How Waiting Tables Set Me Up for Success

I believe everyone should spend some time working in the service industry at some point in their lives. The experience could very well change your outlook on life and the world we live in by teaching you about yourself and how you relate to others.

I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned while waiting tables that are transferable to many careers.

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you’ll know what I am talking about. And if you haven’t, get ready for a radically different perspective on life.

1. The way you treat people matters

In a job where serving is the primary goal, it’s important to treat customers as well as coworkers with respect and kindness. A positive work environment builds morale, making it easier for coworkers to help each other out and keep things running smoothly.

For example, when you’re greeting customers or serving food and drinks you want to maintain a cheerful and friendly attitude (they’ll be more inclined to be generous with tips). The same attitude needs to be applied to your fellow restaurant staff — treat them as well as possible and make work more enjoyable.

It is not always easy working as part of a team but sometimes your coworker is there to give you a hand when you need it. Appreciating their contributions, smiling, and giving a helping hand in return go a long way toward fostering positive feelings among those around us.

2. Communication is key

For a restaurant to run as a smooth operation there needs to be a lot of communication. While guests see the front of the house, customer service extends to everyone from the maintenance workers to the kitchen cooks. Clean restrooms, tasty cuisine, and a welcoming and cheerful environment are all aspects of outstanding customer service, and each restaurant employee plays a part.

Simply checking in with one another and listening, helps everyone to do their best work and keep the operation in working order.

The same applies to all other industries. Employees who communicate effectively with colleagues, managers, and customers are always valuable assets to an organization and it is a skill that can often set people apart from their competition when applying for jobs.

3. Learn to be efficient

There are always many customer requests in a restaurant that, if not handled efficiently, can easily lead to chaos and disorder. For example, customers from various tables would constantly request items, sending me scurrying back and forth between the kitchen and the tables.

Immediately I put my mind to work on figuring out how I could reduce the number of journeys back and forth from the kitchen or at least make the most out of each return trip. I began to strategize my trips based on table location and proximity to the kitchen as well as use the trip back to check in on my other tables. I ultimately found myself making fewer trips and more tips thanks to customers who appreciated my extra attention.

This consolidation process I’ve been able to apply practically by second nature in other areas of my life.

4. Be proactive

A server needs to be aware of what a table needs. The goal is to anticipate the customer’s demands before they ask for something.

Did you notice their drink needs refilling or suspect they would want extra sides of condiments with their food or need extra napkins? This demonstrates that you are anticipating their wants, and the customers are likely to notice and appreciate your attention to their table.

Be proactive Always and at every opportunity. I don’t think there’s ever a time NOT to be proactive. Take the initiative, speak up and volunteer for assignments and try to understand the team culture, company business, and challenges.

5. Integrity is everything

If you make a mistake, it is critical that you admit it as soon as possible.

In a restaurant, you might write down an incorrect order or seat a customer in the wrong section. When this happens, being upfront and honest with customers or peers can help to alleviate problems. People value honesty and may be impressed by your candor.

Being honest also creates a trustworthy and team-friendly environment.

6. Always ask for feedback

Customer feedback helps determine if your customers are satisfied with your service and detect areas where you should improve.

“How is everything?” Any server worth their salt will ask this at least once during a meal.

Do you ask for feedback at work? I know, I know, it’s not an easy thing to do! But if you want to be seen as a leader in your workplace and a leader on your team, or if you want to improve your chances of career success, learning to ask and accept feedback is critical!

7. Not everyone will like you

Not all people will like you, no matter how hard you try. You can be the best server but the table will complain and leave a small tip. The key is not to let these situations get to your head or shake your confidence.

The valuable lesson here which I cannot stress enough is to be yourself and to give it your all in every situation. Don’t strive to be someone else; if others can’t accept you for who you are, it’s their loss, not yours. Attempting to be someone you’re not will only leave you disappointed and frustrated.

8. Don’t take things personally

Unfortunately, having bossy or rude customers is very common, and you can’t lash out for fear of getting fired. Customer service is the backbone of the hospitality industry and there will be times that you have to demonstrate patience and take it on the chin.

There were several times during my years as a waiter that I had to bite my tongue and not get angry at others who may demean and try to belittle me.

What I came to realize is that a lot of times when people are unhappy in their real life they find others to project their anger on. There is a certain satisfaction in not letting an unhappy embittered individual get to you and cause you the same feelings. Always remain above such people. Show them that their words and actions don’t hurt because you are strong and mature.

9. Leave work at work

Another aspect of keeping a positive attitude is knowing that outside of work the problems you face at work are left there. Serving can be unpredictable and a million things may go wrong that could either spoil your night or be forgotten when you’re off the clock. The choice is yours to realize that most of these situations don’t matter after work.

Work can be difficult and draining at any time, but keep in mind to leave work at work (you’ll thank me later). What this means is that you should not let your work mood affect your mood at home. Setting clear boundaries for yourself is crucial to achieving a better work-life balance. In full disclosure, I occasionally fail at remembering this lesson and the results are a more stressful home life overall.


Waiting tables has proven to be one of the most valuable experiences in my life!

All of the lessons I learned have helped improve my soft skills and how I work, and they can be applied to any professional environment.

Let me about your experiences in the hospitality industry!

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