What is it like to work just out of Yellowstone National Park?
“It’s nice when we get quiet because we’re busy, and it’s nice when we get busy because we’re bored.”
That’s how Dan Reger described working a seasonal service job on the edge of Yellowstone.
Dan is the manager of The Branch, a restaurant in West Yellowstone most easily recognized by the train car located in the lobby.
Kevin Proper, the head chef of The Branch, joined us as well. In a town like West, Kevin is never 100 percent sure on whether he’s preparing meals for 25 people that night, or 250.
Predicting the headcount for the night seems to have as many factors as rocket science: cross-country skiing races, snowmobile events, how many people are at any of the hotels in town, did someone cause a car accident while looking at a buffalo in the park, is there a bobcat visible from the road today?
As the daughter of a cross-country skier, I can remember going to The Branch in the early 2000s. It was a crowd favorite for families with kids because of the train car in the lobby. While the train car was full of little, sticky kids like me and my sister, the restaurant would fill with hungry, skinny people, precisely at 6 p.m. wanting to be fed and hydrated and waxing their skis by 7, so that they can be in bed by 8:30. Not a lot of breathing room for the employees!
Both Dan and Kevin acknowledged the Rendezvous Races in West are cause for one of their busier weekends. But, at least they’re predictable!
It’s the unpredictable events that are the toughest to deal with. Patrons to Yellowstone will stare at a dot-of-a-bear 400 yards away for three hours, and then show up just before close and order prime rib.
That’s something that anyone who’s worked a service job in Montana can relate to. A Midwestern family of seven shows up right when you think all your tables have paid. You try to ask them in a tone that sounds curious instead of exhausted why they’re coming in so late and one practically yells back at you, “We saw a deer!”
But, other than sometimes getting mistaken for Idaho, West is pretty dang good. It’s an old town with an old history. Kevin told me that one of his favorite parts of his job is when they get to cater at the Union Pacific Dining Lodge.
Kevin talked about how most times they cater the UP Dining Lodge, it’s for weddings. He tries to make the food as perfect as possible for the couple’s lucky day.
Later, he revealed that he got married there himself, which may have explained the twinkle in his eye when he talked about the dining hall.
Another highlight of working at The Branch are some of the regular groups who come through over the years.
“Ski for Light is my favorite group,” Kevin told us. Ski for Light is a group that helps the visually impaired improve their quality of life through cross-country skiing.
And while a town like West isn’t for everyone, similar to most small towns in Montana, Dan made sure I knew that everyone looks out for each other.
“Everyone wants to be here,” Dan said about the people who live in West year round. “It creates a good and stable atmosphere.”
Special thanks to everyone at The Branch for being so accommodating to us (and for the amazing soup)! Find their website here.
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