It is not earth-shattering to say that waiting tables is an underappreciated job. But you might not expect serving to make you better at every job you have later in life. I can say from personal experience that my serving background has helped me in project management and client services. Below are several business skills I honed during my time waiting tables during and after college, which have become critical to my current role as an account manager.
Customer service is the most obvious way serving ties into managing client relationships, and it runs deeper than just being pleasant. A good server reads each guest, understands what type of service they want and provides exactly that. Serving tables in a full section may mean showcasing many sides of your personality:
- Beer-knowledgeable pal to a group sharing a pitcher
- Charming banter with women on a martini date
- Efficient, silent server for executives meeting over lunch
Shifting between them quickly, effortlessly and gracefully is imperative. A good server anticipates customers’ needs before they do, providing them before they even have to ask.
Marketing team benefit: When employees and agency staff know how to read and anticipate client needs, they can address concerns before they arise and solve problems before they occur. With this proactive approach, they’ll provide real value and develop more meaningful campaigns.
Prioritization, strategy & time management
Anyone who has waited tables knows that prioritization becomes second nature. There is always plenty to do — table 17 needs to order, 22 has food in the window, 16 and 24 have drinks at the bar, 19 and 23 need checks, you got triple sat, and your 10-top at 25/26 is ready for another round—and you’re only one person.
As a server, you learn to strategize to-do’s so all your guests feel like they’re your only one. The well-known saying “full hands in, full hands out” means you never go anywhere without making use of yourself. If you’re efficient, you can complete countless tasks in one lap around the restaurant.
Marketing team benefit: Time management skills are helpful when emails continuously roll in. Prioritization is crucial when determining which projects take precedence and how to best tackle them all. And thanks to experience in front of customers in high-pressure environments, former servers have learned to embody the idea of “being like a duck,” i.e., paddling furiously while remaining calm and composed on the surface.
As a server, you learn to connect with people from all backgrounds and walks of life. You learn to find common ground quickly so you can relate to guests throughout their meal and give them the service they most want. You become comfortable in front of large groups (sharing specials with a 16-top is essentially a short presentation). It’s also critical to effectively communicate with various teams — kitchen staff, bar staff, hosts and bussers — and empathize with their needs and perspectives.
Marketing team benefit: Your team may work across various industries and restaurant experience will help them modify their own style to best mesh with the client’s. They’re more confident about giving presentations. And they can more easily navigate office politics and cross-departmental dynamics after handling an angry cook in the middle of a rush or a bartender who just broke a glass in the ice bin.
Humility & resilience
It’s not very humble to say you’re humble, but it’s true that serving teaches humility. When you’ve collected dirty napkins off the floor, wiped down sticky high chairs, and responded with a smile to a customer screaming that their melted cheese is “too melty”, you learn to be kind and resilient. You’ve served all kinds of people, been on your feet all day and night, scrubbed filth, and probably been berated more times than you can count. It. Just. Humbles. You.
Marketing team benefit: Employees with a background in hospitality are willing to help pitch in when it comes to less glamorous tasks — be it emptying the dishwasher, making a pot of coffee or proactively scheduling follow-up meetings or updating timelines as soon as a meeting ends. And the practice in being scolded by strangers for things like salad dressing sides surely makes them more open to criticism.
Being a team player
Just when you think your section is in great shape, your colleague is in the weeds and it’s time to jump in and help them out. Even if they weren’t helpful in your time of need, helping their customers receive great service is good for you. They’ll come back and sit in your section next time, and future customers means more money in your pocket.
Marketing team benefit: Thanks to time in restaurants, you’ll never hear a former server say “that’s not my job” because they’d never sit idly while a colleague or client is underwater. They offer help, take tasks off your plate and get things done.
As much as I was eager to find my way out of the service industry, I did manage to have a good time and make deep dents in my student loan debt. What I didn’t realize is how my hospitality experience would serve me — ugh, pun intended — later on. It is certainly a character-building industry. But it also helps set a foundation of diligence and resourcefulness, perseverance and work ethic, that allow me to deliver results in my career today.