The US job market is the healthiest it has been in a generation, with the unemployment rate falling to its lowest point in 50 years. While this is great news for the economy, the shortage of available talent leaves many employers desperate to fill jobs. Some find it necessary to stray from their typical hiring protocols, increasing pay, training more entry-level workers, and loosening educational requirements in a bid to attract more talent. Others are looking beyond mainstream labors pools by courting veterans, seniors, and the formerly incarcerated.
Few employers know there is a wealth of untapped potential hiding in plain sight in the restaurant industry. Indeed, restaurant employees could be the answer recruiters are looking for when searching for new talent in this tight labor market.
Working in a restaurant teaches unparalleled life lessons. I began waiting tables at Outback Steakhouse in college when there were only two locations nationally. The most valuable skills I have picked up in my career came from my time working in the service industry. These are skills I still use daily in my current role in the executive suite. In fact, as a mother of two, I required both of my children to have jobs at restaurants. I knew the skills they would learn would serve them well no matter where life takes them. I truly believe the world would be a better place if everyone had a chance to work in a customer service position.
When hiring, consider candidates with restaurant experience. They may have exactly the kinds of highly sought-after skills you need, including:
1. Entrepreneurial Spirit
Being a server is similar to being an independent contractor. The restaurant provides the building, food, and customers, but staff members have to sell the products and themselves in order to please the customer. Their efforts directly affect their income. One learns quickly to go all in on every shift to earn their commission (tips) for each sale. Every boss wants an employee who can think for themselves and forge their own path.
2. Able to Think on Their Feet
Circumstances change fast in a restaurant. The expected easy Monday dinner shift can quickly fall apart if a coworker calls out sick, a convention is in town, or you run out of your regular’s favorite menu item. When things start to fall apart, it is important for the server to control the situation before it gets out of hand. Every boss wants an employee who is agile, can think fast, and swiftly resolve conflicts.
3. Works Well Under Pressure
Even if you are not employed in the restaurant business, you have probably heard the term “in the weeds.” It’s restaurant slang for when someone is overwhelmed and falling behind. Restaurant veterans know firsthand this situation is temporary. They just need to break up the tasks before them into manageable chunks and muscle through without cracking under the pressure. Every boss wants an employee who can keep their cool in high-stress situations.
4. Team Player
Restaurant workers rely heavily on each other, but teamwork is not something that can be enforced by the manager. The employees must realize the value in working as a team to create the best possible experience for the guest. Every boss wants an employee who will support their team members in order to reach a common goal.
5. Able to Multitask
A good server treats every table as if it were their only table. The problem is they often have 8-10 tables vying for their attention at the same time. The server has to perform multiple tasks for multiple tables simultaneously while making it look easy. Every boss wants an employee who can multitask while maintaining full composure.
6. Strong Customer Service
Restaurant employees deal with every type of personality. It takes a certain amount of diplomacy to humbly accept “the customer is always right” and maintain a smile. This is also true when it comes to coworkers. Helping — and asking for help from — difficult coworkers requires amazing interpersonal skills. Every boss wants an employee who can manage diverse personalities with professionalism and kindness.
7. Can Communicate Well With Others
Restaurant employees, especially servers, need great communication skills. They need to be able to focus on what a customer is saying despite the noise and commotion happening all around them. They need to make sure the customer feels heard without becoming impatient. They need to be able to articulate clearly not only to the customer, but to their teammates and managers so they can explain situations and ask for help if necessary. Every boss wants an employee who can listen, focus, and express themselves calmly and clearly.
8. Handling Finances
Servers are expected to operate the POS cash register and handle currency and credit transactions quickly and accurately, meaning they often have to do math in their heads to make change. In addition to the quick math skills, servers who are paid tips must learn to live on strict budgets, knowing the ebbs and flows of cash can be irregular. Every boss wants an employee who understands the value of money and can be responsible handling it.
If you are still wondering about the benefits that come with restaurant experience, observe how the staff members at your favorite restaurant work together next time you visit. You’ll notice that restaurant people are cut from a different cloth. These are the people you want as employees, transferring their invaluable life skills to your business.
Kristi Turner is CMO of Compeat.