“May I Help You?”: How The Service Industry Made Me A Better Parent
One of the first things you hear upon entering a restaurant is “May I help you?”. When I first started in the service industry, I had no idea how much it would really shape me into a better human, and eventually, a better parent. Some countries require compulsory military service. I truly believe, in the US, working in the service industry should be a requirement as a necessary life skill. It’s an industry in which the employees are overworked, underpaid, and, until COVID-19 shut down everything, entirely overlooked. (Sound familiar, parents?) If everyone had some modicum of experience in this arena, I think we as a society would be better off. Now, before we dive in, a few caveats:
- For this instance, service industry means Front or Back of House of a Full Service Restaurant. To further clarify, FOH is host/hostess/server/bartender/manager. BOH is dishwasher/busser/line cook/sous chef/head chef.
- I am NOT limiting scope to trivialize the importance of others who work in public facing professions, but this is my limited expertise as a former bartender so I’m sticking to what I know.
Lesson 1: A smile and a kind word will get you a long way. Often you will encounter people who are having a rotten day. Taking an extra few moments to be kind can end up paying off in more ways than one. The most obvious is monetary, genuine kindness and affability will usually* garner a bigger tip, and at $2.13 an hour, you need all the help you can get. *There will always be cheap and flat out rude people; finding a way to laugh at the situation is the only method of survival, which brings me to…
Lesson 2: Don’t let “the man” get you down. Have a sense of humor, appreciate the rantings of a funny coworker, or telling your friends about the troll you handled after 3 days of double shifts. If you have never heard some of the absurd things that people ask for in restaurants, I BEG you to please go find your friendly neighborhood bartender and buy THEM a drink (off shift of course).
Lesson 3: Being organized is imperative. Trying to remember what multiple slightly inebriated people ordered simultaneously over the din of a loud bar or keeping track of what 4 parties of 6 asked for as you cruised through the dining room will require memorization – if you stop to write it all down you’ll get clobbered.
Lesson 4: You don’t get to pick your team, but you do have to make the TEAM WORK. Cheesy yes, but you will never see more of a motley crew of folks than a restaurant staff at line up (the period before service where menu, seating, availability and staffing change almost DAILY). Different personalities, ages, backgrounds, languages all have to work together to create a dining experience for which the consumer pays to be none the wiser.
The lessons I listed above are just a few of many that I learned during my service industry career. I use almost all of them on a regular, if not daily, basis, not only in how I handle myself in a restaurant, but in my life. I can’t tell you how many times the ability to make polite small talk helped break the ice with a client, or knowing how to delicately handle a difficult team member allowed for a calm resolution. I have heard multiple anecdotes from high level professionals who purposely recruit from service industry. They have skills that aren’t taught in a classroom and drive that is hard to top. Skills that most people fudge on a resume are ones at which restaurant veterans excel. (If you haven’t worked in a restaurant, you aren’t an “expert” multitasker, trust me!)
That said, the job working in the service industry most prepared me for was parenthood. Seriously. Kids are just like tiny customers who followed you home and refuse to leave! I read somewhere once that parenting is like constantly hosting and cleaning up after a party you aren’t invited to attend. That, essentially, is what service industry professionals do every single day. So before you dismiss someone, or assume they “can’t do any better”, think about the last time some one denigrated the role of parenting, how did you feel? Perhaps they have more in common than you might have originally thought.
I know for a fact, without the experiences I gained working in a service environment, I wouldn’t be the person, or parent, I am today. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but even those parts helped me to realize, life ain’t a cakewalk, y’all. What have your experiences been in the restaurant industry? What did you learn? I’d love to hear some stories!