Working in a restaurant is usually seen as ‘being in limbo.’
It’s viewed as a holding place that will give you money while you wait for the next big thing to happen. But in reality, it gives you new perspective on life. And depending on your patience and/or desire for personal development, it might even make you a better person.
Everyone should be required to work in a restaurant for at least six months, or be sentenced to death. Okay, that may be a little steep. But now you get my point.
Working in two restaurants straight out of college threw me into the fire of the real world pretty damn fast. From understanding that hosting is the most unexpectedly soul-crushing job in the world, to learning that there are a lot of swingers in the world and they will extend invitations – I learned more about life and myself in 12 months in the service industry than I did in four years of college.
Thus, here are the seven most important life lessons I learned from working in a restaurant:
7. Fake it till you make it.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Or wait until you’re in the kitchen, where the customers can’t hear you.
The whole ‘all waiters are actors’ thing is actually accurate because theatre background or not, everyone has a “server persona.” You get this sing-songy tone, start saying ‘folks,’ and you get this upbeat attitude that Disney employees would sympathize with. It’s just like that scene in Waiting where Naomi goes from shouting F-bombs all over the kitchen to being all smiley and shiny at her table.
It doesn’t matter that a customer yelled at you because they waited for 45-minutes. You have no control over it, obviously.
Like ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ said, ‘fantasy will set you free.’ And pretending to be someone else while dealing with difficult people sets you free like a functional multiple personality disorder. At least until you’ve walked far enough away to lose the creepy forced smile.
6. Prioritize your…priorities.
Figuring out what to pour your energy and attention into can be surprisingly hard to figure out.
Perfect example: When I first got hired, my boss raved about the fact that the restaurant staff was “like a family,” which was totally true. But it was also the most incestuous family ever.
We would go from calling someone our work brother/sister to becoming the Jamie and Cersei Lannister of the restaurant. Even the high school kids we worked with were surprised at how much drama there was. The high school kids.
But weirdly enough, it actually taught me to prioritize. If my co-worker crush was flirting with the chick at table twelve, I could’ve literally dropped what I was doing and drowned my anxiety in a giant broken brownie mid-shift. But I learned to put the overthinking aside and fill the space with productive work.
Obsess over the little details, and you lose sight of the big picture.
5. It’s not all about you.
There would be nights where I was the only one running up-and-down the stairs to replace salsa. There would be nights where I was running drinks for my co-worker, just because they just weren’t doing it. And there would even be nights when a co-worker undeservedly snapped at me.
You learn to do helpful things without recognition and without being prompted, because you know it’ll help everyone out. And you learn to not take everything personally.
Put aside the complaints and ego for later, because it’ll just get in your way.
4. It takes all types of people.
Let’s squish the whole ‘industry workers are lazy’ stigma right now, shall we?
One of my friends at the restaurant was a realtor who also worked for Lyft and dabbled in aquaponics on the side. Another is a musician. And another picks up a new hobby and side-job literally every time I talk to him.
And me? I got hired full time at THESIXTHIRTY.com and still food-ran on the weekends for awhile.
Never judge what you don’t know, kids.
3. Just say “no.”
Whether it’s regarding your schedule or everyone asking for your time, you can’t make everyone happy, and you can’t do everything yourself (I learned that when an incident with a stapler and some soup went very awry…don’t ask).
Don’t skip your Grandma’s funeral because you need to food-run, the universe will forgive your work absence. Similarly, you have to say no to those concert tickets if you can’t find someone to cover for you.
At the end of the day, you’re not the guy in charge of the big red button controlling the country’s nuclear weapons. It’s a job, which means it’s the perfect place to learn how to stand up for yourself.
2. Stick to your guns.
As much as working in a restaurant helps you to potentially become a better person, it can also go the other way. It’s easy to figure that just because you’re as useful as a deer caught in headlights behind the bar (true story), you’re never going to be good enough at anything ever. And it’s even easier to become cynical towards people and humanity in general because of rude customers.
You learn to trust yourself and keep your self-worth even when others try to chip away at it. Your weaknesses don’t define you, and neither do the words of the tough customers.
1. Don’t be an asshole.
Being nice pays off.
It sounds cheesy, but whether it’s being friendly to the kitchen staff and bus-boys, or being nice to customers for more than just monetary gain, merely being nice goes a long way.
Sometimes, it even results in free food or extra tips. The universe recognizes and rewards selfless kindness. Ironic, I know.
On the other side of things, if there’s one good thing that comes from the customers you want to smack in the face with a burrito, it’s this: they are excellent examples of how not to be.
Being a server is kind of like the shopping mall scene in Mean Girls, a return to some prehistoric hierarchy in which the customers are the alphas and the servers are the sad little subservient omegas.
After all the customer is always right…even when they’re being stupid. And as our very wise bartender once said, “You can’t fix stupid.”
If you can’t fix it, you might as well learn from it.
(Featured photo courtesy of movieweb.com)