feet for that entire time.”
But despite this, Rodriguez appreciates the normality of this job—perhaps in comparison to her other job, which is processing chickens on a nearby farm, which she says is basically removing the guts from chickens.