Lessons From My Summer Job

You thought this would be about food, right? Well, no . . . sort of. Just keep reading.

I always wanted a “cool” job for the summer. When I was a teen and looking for my first summer job, I was hoping that I could get one at a great clothing store. I could see myself laying out the latest designer items and helping customers pick out new outfits. I just knew that I was made for apparel. However, I took the advice of teachers and my parents and I applied at a range of places in different sectors.  While I really wanted clothing, I just needed some money.

Well one Tuesday, my mom spotted a place that was taking applications. I looked at her, told her “no,” and asked her to keep driving. She pulled into the parking lot of said place, had me walk in and complete an application, plus an on-the-spot interview. In less than 24 hours, I had my job offer that I was strongly encouraged to take. My summer job would be a cashier at  . . .


Through this job (and others), I found out that I was good at food service, but what I didn’t know was that my first job would set the tone for later ones. For the next eight years, my summer jobs and full-time jobs that helped pay for grad school, would be in food service (except for one). And my specialty? Waiting tables. I became really good at taking multiple orders, remembering the day’s specials, balancing four large plates on one short arm, not falling on wet kitchen floors, and consistently asking people “How may I help you?”  I even had repeat customers and learned how important relationship-building was to my success.  Multi-tasking and relationship building was something I knew I could apply to any career, but there were other skills that I never realized I learned from waiting tables:

blur breakfast chef cooking
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  • Serving with a smile: I learned that if I smiled when I answered the phone, I automatically sounded pleasant. Every restaurant boss that I had made all servers and hosts practice this, and I still use this tactic today (especially on my unhappy days).
  • Welcoming others:  Before our shifts, all servers were told the same thing- your restaurant section should be treated like your home: clean, warm, and welcoming. When people entered our space, they were supposed to feel at ease. This is something that has stuck with me and I work to make my work space feel like this. When people feel welcomed, they are able to express themselves better (even if the expression is negative). Most times, I am successful, but this is an everyday goal.
photo of woman taking order from a customer
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  • Preparing for the next shift: Polish silverware, Bissell the floor (we used it as a verb), refill salt and pepper bottles- there was always a host of things to do before closing. The same thing can be said before leaving your office for the day. Prepping for the next day is frustrating and it’s the last thing that you want to do before leaving; however, your next day will be so much easier if you do prepare.  Doing things like reviewing your next day’s calendar, cleaning off your desk, and even drafting early morning emails means that you don’t have to run around the office the next day, wondering what needs to be done. For those of us without personal assistants, this is necessary.
  • Making sure that the customer is satisfied:  This one was hard whenever I had a rude customer, but I had to make sure that the person was at least satisfied with my service and whatever resolution I came up with (sometimes at the last minute). The same rule applies to work. Those that you serve should be satisfied with any end results. Note: Satisfied and happy are not the same thing.  If you try to make everyone happy, you’ll be miserable and exhausted. Satisfied means that everyone is one the same page, expectations are set, and resolutions are made.
  • Helping the next server:  There was one thing that always happened towards the end of a shift. If a server was struggling with finishing tasks, all of us pitched in to help. Then we’d go the next server who needed assistance. This same method works well when working with a team. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses; however, everyone has to work together to reach a goal. Find what needs finishing and get to it.
  • Overworking will not work: This is a big one. Regardless of where I worked, I wasn’t allowed to overwork (i.e. take too many double shifts). My bosses knew that none of us could be at our best if we worked too much. This taught me to manage my time and take breaks (plus vacations) when I needed to. Not all of us have others looking out for our well-being, so be sure to look out for yourself.

Lessons such as those listed above helped me be a better employee and supervisor. While there’s always more to learn, these lessons have carried me so far. What are some work lessons you have learned from past jobs?

Keep leading,

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