Friday, January 25, 2008

Everything I Know, I Learned Waiting Tables

OK, maybe the title of this post is a bit oversimplified, but it’s true that many of the skills necessary in the business world can be learned while waiting tables. I worked in restaurants through high school and college, and here are some valuable lessons I learned.

Different people require different treatment

You may think that all people eating at a restaurant require identical treatment. Not so! A family on their way to a movie needs to quickly order, eat, and get out. Regular customers may relish chatting with their waitress and want to talk about their dogs. A couple on a date will want to linger and have their basic dining needs met, but basically just want to otherwise be left alone.

Similarly, business clients need to be treated in a way that works for them. Some people like to be updated daily on their projects, while others only want to talk to you if they have a specific issue that requires immediate attention. Different modes of communication work better for different people, some prefer to communicate by email only, while others want to hear your voice on the phone. Use what works best.

Multi-tasking will take you far

Scooping rock hard ice cream, making salads, and calculating a bill while telling the busboy who wants decaf and who wants regular coffee, all while rebuffing the romantic overtures of the pastry chef is great training for multitasking. That same ability to focus on multiple projects while still keeping an eye on the big picture translates to the business world. Just don’t take it too far and try to eat, check email, and apply mascara while driving on the freeway. Yikes!

Being nice will also take you far

Diners will take it in stride if their meal is taking a little longer than usual as long as you check in with them and let them know. Don’t blame it on the kitchen, don’t be rushed and flustered. Just apologize with a smile and let them know when their damn food will be ready. Give them free dessert if it takes too long.

The same goes in business. If a project goes awry, keep the client updated, apologize profusely, and throw in some kind of freebie or discount. This will foster all kinds of goodwill.

The “Little Guy” can make or break you

When I waited tables, I always over tipped my busboys extravagantly and spoke to them with respect. Why? Because they would always drop whatever they were doing to help me. They knew I appreciated extra help and would tip them well. As a result, my customers received impeccable service and that would be reflected in MY tip. Other servers didn’t “get it”, and would curtly bark orders to the busboys, or tip them $2 for a whole night’s work. Guess whose tables got cleared last?

By the same token, do not ever think it is OK to be rude, curt, or unappreciative to your assistant, or someone who answers the phone at a client’s offices. Not only is that sort of behavior a way of spreading negativity, it may turn out that the receptionist you snarled at is the wife of the potential client you’re trying to woo. It’s called Karma!


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