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Leadership with a Side of Fries

I have worked in and out of restaurants since I was sixteen years old, from hosting to food running to bussing to serving. A restaurant is a dynamic, fast-paced, fun, and ever-changing environment and as such, you learn something new every day! Here are some of the key lessons that I have learned over the years:

Know Your Audience

In the service industry, this is called “reading your tables”. Each guest has different needs and desires for their dining experience: Business executives on their lunch break might need to be back in the office in 45 minutes. A group of friends who haven’t seen each other in years might want to take their time ordering. Your regulars might want to chat and catch up with you after a week. A couple might want to be left alone to enjoy date night together. It’s a server’s responsibility to determine those needs and help to fulfill them with individualized care and consideration. This applies to working with any group of people! Every person has different needs, wants, personalities, hopes, and goals. When we can identify these things we can begin to understand our group dynamic and find ways to work better together!

Think of the Big Picture

This one can be hard when we can get so focused on ourselves and what’s going on in our own little world. When we can zoom out and look at our organization as a whole, we can better set our team up for success. There will always be straws to be restocked, coffee to be brewed, phones to be answered, and plates to be stacked. It’s usually these little things that go a long way in creating an overall better working environment for everyone. When I find myself getting caught up in my own routine, I ‘go the balcony’ (figuratively speaking). From way up there, I can see the whole floor instead of just my section and I can use this perspective to change my priorities.  

Pay it Forward

I do and don’t mean literally (servers everywhere, tip your bussers and expos well!). A restaurant only works as a well-oiled machine if all of us, from the front of house to the back of house, work together and recognize each other’s efforts as being vitally important to the guests’ experience. It’s important to appreciate your entire team and take steps to show that appreciation through action: remember to pre-bus your tables, help run food, grab ice for the drink station, get water for the cooks on the line, tip well, spread positivity, give words of encouragement, etc. When we pay it forward we create an active culture of support and care.   

Ask for Help

Life is gonna put you in the weeds. And, you’ll stay there unless you can ask others for help. This is hard for me to do. I consider myself an independent and capable person with high expectations for myself to be good at my job. This means that, sometimes, I won’t ask for help even when I really need it. In the end, this only hurts me and my guests. When I do reach out, my team is always there to meet me. Someone always has extra time or an extra hand. Asking for help creates a better experience for everyone; for example, my tables get drinks down or food out faster if I do. I’m still learning that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, but of strength.

Always Be Professional

Working in a restaurant can be pretty casual, but it still requires you to be professional. For the role of a server, this might mean to know and uphold your role and responsibilities, to provide excellent and knowledgeable customer service, and to be prepared and timely. Professionalism might look different across individuals, organizations, and even industries. So, what does professionalism mean to you? When we know what is expected of us (by ourselves, our teams, our management) we are better able to align our actions and behaviors to meet and exceed those standards and create quality experiences.  

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

“Is your Beet Salad gluten free?” If you don’t know, the best practice is to be honest and say you don’t know. Then, ask the right people the right questions to get the answers that you need. Make sure to maximize these learning opportunities so as to build your knowledge and be better prepared moving forward! You don’t have to know everything but you should know enough.   

Have Purpose

Often, when I ask servers why they work in the industry, their answer comes down to one thing: the money is good. And while I can’t say that I disagree, I also think that a paycheck shouldn’t be the only reason that you go into work each day. I love working in restaurants because of all of the people that I get to meet. People that I could normally pass by on the street without ever getting the chance to know. This incredible opportunity gives real significance to the job and makes going into the store every day enjoyable. Find purpose in whatever it is that you do and you will always have meaningful work.   

Last One, Best One

Be friendly 🙂 While this is a particular expectation of people who work in customer service, it’s a great tip for anybody and everybody. Being friendly only creates opportunities for you!

*Leadership Lesson*

Choose one of the tips above and try to implement it in your role or workplace! Which one is the hardest for you to do? Which one would be of the most help to you and your team? Tell us what you learn in the comments!

*Meet the Author*

Caelan Cooney is another Millennial who wants ‘to make an impact’, a self-proclaimed movie critic, avid explorer, lifelong learner, and Chapman University graduate.