Opinion | 5 things you should know before working in a restaurant

By Mackenzie Oster, Staff Columnist

Nearly 70% of college students work while in school and 50% of all adults have experience working in the restaurant industry. In other words, the chances that you’ll find yourself employed in a restaurant at one point or another are quite high. I can recall my first day on the job, when I was baptized “hostess” without any clue what my future endeavors as a restaurant employee would hold. So before you find yourself in the midst of providing a “pleasant dining experience,” here are five things that I wish I had known before standing in your shoes.

1. Memorization is key

Whether you’re going to start serving, hostessing or even bussing tables, prepare to be on high alert throughout the shift and start paying attention to your surroundings. You’re going to be hit with an influx of new material to memorize, from table numbers to dish ingredients. The more you know, the more confident and comfortable you will feel when working, so take a menu home and study it until you’ve got it down. It’s also helpful to take note of the presentation of dishes, this way you can recognize what dish each menu item is. But don’t stress too much — with time you’ll become a pro.

2. Dress for comfort over fashion

While many restaurants will require you to follow a specific dress code, whether business casual or a company uniform, there are measures that can be taken to maximize your comfort. The length of a shift is going to vary based on how crowded the restaurant is, and really busy shifts can last up to nine hours. You’re going to want to dress in clothes that feel as breathable and as flexible as possible. Work around your restaurant’s dress code by whipping out the most supportive pair of shoes in your wardrobe, even if they’re not particularly the most stylish. The type of shoes you wear are especially important because it’s likely that you’ll be on your feet for the majority of the time without a break. Besides your feet, the job can get pretty physically demanding. You’ll find yourself clearing tables and having to carry heavy trays of dishes, so throw on a flowy dress or some stretchy jeggings and get to work.

3. Things move quickly

Unlike the retail industry, the restaurant environment is a very fast-paced workplace, so be prepared to do some running around. Tables will likely be turning over various times, meaning that once one group leaves another will sit down, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. You’ll become a pro at working under pressure. It can get pretty hectic, but the good news is that this will make your night shifts fly by. You won’t have time to check the time, and the next time you do your shift will pretty much be through. That’s the beauty of the restaurant industry.

4. You’ll always be empathetic toward other restaurant employees

Once you gain this experience in the life of a restaurant employee, you’ll never view those serving you the same. You’ve now also dealt with the outrageously dirty eaters, rude customers and bad tippers so be prepared to forever be the friend stacking the plate and wiping off the table. And even if the service wasn’t exceptional, you’ll still tip 20% because you feel for them — and because many servers make their living off tips. Nowadays, it’s a good idea to tip at least 20%, especially because servers can get paid as little as $2.13 an hour, meaning they rely on tips to earn a living wage.

5. You’ll gain many valuable skills

After serving my time as a hostess, food runner and server, I gained many beneficial attributes that will help me better compete in the future workforce. One of the most valuable skills that I learned was how to communicate with people effectively. The restaurant industry is pretty unpredictable, which is why mistakes often arise, but when they do it’s important to be able to communicate and compensate for any error. I was often faced with angry and irrational customers, but I eventually became comfortable with telling them no, we don’t have a table available right at this moment. It’s all about bouncing back and figuring out an alternative to make the customer happy, whether that be a free appetizer or a gift card for next time to at least show that you’ve tried to compensate for the error.

You’ll also become amazing at multitasking, learning how to simultaneously answer the phone while writing down orders and balancing a tray of dishes on your pinky toe. Anyone who has restaurant experience knows that your work ethic will be challenged for the better. Experiencing the chaos that fuels the restaurant industry will improve your diligence as a worker and heighten your appreciation of all other customer service employees forever.