Whithoo Phanjerm is a 25-year-old server at Little Saigon, a Thai and Vietnamese restaurant on Whitemarsh Island. She enjoys sailing in her spare time and is originally from Thailand.
Whithoo came to the U.S. in March 2007 upon joining the Au Pair program, a cultural exchange program in which one stays with an American host family and helps to take care of their children while also going to school.
“Unfortunately,” she says, “after about a month, I got very sick and a doctor found out that I had tuberculosis, so I had to move away from the host family and I was staying in a hotel. I was under the chest clinic of the Chatham County Health Department Care. Then I met my husband Cameron, we fell in love, and we got married.”
Just in time -- Whithoo was about to go back to Thailand. “TB turned my life around,” she says. “I was very sick, but I met many good people. The nurse at the clinic. My husband and people I work with, the owner of Little Saigon. Without them, I don’t know how my life would be. I’d probably be back in Thailand doing something else.”
That’s probably one of the very few positive tuberculosis outcomes anyone has had.
Could you describe what your job entails?
Whithoo Phanjerm: My job is to ensure that my customers receive the best service ever. This includes that the service is prompt, efficient, and friendly. I always try my best to make sure that all of my guests are enjoying their time here.
What training does your job require?
Whithoo Phanjerm: It would normally be high school. If you are from another country, like me, you have to speak efficient English. You must have a great personality and communication skills, as well as being patient and able to work under pressure. You have to be organized because sometimes chaotic situations arise, especially if you are working in a small restaurant like me; there will be only one or two servers on shift and it can get very busy sometimes.
Did you always want to have this job?
Whithoo Phanjerm: I used to eat here all the time. Little Saigon is my husband’s favorite restaurant. I was not working at that time and I got to know one of the servers here, so I got this job through her. I was not planning or dreaming of this job but I’m enjoying what I am doing.
How long have you been working in this field?
Whithoo Phanjerm: I went to school for hotel management and during my studies I had a food and restaurant course. I also worked part-time in a hotel restaurant, so I think it has been about five or six years.
What is your favorite part about your job?
Whithoo Phanjerm: I love the people that I work with. They are very nice and helpful and are very good people. I also get to know interesting people from all walks of life. I get to introduce many people to Thai food and to see customers enjoying and loving Thai food makes me proud of my country.
And your least favorite?
Whithoo Phanjerm: The sad thing is that many people don’t understand that servers depend on tips. We are paid lower than minimum wage to ensure that the servers will do their best to ensure customer satisfaction and make way above the minimum wage. If we don’t do it this way, the food price in restaurants will have to be very expensive and customers will have no choice. However, I understand that sometimes it can get very busy and the service becomes slower, and I understand, in that case, if customers leave fewer tips. The good thing is a lot of people understand this point.
What are your future goals?
Whithoo Phanjerm: I want to go back to school again. I will probably get my master’s degree but I’m not sure what I want to study yet.
Do you have any advice for other people who aspire to have this job?
Whithoo Phanjerm: It is easy to be a server but it is not as easy as it seems to be a good server. You have to be service-minded and care about other people.
This has been another in our new series highlighting important people behind the scenes in Savannah. If you have any nominees, send their names, jobs, and contact info to email@example.com