There's no more quintessential stereotype than the college student waiting tables to help cover tuition, or maybe even staying in the restaurant business after graduation while waiting for the big break to come through. Many students blow off their time in the food service as little more than an exercise in character that throws them a few dollars, but others realize just where that experience can take you.
The restaurant business is an exciting market for the right person. It allows them to use all kinds of skills, from culinary to HR, business management to marketing. Even tech can create lots of opportunities in food service. It can be a business, a job, or an investment, and with some background on the way in, many recent college graduates are primed to hit the ground running.
Your time waiting tables, preparing food, or even just washing dishes gives you some important insights that can make you successful in the restaurant business. That insider's understanding can make all the difference.
Understanding Supplies & Equipment
Many people working in restaurants end up doing a little of everything. Servers prepare salads, cooks wash a dish or two, and the host or hostess may refill a few drinks. Consequently, anybody who works in any phase of a restaurant's operations has a pretty broad base of experience, which can provide a lot of insight on what it takes to be successful.
One thing that causes grief in a restaurant business is cutting corners and then paying the price afterwards. Why buy cheap equipment that you need literally every shift to make your business run? Just like that you could lose half your menu if you go with a cheap product and it fails you during a rush. Spluging on restaurant essentials like a double oven, or a commercial ice maker that come with warranties from trusted brands is the way to go. It's the person washing dishes who knows the water heater is set a little too high and is wasting energy. It's the cooks who know the off-brand cream isn't what it should be. In short, it's the people on the front lines of daily routines that can provide the best intelligence about what works and what doesn't.
When you have that experience in the trenches, you understand and appreciate the feedback of the people working there, and you'll make better decisions.
An Eye For Processes
Restaurants aren't always perfectly laid out, and their preparation stations don't necessarily need to be where the initial design said they should be. When you're the person who has had to make five passes from the cooler to the grill to assemble one entree, you understand how important kitchen layout is.
The more steps we make in the kitchen or in the front of the house, the more time and food we waste. Most food spillage in restaurants takes place during transport, so if you've made a thousand treks to and from the kitchen in your waiting career, you know the pinch points where people collide, the obstacles that slow movement, and all the other impediments to efficient service.
Ground-Level Customer Interaction
A good restaurant should have some means for customers to provide feedback. It's a growing trend that has trickled down even to fast food. And while comment cards and online surveys provide lots of data from customers, there is nothing more valuable or detailed than what they tell servers and management during their meal.
In order for surveys to be tabulated, they have to be standardized. As a result, the good and bad things that customers see, experience, or eat may not be reflected in the survey, and some much-needed feedback will never reach management. But attentive, concerned personnel will be able to gather all that broad base of information and assimilate it into meaningful steps to improvement.
Restaurants are still a great place to build work ethic, life skills, and financial resources to carry you into other lines of work. Once you get your diploma, you may never have a desire to work in a restaurant again. But for some people, the opportunity to move into a more meaningful role in a restaurant is exciting, and for them, their experience will be doubly valuable.