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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

10 Lifelong Lessons Learned from Waiting Tables

Waiting tables taught us some valuable lessons that we still use today—outside of restaurants.

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Close up African American waiter hands with notebook, taking customer order in cafe or restaurant, coffeehouse worker wearing black apron serving client, writing down, service conceptfizkes/Shutterstock

When you work a serving job, you fill your brain with all sorts of ultra-specific knowledge, like what side comes with which dish, what the happy hour specials are, and which cook can put up a plate on the double. Once you hang up your apron, you might think you’ll never use those skills again.

That is until you’re readying for a dinner party and all of a sudden you find yourself remembering the right way to polish a wine glass. It turns out that some of these lessons are more useful than we ever knew. Check out some of the most valuable lessons our staffers have learned while working at restaurants.

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Cheerful caucasian barista giving five african american waitress for great job during teamwork in own cafeteria.Positive diverse male and female employees in aprons collaborating on successful startupGaudiLab/Shutterstock


“It’s important to build good relationships with your coworkers. It’s nice to know someone has your back and can quickly bring that extra side of ketchup to your table when you have your hands full—and you can do the same for them!” —Katie Bandurski, Assistant Editor

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Fork, knife and napkin, very shallow focusKondor83/Shutterstock

Attention to detail

“Where I worked, it wasn’t uncommon to have to roll 30 to 40 silverware bundles each night. I considered myself pretty good at this task—polishing each fork and knife, creating a neat fold and neatly stacking each bundle until it formed a stack that was nearly a foot high. One night my manager took a glance at my giant tower of silverware and told me to do them all again. Ten years later I can still feel my shock and anger—I was so proud! She pointed out that I had rolled the napkins with the seams facing the outside. ‘You must pay attention to even the smallest detail,’ she said. To this day, you won’t find a napkin folded with the seams out on my table—and I know to pay attention to the tiniest details of any task.” —Nicole Doster, Senior Editor

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Young Asian waitress advising one of clients to choose new snack from menu in restaurantPressmaster/Shutterstock

Have a good attitude at work

“One of the greatest lessons I learned is to put a smile on your face, even if you don’t always want to. At work, it’s important to have a good attitude even when it’s hard. Plus, big smiles meant big tips.” —Rachel Wilke, Social Media Editor. Restaurant owners have some of their own secrets, too. 

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friends eating dinner

How to be a good host

“Working in different restaurants taught me what a welcoming atmosphere feels like. Waiting on all kinds of people taught me what a difference a gracious attitude can make (going both ways!). Now, when I host parties or even run meetings at the Taste of Home offices, I try to create the right mood to make people feel at ease and ready to mingle (or brainstorm).” —Lisa Kaminski, Associate Editor

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Winemakers in wine cellar holding glass of wine and checking it. Sommeliers testing wines in winery.hedgehog94/Shutterstock


“The biggest thing I learned was how to organize my workflow to maximize efficiency. I was always thinking, how can I maximize this trip to the kitchen? or how can I wait on tables more effectively? or how do I keep track of four different tables that are at different points in their meal?” Lynne Belcher, Culinary Assistant

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Beautiful table setKite_rin/Shutterstock

How to set a table

“I learned how to set a table—a surprisingly valuable skill!” —Lara Eucalano, Associate Editor. And, we bet learning the basics of table etiquette, too.

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A white plate, a knife, wooden kitchen spatulas and spoons in the detergent foam on a black oven-tray. Washing dishes concept. Top view.Shchus/Shutterstock

Creating a workflow that works for you

“When waiting tables, I learned to create an order of operations and stick to it. I don’t miss crucial steps that way. So, in service that meant taking orders in the same sequence every time; I’d know who got each dish when the food came out. And splitting checks was way easier. Now, I use that methodology in all kinds of tasks from cleaning the bathroom to grocery shopping to editing articles for” —Ellie Martin Cliffe, Deputy Editor

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Red wine being poured in to wine glass with blurred backgroundHenley Bailey/Shutterstock

Go above and beyond to make things right

If you spill red wine on a guest, always apologize, but also offer to pick up the dry cleaning tab. Going that extra step shows you really care.” —Sarah Farmer, Culinary Director

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Smiling woman cooking a healthy meal in home kitchen.Making dinner on kitchen island standing by induction hob.Preparing chicken,enjoying spice aromas.Passion for cooking.Ketogenic diet concepteldar nurkovic/Shutterstock

Amazing recipes and tricks

“When I was serving, I used to hang out in the kitchen and watch the chef so I could go home and recreate the dishes I loved. Sometimes, if I was lucky, the chefs would give me a few pointers or even the recipe.” —Jeanne Ambrose, Former Executive Editor

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Buffet restaurant with foodOlga Klochanko/Shutterstock


“There are a lot of negative and stressful moments in serving, but overall the experience was positive. My first serving job rewarded me with some of my best friends.” —Joe Hrdina, Designer. Now, read on for even more things restaurant servers want you to know.

Taste of Home
Originally Published on Taste of Home