When I applied for a job at Cheeseburger in Paradise almost 8 years ago, I had no idea the upbeat island themed restaurant would introduce me to roughly 80% of the people that live in my city (I made that up, but seriously, I know a lot of people) and more friends and regulars than I can begin to count. I've laughed a lot, cried a little and learned so much about myself and life in general. So, without further ado, here's a list of 10 things I've learned from working in a restaurant for 8 years.
1. Be mindful of other people's time. Customers- don't make your server/bartender stand there awkwardly watching you read the menu picking out the order you told them you were ready to give. They could be getting a refill or running food for their other customers, or a number of other things. Instead they are held captive at your table because you said, "I think I'll have....Umm...(long pause) The uhh... I'll have...(reads entire menu with their finger while server shifts with irritation)..." Also, telling me you're on your lunch break is not going to make your extra well done burger come out any faster. Want something fast? Order a salad. Or go to a drive-thru.
2. The answer is usually right in front of you. I can't tell you how many times someone will be looking at the menu and ask, "What comes on the such and such?" Causing me to pause knowingly and then read directly off the menu to them the things that are listed on such and such. Take a moment, look for the answer yourself. If you are TRULY stumped (and not just lazy or in a hurry) then feel free to ask me your question.
3.Form your own opinions of people. It never fails whenever there is a new person hired, SOMEONE is going to talk bad about them to everyone else and tell you every heinous thing they've ever done and try to convince you to hate them before you even know them. Don't fall for it. I have never regretted turing a deaf ear to trash-talk and actually talking to someone and getting to know them before I form my own opinion of them. That being said---
4. Don't get sucked in to the black hole of gossip, bitterness, and negativity. Seriously, just don't. It doesn't serve any purpose except to make you look untrustworthy and make people wonder what you say about them when they walk away. We all know those people that are energy suckers and any interaction with them leaves you feeling drained and icky because they whine and complain about anything and everything. Avoid befriending those people and you will be better for it.
5. Things are always changing, it's pointless to complain. The restaurant industry is fickle. There are good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, good months and bad months. When it's slow, people complain about having no tables. When it's busy, they complain that the host double sat them. When we're understaffed it's too hard to keep up, but when we hire more servers there are too many on the floor and no one is making any money. Some people will never be happy no matter what the circumstances are, but try to keep in mind that things change. Just go with it and make the best of it!
6. Know when to ask for help and don't be afraid to do so! Other people (probably your customers) as well as yourself will suffer if you don't reach out when you need help. Delegating just one thing for a brief moment can help you get caught up, and will probably make you look like a rock star at your job. Do it before you get completely overwhelmed.
7. You can't ALWAYS judge a tip by your table, or in other words, a book by its cover. There are times that you will be right, and times that you will be surprised. That lady wearing house slippers and cutoff sweatpants may very well leave you $1 on her $12 ticket or she might leave you $5 because she enjoyed the food and got great service. If you pre-judge your guest, you likely predetermine the kind of service you are going to give to them. Exceed their expectations and they might exceed yours. And now to completely contradict myself----
8. The first few seconds of interaction set the tone, especially at the bar rail. I can usually tell what a customer expects from me in the initial greeting. When I say "Hi there, how are you today?" and the answer is a leaning "Better, now." I know that you are probably going to ask if I am married and stare at my boobs and pretend you're reading my name tag. If you have reading material or a tablet of some kind, I gather that you want to be left alone. If you are half-heartedly fiddling with your phone or read the menu after you've already ordered, you probably want some social interaction and I need to come up with something to talk to you about. If I ask how you're doing and you reply, "Diet Coke," you are not going to listen to anything I say. I guess the moral here is to be aware of the vibe you're putting out.
9. There's a good chance you will either work with or wait on these people again. Don't be a douche.
10. Have a human interaction. Some guests prefer that you only perform the functions of an order-taker, and that's their prerogative. But in all honesty some of the best guest experiences I've had have been when I've been able to laugh at my (small) mistakes with my bar guests or crack a joke about something I hear them say or things of that nature that allowed me to connect with them. Once I grabbed a pitcher in a hurry to refill a guest's water glass at their table. I pick up the glass and start pouring and it was actually a tea pitcher. I shouted, "IT'S A MIRACLE!" and they died laughing. It's easy to get caught up in the work part of a job and forget you're waiting on humans and not just customers.
There are people and things that I will miss like crazy, and also people and things that I won't. Like, at all. I am grateful for everything I learned and the connections I've made at CIP, and going forward now I am armed with life skills and an unwanted knowledge of Jimmy Buffet lyrics that I would be without otherwise. Even though my time on the Island is up, I will always keep a bit of it with me in my heart and spirit... And hopefully I stop hearing Jimmy Buffet in my dreams and everywhere I go. Oh well, one day at a time.