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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Thursday, Sep. 24, 2009 8 years ago

Maître d'opera

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

After spending 30 years working for golf and tennis resorts from Palm Harbor to Lakewood Ranch, Jim Reid was ready for a change of scenery — almost.

Five years ago, Reid, staying true to his hospitality roots, took a job managing the Sarasota Opera House’s food and beverage department. The client base was similar — the attire, however, totally different.

Rather than schmoozing men and women in flat-front khakis and cotton polo shirts, Reid, 54, began schmoozing men and women in beaded gowns and crisp tuxedos.

“The food-art discipline is the same whether you work at a sports resort or in the arts arena,” Reid says.
“The patrons here utilize the same intensity when it comes to food and beverage. They appreciate good opera, beautiful décor, fine wines and nice food. If you bring them a great presentation, you know they will appreciate it.”

Reid takes his job very seriously. In fact, “schmoozing” is a word he’d probably never use. An East Sarasota County resident, Reid prides himself on maintaining meticulous health-and-safety standards, impeccable service, upscale wine lists and a rotating food selection courtesy of Sarasota’s finest restaurants.

Because the opera doesn’t have a full kitchen or cooking staff, almost all the food served before and after shows is provided by companies such as Michael’s On East, Mattison’s and Cosimo’s Brick Oven.

Reid oversees one of the largest departments at the opera. Managing a staff of 20 part-time bartenders and servers, Reid coordinates every catered event hosted at or by the opera, including the organization’s opening night galas.

“It’s almost a 24/7 job during opera season,” says Reid. “Mondays I’m in meetings, then ordering and scheduling inventory. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we have shows and then two more shows Saturday and Sunday. Everything has to click. Everything has to be perfect.”

Reid has perfected the art of maintaining composure under less-than-perfect conditions.

When a storm wrecked havoc on the opera’s 2007 opening night gala, Reid used folding tables to bridge a rushing stream of water flowing between the opera house and Selby Five Points Park. The makeshift boardwalks kept many well-dressed women dry that night while Reid and his staff helped escort women into the theater’s lobby.

In the summer and during the opera’s fall and spring rental seasons, Reid is charged with ordering pizzas for the youth opera and providing refreshments during non-opera events.

But long gone are the days of overly plump opera singers. According to Reid, many singers are vegetarians or vegans.

“They’re very good about their diets,” Reid says. “And a lot like to have their bottled water at room temperature so it doesn’t shock their vocal cords.”

Even if diva behavior were rampant, it would be unlike Reid to discuss it. Last April, during Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s mental-health outreach event, keynote speaker Tipper Gore only requested bottled water backstage.

“There are very little special requests,” Reid says.

Patrons, however, love top-shelf liquor, fine wines and French champagne. When asked to name the opera’s No. 1 drink, Reid says, without hesitation, “red wine.”

Despite the industry’s reputation for cocktails, Sarasota Opera doesn’t sell liquor during family-orientated events, such as Riverview High School’s Kiltie Band performances.

“We’ll use the word ‘concession’ instead of ‘bar,’” Reid says, cracking a wry smile. “We don’t wine and dine children.”


Jim Reid has spent his entire career wearing a tuxedo to work. Though he doesn’t mind donning a penguin suit on a regular basis, he says he’s grateful that ruffled tuxedo shirts, popular in the 1970s, are no longer in style.

“One of the worst things I can remember is cooking steak Diane tableside in a flamboyant three-piece tux,” Reid says. “The pants had velvet stripes, and I had big sideburns.”

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