So, it’s time to hire a new employee. A marketing intern, maybe, or a customer service representative. As you sift through your stack of paper applications and peruse all the emailed resumes, you may notice that a lot of applicants say they’ve worked as a restaurant server or bartender. It could be their current job, or something in the past year or two. If they’re on the younger side, it might even be the only experience they have. You may be tempted to move on to other candidates, thinking, “Waiting tables is nothing like what we do here.” But before you do, let me introduce you to the people you are dismissing. These folks have a multitude of skills that you might not have realized. For example:
1. They know customer service. Servers and bartenders are the face of a restaurant, and they are hospitality experts. They are accustomed to making conversation with strangers. They are warm, friendly, and approachable, with a goal of providing a great experience to every guest they encounter. They often develop professional relationships with regular customers, and they are master networkers. Most importantly, they make eye contact, listen to you when you speak, and say “please” and “thank you”. How this benefits you: Employees who already have these kinds of social skills will be assets to your company from the start. Go ahead and skip past the “how to treat a client” part of your orientation; they already know. You can move on to the hard stuff.
2. They respect the hustle. Servers in the state of Michigan make a paltry $3.59 an hour, and most of that is wiped out by taxes. Their real income is from gratuities, and they know that the more tables and guests they can serve in a single shift, the more money they can make. Many servers and bartenders are willing to pull 13-hour shifts – even outdoors on hot summer days – to maximize their earnings. How this benefits you: Your job applicants who have waited tables will have a strong work ethic, and won’t have an established attitude of “Eh, I get paid either way.” They know that if they want to be successful, they have to not only show up, but work hard and earn it.
3. They are great at multitasking. Servers generally have several irons in the fire, if by irons you mean entrees. It is their job to juggle the needs, desires and questions of generally at least two dozen people at once, touching base with all of them at regular intervals. Their priorities are constantly being rearranged as new situations arise. How this benefits you: Employees with serving experience are great at time management. They have a keen talent for emphasizing the most important tasks while still finding a way to accomplish everything else on their to-do list.
4. They are adept at crisis management. In addition to being the face of the restaurant, servers are also the first responders to any and all emergencies, whether it be a dissatisfied customer, broken glass in a walkway, or a power outage during the dinner rush. It is their job to assess the situation, calm those involved and provide solutions. How this benefits you: Whatever your emergency, your ex-server has seen worse. They are masters in damage control, and can handle the most urgent of issues quickly and with aplomb.
5. They can “read the room.” If a server can anticipate your needs before you do, it makes the experience better for both of you. Servers are constantly observing their guests from afar: how quickly they drink their water, how low they are on napkins, or if their child is about to cry because he has dropped all his crayons. Likewise, they are acutely aware of how to approach different types of gatherings, from bachelorette parties to business meetings to 90th birthday celebrations. They are masters at interpreting nonverbal communication and responding accordingly. How this benefits you: Your applicant will be detail-oriented with great communication skills, and able to tailor their message to a variety of different audiences.
6. They can work independently. Servers are like independent contractors: they have their own tables in their own sections, and those customers are their primary responsibility. It’s a hectic environment. Servers have to be confident in their work and know how to handle most problems on their own. How this benefits you: Your new hire will be able to manage most issues without your supervision, and will likely only reach out to you if something is wrong or unclear.
7. They also value teamwork. Although they have their own sections and tables to attend to, creating an experience is a team effort that involves all servers and bartenders as well as management, kitchen employees and support staff like hosts and bussers. Servers aren’t afraid to ask for assistance from coworkers in a pinch, and they’re happy to help others when it’s needed. How this benefits you: As an expert in communication and teamwork, your candidate works well with others and is easily able to collaborate with other departments to achieve their objectives.
8. They have great sales skills and product knowledge. Servers and bartenders understand that “you can’t sell what you don’t know.” They are experts on everything in their restaurant and the company they work for. Their goal is to not only have you eating the best entrees, but also taking home a shopping bag full of t-shirts, hats and six-packs.Good servers can tell you which local farm supplies the kitchen with goat cheese, the story behind a beer name, or when a product will be returning to shelves. Likewise, they are often makeshift tour guides for guests, suggesting the best shopping, attractions, or other eateries to check out in the area. How this benefits you: Your new team member will be well-versed in your company’s products and operations, and will be able to speak enthusiastically about them with ease.
It may seem like a simple job on the surface, but it takes a special blend of skill and versatility to make it as a server or bartender. Don’t underestimate the talents of someone who has lots of restaurant work on their resume; they may just have everything you’re looking for.