A Swiss switch: South Florida waitresses to star in reality TV show

When new owners took over the coffee shop where Arlene Hames and Nancy Pisarzewski had worked together for 43 years, the two waitresses took their talents down the street to another diner in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Their regular customers followed.

“It wasn’t like we deserted the old place,” said Bill Lenz, who’s now a regular at Diner By-The-Sea, where Hames and Pisarzewski have worked for the past seven years. “But my mother knew Nancy and Arlene from down there. It wasn’t the same without them. When they told us they were working at Diner by-the-Sea, we knew we had to come.”

But loyal regulars like Lenz won’t be able to follow Hames, 68, and Pisarzewski, 69, on their next adventure: A Swiss TV network has picked the waitresses to star in an episode of a German-language reality show called Job Swap. Hames and Pisarzewski will waitress at a restaurant in Switzerland for five days this month while two Swiss waitresses take over for them in South Florida.

“We don’t even know what restaurant we’re working at,” said Pisarzewski, who lives in Oakland Park. “The producers want it to be a surprise.” She and Hames aren’t even sure whether or how they will be paid while working in Switzerland. But they say they’re too excited to care either way. “An all-expenses-paid trip to Switzerland is pretty good,” Hames said.

The pair were chosen over waitresses at 70 South Florida restaurants, according to Billy Sands, who owns Diner by-the-Sea and cooks there four days a week. They had to interview and audition with producers to get the gig.

Joanne Lenz, who is married to Bill Lenz, was in the diner when Sands got the news. “It was a couple weeks ago around lunchtime,” she said, “and the Swiss called and Billy started yelling, ‘They won! They won!’ and everyone started jumping up and down and cheering.”

Hames and Pisarzewski leave for Switzerland on Tuesday. It will be a quick trip — they are scheduled to return Monday.

They could be in for some culture shock.

“The producer who interviewed us told us that the waiters in Switzerland are not used to being outgoing and friendly like we are,” Hames said. “He said the customers aren’t going to know what to make of us. But we’re not going to change. We’re going to talk to people and see where they’re from and what they do. We want to learn about their lives.”

And Hames, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, said she is grateful to be making the trip with Pisarzewski, her best friend for more than 40 years. “It helps when you’re going someplace new to have someone you’ve known for so long,” she said. “We’re like sisters.”

This is Pisarzewski’s first trip outside the United States. Hames has never been farther than Aruba. Neither woman speaks French, German or Italian, Switzerland’s major languages. But the producers told them most people there speak English.

Job Swap is produced by Constantin Entertainment, a German production company, and will air on the Swiss German-language channel SRF. The show is a kind of “cross-cultural exchange,” said SRF spokesperson Saskia Wegmann, “and full of emotions.”

Previous episodes have seen bakers from the Swiss city of Thurgau switch places with their counterparts in Uganda and lifeguards from Bern exchanged with lifeguards at Rio de Janeiro’s famous Copacabana beach, according to the show’s website.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler called the show “great exposure for South Florida.” Seiler said his parents eat at Diner by-the-sea several times a week and at least once on weekends, too. They had been regulars at the old coffee shop, Anglins Beach Cafe, for years before the new owners came in. “The world today is getting so much smaller and a cultural exchange like this makes us even closer,” Seiler said.

Pisarzewski said she is excited about the trip but will miss her regulars while she’s gone. “We’re like one big family,” she said. “We’re all growing old together and we’re losing some of our good customers as we grow older. There’s a lot of happiness but some sadness, too.”