In a world where trophies are given for effort and we coddle our kids more than we'd like to admit, it's important we prepare young people for what they'll be faced with once they're on their own. A great way to do this is encourage them to work in the hospitality service industry, even if it's only summer gig.
I worked in restaurants and bars from the age of 16 to 26, and then made the move into hotels where I eventually became a director overseeing the events department. I can tell you that all my years spent in the industry undoubtedly prepared me for success both in my professional and personal life, and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.
But how does waiting tables or mixing drinks set you up for real-life success?
You learn how to manage money. Unless you're in management, you typically work for tips in the service industry. If you're lucky, your bi-weekly paycheck may be enough to cover your gas for a week, but it's the tips that pay the bills. Managing all that cash is a lot of responsibility for a young person. They have to learn how to allocate money for their expenses and learn to save for when business is slow.
You grow a thick skin. Your customers aren't your parents. They could care less about your problems or your bad day. They want the service they're paying for, period. They're not as willing to forgive you for your mistakes or jump in and help when they see you struggling like what you're accustomed to from your parents. Customers have an expectation for you to get it right, even if it's just remembering to leave the onions off their burger. If you don't get it right, you subject yourself to choice words and a tipless check. After a while you become a pro at taking a beating, but most importantly you learn how to pick yourself up, dust off and carry on.
You learn the power of teamwork. I'm sure you've heard the saying "teamwork makes the dream work," and it's true! Each person on the team plays a valuable role in a customer's experience and your individual success. When everyone comes together to accomplish the same goal, that's when the magic happens. Learning how to collaborate with your coworkers early on will set you apart to future bosses and colleagues.
You learn the value of hard work. When working for tips, you have to earn your keep. If you don't hustle or provide good service, your tip will reflect that. You learn to leave your personal drama at the door, slap a smile on your face and do your job. At the end of the night when you count all that loot, it's worth it - I promise.
You learn how to manage your time. The hospitality industry is what I like to call the industry of organized chaos. There's no room for error, but when mistakes happen you have to fix them and move on immediately. There will always be more work than time allows, so prioritizing and time management skills are survival tactics in this industry - and mostely all others.
You learn patience. Some people are just jerks and you'll deal with this in any service related job. After a while the rude comments and absurd demands just become comical stories you share with your industry friends over cocktails. Being able to manage erratic people and situations will garner you respect and help you maintain sanity in the future.
You build up confidence. I can't tell you how many times I've encountered situations where it would've been easier just to run in the other direction, but I had no choice other than to face these hurdles head on. A hotel I once worked for had their air conditioning system break during one of the busiest citywide conventions of the year. Twenty-four hours later we lost all power. My team and I had to relocate a wedding, several meetings and dozens of guests to surrounding hotels. Did I panic? Yes! But my team powered through the best we could and managed to pull off what seemed impossible. A year later, it happened again and I didn't even bat an eye. Whenever you're forced to work through challenges time and time again, it's amazing how strong you become. After working in the hospitality industry for 19 years, I can now say with confidence, there isn't a situation I can't handle.
Perseverance, hard work, and the ability to manage difficult situations are what set you apart in in the eyes of employers. Young people need to sharpen these skills before they enter the work force or they'll be left behind in our extremely competitive world. In short - by serving others you ultimately serve yourself.