Hi, I've been serving for a year and a half now. I started my first job right into serving (New restaurant, got lucky in the hiring process so I got to jump right in), and almost a year in got an opportunity to move to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands for seasonal work. I started off in a higher-class resort restaurant on the beach front, which sadly didn't work out for me as I had hoped... halfway through my stay (I was on the island from November to May) I managed to switch into a fast-paced casual spot in the middle of downtown, which pulled a high volume and was exactly what I needed :)
Now I'm back in my hometown, serving at my first job again (Which has started to bring in much higher levels of business than when I left), but I have that itch to see more of the world and take opportunities to live elsewhere...
So, I wanted to start a discussion for any of us who have been a part of seasonal restaurant jobs in various areas of the world, or those of us who live in larger cities or areas that may be of interest for someone to move to if they work in the service business. Share your stories, and let us know the ups and downs of where you've been :) I'll get some of my story on here soon.
St. Thomas is... an interesting place to say the least. How it compares to other tourism areas, I can not compare. I do, however, know my experience there, and the impressions I gained from living there.
First impression flying onto the island was how HILLY it is! I'm from Cincinnati, which compared to the rest of the state of Ohio is hilly... but St. Thomas just dwarfs us. The airport is to the west of downtown, downtown being on the southern center section of the island. The "North Side" of the island is up on the hills behind downtown, and is generally seen as a classier and nicer area to live (parts are above the mosquito line, which is pleasant). There's what's generally known as the southern side of the island, various disconnected suburban sections running along the southern end of the island between downtown and Red Hook. Red Hook is the other hub of activity, on the east end of the island facing St. John. Many resorts are based around Red Hook, while the 'town' itself is merely one street with a number of bars, restaurants, and shops along it.
I had a job lined up at one of the resort restaurants that had recently come under new management. Once named Blue Moon Cafe, a local favorite, the beachside location was renamed Sunset Grille. It, like many of the hotel and resort restaurants on St. Thomas, is divided into two; there is a fine-dining restaurant (Only open for dinner, most restaurants of this caliber follow suite) and a casual patio (With a breakfast menu, and a casual menu spanning from lunch through dinner). So whether your serving skills are more suited towards silent service with fine wines and high-class food, or running six or more tables of families and younger folks coming off the beach for a frozen drink and a bite to eat, there are opportunities for everyone on the island.
There are ways of getting employment lined up prior to arriving on island (I was lucky to have someone returning to the island, and had a variety of contacts). Most seeking restaurant employment get some savings, and take advantage of one of the daily/weekly room rentals or hotels to find a permanent residence and a job. The season on St. Thomas is generally seen as beginning around Thanksgiving, truly picking up mid-December, and hitting a plateau through March, when it slips a bit until May, after the Carnival celebrations. Tourism stays decent through into July, however the hurricane season is from August to October so those are the slowest months (I know, for example, my roommate's job at Bluebeard's Castle closed the entire month of August; the sister restaurant in the hotel closed for September). Naturally, moving to the island in October and November will yield opportunities for the locations seeking to staff up for the busy season, which is nearly all of them :) However, there are always employees transitioning between locations and leaving the island year-round, so Autumn is by far not the only time one can show up and find a job. Bartending especially seems to be much more independent of the season as to when they need to hire; when I changed jobs halfway through my visit, I was hired almost instantly as the location I moved to had two servers leave in the middle of the season. And when I left at the beginning of May, the location had so many seasonal servers leave they had to hire quite a number in the Spring. So opportunities vary.
Anyhow, the first location I was working for, sadly, did not work out with me for a variety of reasons... Maybe if it's pertinent I'll share those later. I was lucky to find employment almost immediately at a location downtown on the harborfront, by the name of The Greenhouse. Sunset Grille's main draws were the customers staying at the resort, the small portion of the cruise ship guests being dropped off for swimming at the beach during the day, and week-long tourists at other hotels looking to dine in an area with a lovely view and great environment. The Greenhouse was a location that had been there for over 30 years, steeped in tradition and located in a perfect location. The daytime shifts were punctuated by the myriad of individuals off the cruise ships, seeking lunch and a cool drink after shopping in the sun and walking around for hours. The nighttime was also busy, as there were many hotels nearby who sent us business; we were also one of the first restaurants one saw when taking a taxi from the airport, so we had a chance for a great first-impression to bring back guests during their entire stay.
The Greenhouse was very casual, with a large menu and huge sections (7-11 tables per server). To me, this pointed me to what may make the best type of seasonal serving job; the food, while not expensive, was not cheap either, so check averages were high enough to make decent money per table. The sections were big, so you could run many tables at once, and the atmosphere was fun so you could read a table and encounter them however you felt they'd enjoy best. Anywhere from chatting with a table for twenty minutes during the rare slow periods about what to do on-island, to busting out the unexpected fine-dining flairs for an older couple sitting at the windows watching the water, a lot of responsibility was left in the hands of us as servers. Granted, one had to keep up their end of work and be very professional, as the company was willing to fire anyone and easily find a replacement. For me, that was not a problem, and I did much better financially at a location like that.
This has demonstrated to me, that in various tourism-based locations, finding a job in an extremely visible spot, where people visit throughout the day, and one that isn't fine-dining as to allow for larger sections is the way to go. Don't get me wrong; I was training into fine-dining at my first location before I left and witnessed the servers there make $300 for 5-6 hours of work off of three tables for the night. But that wasn't the standard, and if the business doesn't arrive you don't do anything for the evening. In a high-volume casual restaurant, working 5-6 hours could easily net any server a bill, if not one-fifty to two hundred on an amazing night.
Living on an island is great... there are beaches everywhere! Also, outside of work, life is slower-paced among the locals, which I was a huge fan of. Cost of living was obviously a lot higher (For example, rent is easily $1000 a bedroom. I was paying $550 with water and electric, but me and my roommate were in a small West-Indian two-bedroom without the commodities and quality most Americans are looking for). Food is definitely more expensive (Box of cereal is $6, Gallon of milk is $7, etc.) but after that things aren't too bad. Gas was a dollar more a gallon than the American average, but the island is a mere 4x13 miles so you aren't driving as much. Electronics and non-food items are either slightly or not more expensive than back here in the States. Liquor is also cheaper (Both in the bars and sold in the shops ^.^) as well as beers and wine produced in South America and the Caribbean.
I may return there someday... I left on a whim with little planning, so my trip was not all I wanted it to be, and may need to return to do it properly :) I've also been looking into Hawaii, specifically Maui, for another opportunity in the future.... but who knows where the future leads?