5 Life Lessons You Learn After Being a Server: How Waiting Tables Builds Character and a Better Job Candidate
The U.S. Department of Labor’s May 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics report found that more than 2.5 million people in America work as waiters and waitresses. The hours are flexible and the required credentials few, if any. But these jobs aren’t necessarily just a means to an end. Servers actually gain valuable career experience that can benefit them later on in their professional lives.
Those planning a future in the food and beverage (F&B) industry should consider the fact that 9 out of 10 restaurant mangers got their start in an entry-level position, while 8 in 10 restaurant owners also worked their way up from the bottom, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2017 Restaurant Industry Factbook.
But beyond the F&B industry, the experience acquired from waiting tables has applications throughout the hospitality industry and can teach you great life lessons that will serve you well in both your personal and professional life:
From servers and sous chefs to bussers and bartenders, a successful restaurant delivers an experience that is the cumulative effort of the restaurant’s entire team. As the envoys between guests and the kitchen, servers are essential to a streamlined restaurant operation. Wait staff must work quickly and efficiently while providing excellent guest service in order to ensure that the kitchen staff isn’t backlogged with orders, runners are delivering food to the tables while it’s still hot and fresh and bussers have ample time to turn tables over for the next group of diners. Even outside of the restaurant industry, teamwork and collaboration are the cornerstones of a productive and profitable business.
2. Communication skills
On a superficial level, servers are order takers. But savvy waiters and waitresses know to listen attentively to customers, speak knowledgably and efficiently about menu offerings when asked and clearly communication any special needs or requests to the cooking staff. Good communicators are vital to any business and an especially prized skill in managers whose job is reliant on their ability to not only transmit information, but also to connect with and even inspire a wide variety of stakeholders.
3. Mastering the art of a high-pressure work environment
There are few workplaces as fast-paced as restaurants. Servers are required to multi-task, maintain their composure and at times conjure solutions on the fly. Waiting tables is not for the faint of heart, as customers arrive with their own set of expectations while the kitchen staff also has to contend with multiple pressures. Yet, a stressful restaurant environment equips staff with strong time management and problem solving skills that can make them an asset to any team in the hospitality industry where time is always of the essence and meeting and exceeding guest expectations is the driving force of the business.
4. Customer service
Restaurant servers are particularly committed to delivering guest service par excellence compared to employees in other customer-facing jobs. To build their livelihood and maximize their earnings, wait staff must develop the aptitude to deliver consistent guest satisfaction. So acquiring small skills like maintaining a courteous smile and remembering names, as well as learning to keep cool in heated situations, can make excellent talking points in future job interviews, particularly when asked “about a time when you had to disappoint a guest” or “how you handled a challenging situation at work.”
5. Culinary knowledge
Business skills aside, servers who work in a restaurant that offers a special wine or spirits list or even a cheese menu have a chance to acquire knowledge that not everyone is privileged to posses. So jump on the opportunity, learn to talk that talk. Not only will customers appreciate a richer dining experience, but it also creates another opportunity in future job interviews to discuss what you learned while working as a server (and, in turn, what you enjoyed or what made you passionate about hospitality). The knowledge and experience you gain about fine foods, wine, or spirits can also help to encourage conversation at business dinners you may attend as your career progresses.