I think I’ve held about two dozen jobs in my life and they’ve all been pretty different. I’ve taught Irish Dance, sorted medical records, organized marketing street teams for a music festival, adn just about everything in between. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until my senior year of college that I got my first job in the service industry: a cocktail waitress at one of the the oldest townie bars in my college town, The Tumble Inn.
When I accepted the job, I admittedly knew very little about working in the service industry. I had friends who were bartenders and they made decent money with (what I naively) thought was little work. So, I showed up to my first shift and realized within minutes I was totally wrong - I wasn’t even making the drinks and I was overwhelmed!
About a year and a half later, I found myself working in hospitality again, this time at a 3-Michelin Star restaurant, a far cry from the Tumble Inn’s flannel-clad bar. After shadowing a shift, I became the restaurant’s full-time hostess and was expected to, among other responsibilities, manage reservations, greet and seat guests and keep the front of the house clean.
This job was, again, more difficult than I expected. Like my stint at the Tumble Inn, it didn’t take long in either case for me to learn things that have changed the way I’ve worked elsewhere both personally and professionally.
Here are three of the most valuable things I learned from my time in the service industry.
Anyone who has worked in hospitality knows that people can be, well, not nice. When I was working at the restaurant, a woman screamed at me over the phone because we couldn’t seat her. About twenty minutes after we hung up, she came into the restaurant and threatened me and my manager. During the exchange, neither my manager nor myself raised our voices; we patiently waited for her to air her grievances, apologized and stood our ground.
When you work in hospitality, you learn that there are different ways you can deal with difficult people, but every way requires patience. Because of my experiences at the restaurant, I am now able to step back and patiently evaluate escalating circumstances before they get ugly. Patience is not always easy, but it’s incredibly valuable and definitely one of the first things you learn will make or break you in the hospitality industry.
When you work at a townie bar, you quickly learn the value of being sincere to your customers. I’ve never been great at remembering names, but after working at the Tumble Inn for a week, I knew that I was going to have to get better. Soon, I realized that if I remembered to ask my regulars about their days and bring them their Bud Lights and Michelob Ultras, they’d not only remember my tip, but they’d remember to ask me about my day, too. They’d also remember to be more patient with me when I forgot something ion their orders. Ultimately, the more I asked, learned and joked with the bar’s patrons, the easier my job got.
After I left the Inn, I brought my new-found sincerity to my new jobs and I’ve seen the same patterns occur. The better and more sincere you are to people, the better they are to you, no matter if you’re working next to a slot machine or a CEO.
People go out to restaurants and bars for an experience, and it is the service industry professional’s sole responsibility to provide people with a unique one. At the Tumble Inn, I was responsible for giving my patrons a home-away-from-home experience. At the restaurant, I was responsible for giving my patrons a 3-Star Michelin experience. In both circumstances, I quickly learned that my personality was going to be the key to those experiences. At the Tumble Inn, my personality had to come in the form of humor and sarcasm; at the restaurant, it was about exuding warmth and eloquence.
I adapted my personality depending on the audience, but in both cases, I was able to provide my customers with a unique experience. As I’ve moved on from the service industry into the corporate sphere, I’ve brought that adaptability charisma and it has helped me present myself better in interviews and day-to-day interactions. Confidence and charm breed trust, and that will get you far in any industry.
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