HAVING WORDS WITH Patti DiVita FILMMAKER AND FORMER WAITRESS

HAVING WORDS WITH Patti DiVita FILMMAKER AND FORMER WAITRESS

Patti DiVita is an unlikely movie producer. The Lake Geneva, Wis., resident had spent much of her adult life waiting tables, much of it in the mountain community of Summit County in Colorado. She would probably still be a server if she hadn’t severely injured her leg in a horse-riding accident. DiVita now drives a horse carriage for tourists in Lake Geneva, but she is still passionate about the restaurant industry.

Two years ago DiVita began filming a movie about a waitress who works in a mountain town. She spent the summer filming in Summit County and the winter editing in Denver. She had never made a movie before and wrote the script in a matter of days. It had 80 speaking parts. She advertised for actors in the local newspaper and pulled people off the street.

“Did I Say Thousand Island?” is a love story, and ultimately the film is a labor of love for DiVita.

Why is the title “Did I Say Thousand Island?”

As a waitress, I would ask customers what salad dressing they wanted—creamy Italian, rosemary vinaigrette, et cetera. You’d give them the list of options and then they’d say, “Give me Thousand Island.” And I would think, did I say that?

Why do a movie about servers?

FAST FACTS

EDUCATION: bachelor’s degree in industrial organizational psychology, University of IllinoisEXPERIENCE: more than two decades as a server in restaurants around the country, mostly in ColoradoBIRTHPLACE: Newmarket, OntarioAGE: 48

I wanted to show restaurant people in a positive light. I was tired of [servers] being shown as morons or with no integrity and who don’t care about their customers. That’s not true. Not everyone in the business is an alcoholic, smokes pot or has sex in the walk-in. With most servers, the customers do come first; that’s our job. We’re not sitting in the back talking when we have five tables and the food is up and the drinks are up. Being a waitress is a wonderful career and a great job. I never understood why in this country people looked down on servers.

When did you realize it was the career for you?

I don’t know if I ever had a moment when I knew it. I had had so much pressure from other people to do something else—“Why don’t you settle down and get a 9-to-5 job?” No, me settling down and getting a 9-to-5 job would make you happy. Our society sees waiting tables as a temporary job. My mission is to gain respect for our profession.

Did you invest your own money in the movie?

Yes. It’s definitely a low-budget indie. Now I’m working my way back up to broke.

What sort of response has the movie received?

I haven’t found anyone to distribute it yet. Members of CHRIE [the Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education] told me the movie enlightens and teaches something about restaurant people. And the Federation of Dining Room Professionals praised it. They were interested in doing whatever they could to get the movie out there as a tool of awareness for our profession. That made my day. I do not need an Oscar.

Do you have any advice for restaurant managers and owners?

Trust your employees to do their job and have confidence in them. You’re the one who hired them. If you don’t have confidence in them, you messed up. Good managers look at the personality and the abilities and how they’ll fit into the team. A good server is a true server at heart.