Half of all Americans have worked in restaurants at some point over the course of their lives. According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant work is the first job for one out of three Americans.
Sitting down with Dan Simons, co-owner of the most booked restaurant in the nation on OpenTable, Founding Farmers, we learned a lot about why restaurant work is not only a draw for teens and young adults but why he thinks every kid, beginning with teenagers, should work in restaurants.
“There is an assumption that even though restaurant work may be good for your wallet, it is a throw away job that isn’t good for much else,” says Simons. “We know that working in restaurants early is a great career step for those headed into the hospitality industry. But it’s also good professional and personal development for almost everyone, regardless of where they are headed with their careers.”
According to Simons, encouraging restaurant work, especially for teens and young adults, provides many important skills for future work life, and for building a happy, productive life.
- Of course a strong work ethic is a requirement for many jobs, but restaurant work often raises the bar. In most restaurants, employees have to work hard, quickly, efficiently, under the watchful eyes of the guests, their managers, and other team members. The products of their labor are usually in full view, how long it took to bus the table, how the drink tasted, how the plate of food looked, whether the hostess was polite and helpful, were the bathrooms clean, was the waiter folding a napkin as she walked to the table because she didn’t do her pre-shift work. All of it matters to the guest experience. An individual’s work ethic, their capacity to get the job done, must meet the standards and quality control not only of their bosses, but the satisfaction of their guests, and the acceptance of their team.
- It goes without saying that punctuality is essential in restaurants. The timelines set by these service industry jobs are tight, staff working against the clock because the guests are often waiting to be seated, to be served, and to be sent happily on their way, all in a timely fashion per their particular schedules and desires. For staff across the restaurant, this requires effective minute-to-minute time management and organization. Workers are arranging tasks around meal and drink ticket times, orchestrating the seating of guests based on waitlists and reservations, and delivering all of it in accordance with the desires of each guest.
- In a restaurant, no job is done in a vacuum. Every piece of these jobs requires a piece of someone else’s job. Teamwork is mandatory. Learning the art of working with a team is essential for every single employee. This includes learning to help others, rely on others, get along with others, and appreciate others. It also teaches the power of good collaboration.
- Restaurants usually bring guests from all walks of life. They also draw fairly diverse staff. All of this depends, of course, upon the location of the restaurant, but it is an industry that, for the most part, will give teens and young adults exposure to diversity. They will learn to work for and with all sorts of people.
- Learning to serve others is built into most service industry jobs. In restaurants, whether directly interacting with guests, or not, you are part of an operation built to serve. For workers in the front of the house, service is not just providing what is requested, but also paying attention to what guests don’t ask, being empathic. Not everyone wants the same service or attention. It depends on who they are and why they are there. Some guests need to get in and out, without any fuss. Some want to hang out and talk. Some love a lot of attention. Some want barely any. Some tables have a mix of both. Great service adapts to each individual guest and group of guests.
- Entry-level work is a great learning experience. It isn’t necessarily about learning humility, although that is a great life lesson, but entering a position at the ground floor and learning the ins and outs amongst others who already know the ins and outs. This is an important life skill and not something kids get in school where everyone usually learns together, as a group, as the teacher walks them through their lesson plans and syllabi.
- Cleanliness! Learning to clean up after yourself and after others. This is the fantasy of so many parents, a kid who actually knows how to clean up and does it, without being asked, without grumbling. Restaurant work teaches kids how to clean and how to clean well, because there are food safety standards and a manager who is following behind them and saying, “you missed this spot.” Wouldn’t it be great to have someone else teaching your kid that? While they are under your roof, and when they move onto their own.
- Working in a restaurant is usually lively, engaging, and fun. It often makes going to work also fun, helping kids learn the importance of doing what they love, of not setting up the outdated work/life dichotomy but building a career that makes them happy and provides satisfaction across their lives.
As we all know, the real world is very different from school and often very different from the parental catered experience many kids have. Helping kids prepare can cause much angst and worry for parents. Working in a restaurant and learning some of the skills inherent to serving others, working hard, smart, as a team, and quickly can help pave the way for many kids. This work may smooth the transition into a more independent existence and give them some essential tools to build successful careers and lives.