We've all had an experience at a restaurant or bar where the service was beyond our expectations. At one point in my life, my job was to achieve that with my customers every night. Before starting Asterisk Media, I spent the majority of my adult life in the hospitality industry and worked virtually every type of bar/restaurant job that you can think of -- ask anyone, I was damn good at it too. In university I spent my days at school and most nights serving, when I finished my Masters, I spent my days at the office and my nights behind the bar. The end goal was to start my own business and the service industry helped me get there.
When it comes to surviving the startup grind, I don't think there's any better training than a previous life as a server or bartender. There are a ton of valuable skills that I believe translate directly from being "on the floor" to being successful in business.
Here are five reasons why servers make great entrepreneurs:
1) They start their careers passionate and hungry.
Service industry workers begin at the bottom of the totem pole. They have to consistently outwork and outperform their peers for a chance at the illustrious tips that come with being a senior staff. Most servers start as either a busboy or a host/hostess and, let me tell you, there are very few entry-level jobs that give you the humility of these positions. As a busboy, your job is to clean everything in sight as fast as possible, regardless of how nasty or smelly it might be, and to do it all with a smile on your face.
At this juncture in your career, you're support staff and haven't earned the right to be customer-facing. Your job is to stay in the shadows, listen to any instruction that a senior staff gives you, and to respond with soldier-like enthusiasm. The worst part about this stage is that you're entirely dispensable and any wrong move can land you looking for another job. Just like any entrepreneurial venture, stress levels are high and it's very easy to get discouraged. You have to be tough-skinned, determined and adaptable. Many don't make it past this stage.
2) They know how to deal with pressure.
There's a phenomenon called a "server nightmare" which is basically a horrible stress dream about your restaurant getting so slammed that you keep falling further behind, no matter how hard you work. This should give you a sense of how stressful and repetitive the service industry can be, at least in the beginning. Eventually the senior staff become so good at prioritizing their tasks that they're able to complete them with ease, as well as help others that are having a harder time.
A key element in this equation is knowing when to ask for help. Like any entrepreneur, a server's ego can sometimes stand in the way of seeking the proper assistance. But sometimes getting help with even one task can completely change the game, enabling the server to get out of "the weeds" and back on track to delivering a high level of service. When the work starts to pile up, great business owners are able to identify their strengths and know when to bring in help. This can be tough in the early days, when founders typically want to control every aspect of their business. But the faster you can find the right people, the faster your business can scale.
3) They are persuasive and likeable.
Most restaurants and bars, with the exception of fine dining establishments, are volume-based businesses. They want to turn as many tables as possible, in the shortest amount of time, with the highest average bill. To achieve this, servers are taught to use tricks like the "Sullivan nod" to steer guests in a particular direction; signature drinks that are costly but take little time to make, appetizers that can be made under a few minutes, meals that have a high profit margin, and the ultimate upsell - dessert.
A good server knows how to read the customer, and can change their persona like a chameleon from table to table. They know when to be serious and when to appear happy-go-lucky. In the sales world this is called personality matching, and it's an essential skill for anyone in the service industry. The best also remember small details like your name, what drink or meal you ordered during your last visit, or what subjects your kids like at school. Selling is selling no matter what industry you're in, and it's always about building relationships. Servers have to do this on the fly.
4) Long hours don't scare them.
Working around the clock is an unavoidable consequence of starting your own business. Your social life often falls by the wayside, with sleep becoming a rare luxury. Entrepreneurs must be able to stay focused for long periods of time, and servers are no different. A 10 hour work day isn't even a double (back-to-back shifts) at a restaurant. Senior staff can open and close, working the whole day on their feet, with only a few five-minute breaks to scarf down a snack.
Combine the mental energy necessary to stay pleasant for a whole day with the physical endurance required to carry out their tasks, and you have a server who knows the true meaning of the grind.
5) They know how to build a community.
If you've spent any time in the service industry, you know that eventually the people around you become like family. Whether it's your co-workers or your customers, you develop the ability to build a bond with anyone over an after-work pint or a meal. You can only be socially successful within a large staff if you learn how to use tact and diplomacy. Most of all you learn that work needs to be fun.
Great business owners know the value of building relationships and genuinely caring about their staff's well-being. A strong corporate culture can mean the difference between losing or retaining top talent. I'd go as far as to say that most people in the service industry already know the major points from Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People without ever reading it. I'd also say that anyone who's been successful in the service industry has a high likelihood of being successful in any other field of work. The biggest problem is that sometimes, the service industry is just too good to leave.
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