Back when I was a kid, my spending money didn’t come from my parents. I needed to earn it on my own. And these jobs provided me valuable lessons that served me well throughout my career.
Beginning as a 10-year-old, I had two paper routes and delivered newspapers after school. I also had to collect for them and send checks to my employer. I didn’t earn much money, but I learned about the value of work and I enjoyed having this cash.
My father was a carpenter and on Saturday mornings he would take my brothers and me to his construction jobs, where we would pick up scrap lumber, sweep floors, do small carpentry work and even nail asphalt shingles on house roofs. The real treat was a hamburger and Coke for lunch. For this work we were paid a total of $4 . . . for the day! This was the early 1970s and it was actually a lot of money to us at the time.
When I turned 15 I lied to a restaurant manager and told him I was actually 16. This enabled me to work as a busboy and make the big money. Before long, I took part in many aspects of the business, including washing dishes, waiting tables, cooking, managing a small team of others to clean and stock the bar, and, when I reached the age of 17, bartending. This was not typical for kids my age, but that’s what happened with me.
Looking back on that time now, I see I learned some important lessons in each of these environments, but it was in the restaurant—where I worked throughout my high school years—that I learned the most valuable lessons of all. These lessons include a sense of urgency, maximum efficiency, relationship management, teamwork, motivation, perseverance, and doing things right the first time.
- Sense of Urgency – In a restaurant, this means dealing effectively with the uncertainty of a busy night. No matter what business you are in today, the ability to speed up when necessary is especially important. This means you are able to separate the critical from the trivial and get stuff done. It means you are able to rise to the occasion and respond to your customer’s immediate needs.
- Maximum Efficiency – Restaurant work requires that you don’t waste steps. This means whenever you bring out dishes or beverages, you also pick up empty plates or glasses when returning to the kitchen—either from the same table or another one nearby. Every organization has similar operational efficiencies that need to be observed and adhered to. They can ultimately influence your overall profitability.
- Relationship Management – Restaurants are all about repeat business and the best way to ensure this is to serve great food at reasonable prices, and provide exceptional service. Great service is vital for every business and perhaps one the most important advantages given the competition on price and availability. Relationships with fellow employees are just as important as those with customers. Invest in all your relationships and your business will thrive both internally and externally.
- Teamwork – If a waiter and cook are not on the same page, there is no way the customer is going to receive the food they ordered in a reasonable length of time. The same is true for any organization. More can be accomplished when all employees are working together towards the same goal. This means ensuring that goals are clear and everyone understands their roles and responsibilities in the process.
- Motivation – In a restaurant, especially on the front line where you interact most with customers, your attitude can greatly impact your income. This behavior impacts how you are perceived as well as treated by others. As a waiter this can influence how much you receive in tips. In every workplace your motivation can determine to what level others rely on you, trust you and want to work with or follow your direction.
- Perseverance – The ability to continue in spite of an unruly customer or unfair scheduling means you will succeed when the going gets tough. This is an important lesson in every workplace because you will face adversity no matter what business you are in. And how you deal with it determines how long you will last and how well you will succeed.
- Doing Things Right the First Time – Making a good impression on a restaurant customer is essential if you want to see them again. This means providing a warm and welcoming environment, providing impeccable service with a smile and delivering a great meal. No matter what business you are in today, it is essential that you seek to do things correctly from the beginning. This ensures you meet your customer’s expectations and maintain your costs.
Restaurant jobs may not pay especially well, but they do offer opportunities to learn valuable lessons and hone skills for whatever you do in your career. Much of this may be understood only in retrospect, but don’t underestimate how you can benefit from your current position no matter where you are in your career.