What the Service Industry Taught me about my Professional Career

The service industry: a place where many people have fallen victim to its long hours, smelly, unflattering uniforms, and subservient nature. And much to my despair, I must admit that I am currently one of those victims.

Whether you were a host or hostess in high school, part-time sous chef in college, or an intern by day and server by night, looking to make some extra money to pay off your student loans, much like myself, you’ve know the industry all too well. And from an outsider’s perspective, the servers in a restaurant are more like glorified servants than intelligent professionals.

But contrary to popular belief, working in the service industry actually helps to develop skills that are necessary to succeed in a professional business or corporate setting.

What I’ve learned from 4 years of waiting tables:

Check your positive mental attitude. Technical skills for any job can be taught, but attitude is a different story. It’s impossible to provide excellent customer service unless you have a positive mental attitude.

A good server wouldn’t greet a table with a bad attitude and monotone voice, just like a business professional wouldn’t talk that way to a client on an important business call. No matter what type of work you’re involved in you will have to communicate with people in some form and you might not always agree with them. Learning how to stay positive in frustrating situations will improve your work and help establish a strong relationship with a client.

Remember the #1 thing. For a restaurant to thrive, or any business for that matter, the #1 priority is to cause customers to return again and again. It’s impossible to build a successful business without returning guests, customers, or clients.

Everything a company does, every detail they obsess over is to cause loyal customers to become regulars. So when you’re developing a new business plan, talking to a client, or solving a problem remember the #1 thing, because that may change the way you deal with an issue.

Ask yourself, is it PRO – aka, professional? From your uniform, to the food your presenting to your table, in a restaurant it’s critical to always be professional. If a dish you’re about to serve looks like it was sitting under a heat lamp for hours or is burnt, have the chef remake it. If your shirt has crusted food stuck to it or if it’s wrinkled, wash it before you come to work or replace it with a new one. If you’re handling a guest complaint, make sure you work it out in a professional manner.

In a corporate setting it’s important to always be professional. Is the outfit you wore to work professional? Is the report you sent to a client correct and without spelling errors or other mistakes? Did you handle a client’s negative feedback or complaint with a professional manner? If your answer is “no” to most of these questions, then you might want to rethink your professionalism.

Know your product. It’s hard for a server to sell the dinner feature of the night if they don’t know what it is. Knowing the menu like the back of your hand is key to being a successful server. If you’ve ever been a sever, then you already know customers will ask questions, many questions. A good server should be able to answer nine out of the ten questions a guest may ask. Even if the question is as silly as someone asking if the crab salad has crab in it, but at least that’s an easy one to answer.

It doesn’t look great if you can’t answer a question about an item on the menu, just like it looks bad if you don’t know the answer to a client question about a project you’ve been working on. Putting a customer on hold so you can get the answer to their questions also takes up valuable time. It’s nearly impossible to know everything about a restaurant or company, but knowing the important things will make your job easier and helps to build trust with your clients.

Know how to multitask. Being a server is pretty straightforward, but your responsibilities can go from zero to 60 really quick. Multitasking is one of the only ways you can survive a busy night in a restaurant. You may have a person asking for an extra side of ketchup, another person has a fly in their drink and needs a new one, but the bartender needs more glasses from the kitchen to make your drink and another table just sat down so you need to greet them, all at the same time.

This kind of controlled chaos happens on a daily basis, in a restaurant or in an office building. Knowing how to multitask can save you from losing your mind, or your job. Take a few seconds to prioritize your tasks and see what you can do at once to save a trip and save you time.

Have you learned other skills from the service industry that you’ve applied to a corporate job? Share them in the comments below!



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