This club is the restaurant workers of America.
According to the National Restaurant Association, more than half of all American adults have worked restaurant jobs at some point in their lives. It's a fraternity of past and current servers, dish washers, managers and more who satisfy our thirst and hunger day, night and every odd hour in between.
In fact, about a third of all American adults got their first real job in the restaurant industry. And considering many of these former foot soldiers of kitchens and cafeterias are now doing something different, it's certainly worth looking at how these jobs can prepare you for jobs later in life both inside and outside the restaurant industry.
Beyond “May I help you?”
Whether you've served shrimp poppers at a casual dining restaurant or ran the drive-through window at a fast food joint, customer service is a cornerstone of your success.
Restaurant customers certainly want quality service that's consistent, but they don't want to be served by a robot. In other words, not everyone wants to be served with a permanent smile. The key is to be versatile and adaptable. And use common sense. For example, if you're taking sandwich orders behind a deli counter and happen to strike up rapport with a friendly customer, that's a good thing. Unless you're jib-jabbering during the frenzied lunch rush. That's a bad thing.
Recognizing and reacting quickly and appropriately to each situation is a workplace skill you can hone in the trenches of America's dining rooms and prep stations for use later on in your work life.
Baby steps to business savvy
Have you ever been waiting on a customer with a head buried in the menu, who then looks up and asks, "What do you recommend?"
Hopefully, you kept your cool under pressure.
In such situations, take a second to collect your wits and ask questions that make sense: "Have you eaten here before?" "What kind of meal are you in the mood for?" "Are you a vegetarian or do you have any food allergies?"
It's best to always have a few actual choices in mind, including something for everyone.
These are opportunities for you to grow your business I.Q., specifically your sales and marketing skills. Is your restaurant running a special promotion? Be sure to tell your customers about it, but make sure you understand all of the promotion's details, and anticipate any possible questions beforehand. Often times, restaurants reward employees who are able to share and sell these promotions.
Remember, if you're looking to use your restaurant job as a launch pad to a career in a different field, potential employers will likely talk to your old boss to see how your restaurant skills would cross over to a career in another industry. And if you're looking to climb the ladder within the restaurant industry, showing an interest in these special promotions and taking advantage of logical opportunities to up-sell the customer can do even more to get you on the managerial fast track.
The customer is always...stupid?
Wait, that's not how the phrase goes, but that's how you feel sometimes, right? Like when a customer sends a steak back to the kitchen because it's not rare enough - but it's still mooing. Or when you've done everything you possibly can to satisfy a frustrated customer, and nothing seems to work.
It may be naive to go through a day at the restaurant always believing that "the customer is always right." Just realize that difficult customers exist in every workplace, in every capacity. Down the road, difficult customers may be replaced by difficult clients. Difficult bosses get replaced by, well, other difficult bosses.
Remember the business adage stating that one disgruntled customer can lead to the loss of six others. That one customer might be impossible to please, but those six others could be swell folks that you - and your company - can't afford to lose.
Patience and understanding aren't abilities you develop over night, they're important job skills that take years to master.
So if you're looking to make the leap from the dishwasher to the board room, just remember that one third of American workers started out alongside you. And if you're looking to parlay a ground floor job in the restaurant industry into a managerial position, there's also some good news: the number of foodservice managers is expected to increase more than 10 percent in the next 10 years, according to the National Restaurant Association. Even better, three out of five foodservice managers boast household incomes of $50,000-plus.
Whether you're looking to either join or move up the ranks of the restaurant workers of America club, rest assured that the industry is accepting job applications today.