Straight-talking advice: Working in the service industry

Amy Kingsley-Hughes
Amy Kingsley-Hughes

We all know the plucky, charismatic waitress, who floats around the room with charm and command, who always knows what’s going on and who really makes the customer feel special.
Well, that waitress has a few tricks up her sleeve and I’m here, as a waitress myself, to share some tips that might help you out at work!

And this article’s song is, quite fittingly, Florence and the Machine’s ‘The Dog Days Are Over’

Love your feet!
As a waiter or waitress, your feet will really take the brunt of the work, carrying you all around the place as you stand for hours, so you’ll want to do your best to take care of your feet and legs.
Ladies, don’t wear ballet pumps. I wore those for a month at work and my feet were always shredded the end of the day. Find some more comfortable shoes, maybe tennis shoes, to keep your tootsies from getting damaged. You might think now that pumps will be okay, but think again, because I already made that mistake!

Don’t be afraid of customers, but remember who’s boss

Some customers can be really difficult and some may seem like they come there purely to make you want to cry, but you mustn’t be afraid and you must treat every customer with respect, consideration and make sure you are giving them your attention.
If you need to get a little order at a big noisy table, you can turn up the authority a bit, but don’t be patronising or insulting. In the end, their custom is the reason you have a job!
No matter how difficult some customers may be, remember that the customer is always right. ALWAYS.
That isn’t just some phrase we go by to stop losing customers. It’s a promise to keep people satisfied, even if we have to bite the bullet occasionally.
Think of the restaurant as your theatre. People come there to escape into that little world for a while and satisfy both hunger and a want for interaction. As a waiter, it’s your job to make sure the customer gets the experience they want when they go there (and very soon you’ll be able to work out very quickly what certain customers are looking to gain from their visit).
You are a showman of sorts, and it really helps you do well in your work to remember that for when things get stressful.

And don’t be afraid to chat with customers a little bit. Enjoy their company, listen to them and have a nice interaction with them! Everyone wins!

You’re a food therapist
Part of the job of being a waiter is that you will kind of act as an unofficial therapist of sorts. You’ll talk with the customers (sometimes going by a loose script of sorts), give them the interaction they need in a comfortable environment and interact with them with an unconditional positive regard, no matter if they are being difficult, rude, messy or whatever. At times, you may even be required to discuss feelings and problems.
Of course, I am not telling you to give customers advice or act in any way as a real therapist, but the two jobs to run some parallels with each others, and you can do a better job knowing that similarity.

Eat, sleep and breathe
This seems like a given, but seriously – REMEMBER TO EAT! It’s so easy when in a rush or you think you have more important stuff to do to forget to feed yourself, but that quickly catches up to you. You need to make sure you’re eating, because all your work will be no good to you if you’re making yourself sick in the process!
Eat before and after your shifts but also, if you are allowed, take small snacks with you to work to nibble on when you have a free minute. It will really help your performance to keep your blood sugar stable, so have something you can eat or sip if you start to feel yourself going.
Getting good sleep will go a long way to ensure top-notch work performance and safety. Sleepiness is very dangerous and it’s nothing for it to cause an accident. No matter if small or large, any accidents at work are a pain and can make you look pretty bad.
Take a moment every now and then, especially if swamped with customers, to just have a quick breather. I don’t mean a long break, just a couple breaths to steady yourself and clear your head.
When I feel everything getting on top of me, I stop and take a couple breaths just to remind myself I’m okay and continue working.

Enjoy it!

I know there’s a lot of negative stigma around being a waiter and so many people will look down on the job, but I know for a fact that it’s not a job everyone can do.
Whether you are tired, achy or freaking out, you need to function quickly, efficiently and with a smile on your face. Feel pride in what you do, because your job brings a lot of people joy.
I’m an actress, so you think that being a waitress would make me miserable because it’s such a cliché. But I enjoy my work! It’s something which makes people happy, I get to feed people (something that I really like doing) and I get to interact with a lot of people I might not have met otherwise.
While waiting tables isn’t something I want to do as my only job, I’m happy with it and determined to make the whole experience a joy for me, my customers and co-workers.

Know when to take time off

Sometimes I get very tempted to just work with every free second I have and to just keep working all the time and keep piling on hours and hours. I can go from working for one website, to the restaurant, back to working on this site, to another site, to writing, to designing, and the next thing I know I have three hours until I’m back in the restaurant (that also brings back the point of sleep. GET IT!) The truth is that working too much will just lead you to burn out and that isn’t good for your productivity, your colleagues, your health or your loved ones.

I have to promise my loved ones that I’ll take time off because they get worried that I’ll just run myself out of steam, and I know that maybe it’s best to trust their judgement over mine when it comes to taking time off.  Don’t give in to the temptation to just keep going, because it’ll make it even harder if you hit a wall. Work sensibly, keep your health in mind, think of your loved ones, think of your performance and be objective enough to know when you need a break. And, man, will that break feel good!

Use your gut

occasionally, you will face trouble and you have to trust your gut when you have a bad feeling. If you have any problems or doubts, ask for help. Whether that is calling for help to fix the card machine or because you are being made to feel uncomfortable by someone, take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to seek back-up. As my boss says “It’s not a failure, it just shows you don’t want quality to drop”!

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