In this blog series, I explore my informal education. Why? Because I love informal, self-directed learning, and because I believe our understanding and appreciation of it enhances and informs, rather than condemns, the formal kind. Check out all posts from the series here.
Before becoming a crusty ol’ professional type, I sharpened my tools as a busboy/dishwasher/waiter/barista. It was not only a fantastic way of staying financially afloat while traveling the globe, but also a superb means of meeting some amazing people and having great experiences.
Here’s just a few ways making espresso and carrying hot cast iron plates of Chinese food made me a better educator.
Working in hospitality brought me in contact with the hungry, snobby, drunk, lonesome, rich, poor, rude, and delightful. I served them all.
Attention to detail
A lot of places make coffee, hamburgers, medium-rare steaks, and chocolate cake. The difference between a good and memorable experience in a cafe, bar, or restaurant, however, usually comes down to the little touches. The fact that your latte was exactly the right temperature, or your entrée was brought at just the right time after your appetizer. It took me a long time (and many flabbergasted looks from my patient employers) but I eventually learned that, to be hospitable, one has to do the little things right.
If you are disorganized, you cannot work in hospitality. Not only will it be impossible for you to serve customers, but it will make your coworkers’ lives a living hell. They will yell and swear at you profusely. Clean as you go, put things where they need to be, and tidy up not only your own mess, but also the ones left by others.
Creating an environment
As a waiter I would sometimes become obsessed with what music was playing, lighting, table setting, the temperature, and table arrangements. I never would have guessed at the time that it was preparing me for having my own classroom one day.
The importance of community
I would say that cafe, as opposed to restaurant, work taught me most about being a facilitator of community. In a cafe, customers are regulars. They come daily for the coffee and cinnamon buns, sure, but that’s not the real reason. Mostly, they want a place where the proverbial everybody knows your name. Some of them want to chat, and others just want you to give them a tip of the hat.
Be at the ready, but don’t interfere
This is one of the hardest things to learn in the service industry. How do you be ready at all times to serve, yet never make the customer feel stalked or neglected?
The best servers can tell what a customer wants/needs before being asked.
What did you learn in your previous jobs that inform who you are now?