10 Lifelong Lessons Learned from Waiting Tables
Waiting tables taught us some valuable lessons that we still use today—outside of restaurants.
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.
“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
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
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.
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
“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
How to set a table
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 TasteofHome.com.” —Ellie Martin Cliffe, Deputy Editor
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
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
“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.