I read an interesting article that upheld my belief that the world would be a more forgiving and kind place if everyone spent some time working in a service industry. I thought about all of the experiences I had working in the hospitality industry for over 20 years, and realized I learned some very valuable life lessons throughout my career.
I grew up as the typical teenager; I wanted things my parents wouldn’t fund, so I went out and got a part time job. In small town Ohio, most part time jobs constituted flipping burgers in a fast food restaurant. My first job (other than babysitting) was grill cook and salad bar extraordinaire at a local fast food restaurant. The lessons I learned from that experience were much more than how to run a grill and make fries. This experience taught me the importance of teamwork and how we all needed one another to make the entire operation run smoothly. No individual was more important than the entire staff, if one person dropped the ball and the guest was not satisfied, we all failed.
From burgers to burritos…a couple of years later, I had the opportunity to work for a full service restaurant, as a cook. Teamwork was still important here, but I also learned the art of patience. There were many occasions where I wanted to bluntly tell a server their inability to perform their job correctly didn’t necessitate an emergency on my part. Instead, I patiently tried to help them out, so they could try and provide better service to the guests. I realized if I started a conflict between myself and the server, the guest would lose out in the end.
A couple of years later…I am now in the lion’s den, a full on customer service position as the dreaded college intern on Mackinac Island, MI. Talk about honing your customer service skills in an extremely demanding environment! The lesson that I took away from that experience was the ability to remain calm under most circumstances. You never knew what challenge would present itself each day, and it was necessary for me to keep my composure for two reasons. One, if I got upset what message did that send to the staff? It would validate an environment of chaos and allow the employees to feed off of my behavior. Second, if I would act this way in front of a guest, all that would do is escalate an already problematic situation. I had a better chance of turning a bad experience around for a customer if I did not mirror their anger.
The overall lesson that I learned from these early experiences was that of humility. Even though I was a teenager and knew it all, there were occasions where I would mess up and make mistakes. Early on, I learned that taking responsibility for mistakes and admitting that I still had room to learn helped me understand others in a more positive way. Humility allows us to accept our own shortcomings and realize that others are human beings as well.
I have often wondered how people would treat one another if they had ever had the opportunity to work in a service industry. Would people be kinder to one another? Would people be more respectful of those in the service industry? Would your employees provide better customer service if they were treated in a more positive manner by the customer?
Think about this the next time you want to rip the head off of the person standing behind the counter at your local fast food restaurant, or the front desk clerk at the hotel who is trying to accommodate your needs while you are yelling at them. Are your actions contributing to the service received?
Is flipping burgers the answer to world peace?