Lessons Learned From The Restaurant Business

Learn to assert yourself. It’s an unfamiliar thought, but when we leave the confines of our high schools, we enter the simple world of the workplace or college, or both. We encounter people who are more willing to follow than to lead.

It is a simple world where we act purposefully or react indifferently. I say a simple world not because it is without difficulty or confusion, but because it is full of simple lessons. If we can learn these lessons well, we will be invaluable at work, successful at school, and influential in relationships.

Everyone wants to talk about success and the easy step-by-step plans for being a good worker and student. I don’t believe in these. But I do believe that there is something valuable to be learned no matter where you are.

In my case, I learned these powerful lessons in the restaurant business (of all places) and I believe they are fundamental in being a significant presence anywhere. Essentially, if you are working somewhere like a restaurant and you’re not learning the simple lessons, then you are gaining nothing, besides a miniscule amount of money. I’ve worked as a waiter for some years now and here is what I’ve learned about life:

Raise your voice and speak up.

People tend to ignore you, especially when they are in groups, unless what you are saying is significant and commanding enough to demand their attention. When serving a party of twenty people I once ruined the order of checks and lost a hefty sum of money in the process because I let the customers start handing their credit cards to me before I gave my instructions. A seasoned server once told me, “If you want something to be heard, make it known and make it loud, even at the risk of interrupting.” In other words, take command of the situation. Do not let those around you take control where you have authority and responsibility. Maybe you’re doing a group project for college and something needs to be changed or maybe you’re doing a project at work -- raise your voice. Be confident and say what needs to be said clearly. People will respect you for it and they will listen. Be the oppressor, not the oppressed.

After resistance, keep pushing.

When you have authority and you are timid there will be confusion. There was this door going into the kitchen which opened both ways. Unlike most other doors that go into kitchens it did not have a window. As you can imagine, this was a huge problem when people would go in and out of it at the same time. People would go to the same door, push at the same time, feel resistance, and then both keep pushing. Once my friend and I both tried to go through the door. I felt resistance, I hesitated and then he kept pushing and went through the door with ease. He laughed and said, “If you keep pushing, people will stop and you’ll get through.”

Hesitating is the worst thing that you can do after you make a decision. Even if you do not have the perfect answer, do what you think is best with a definite action. Stand by it.

Decisions can be very challenging, but once you make the decision, do not back down. Push through the door. If you fail, so be it. It is better to try confidently and fail, and learn from the mistake than to hesitate and continue in a fluster of indecisiveness.

When stumped, give a solution, not an excuse.

A simple choice of words can make the difference between looking ignorant and seeming confident.

For a long time when I was serving, if someone asked me a question that I didn’t know the answer to, I’d answer with “um’s” and “well maybe’s” and plenty of other stumbling replies trying desperately to save my image in front of the customer. I looked foolish. I learned that a simple solution to ignorance is to admit your fault and to follow with an easy solution. This may sound difficult but it isn’t. For instance, if a customer asks me what a particular wine is and I don’t know, I’m not afraid to say so. I pass over this point quickly, though, by adding that I can refer to our sommelier. It’s a win-win. The customer is happy and I’ve saved face.

You do not always need to have the answer. Know where or how to get it. Give a solution. This happens at work and at school very often. Professors often don’t want to know if you have all the answers. They want to know if you are intelligent enough to find someone or something who does.

“Yesterday is not ours to recover but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” (Lyndon B. Johnson)

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