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What I learned as a waitress, that still shapes my career

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Author: Dr. Teresa Evans | Category: Career Development | January 17, 2017

I grew up as an only child in a restaurant family. My mother is a lifetime restauranteur and my father joined the business when I was in high school. For all of my life the restaurant was my second, maybe my first at times, home. I would do my homework in the corner booth and rather than play with toys I would play in the empty boxes on delivery days. In hindsight, the business was not only my playground as a child but my schoolhouse as I grew older. There are so many lessons that I learned along the way that I use regularly now in my professional career. Below are just a few:

How to put on a smile against all odds

Quickly you learn that you must smile at customers when you are tired, sick, angry, and sad. I remember many a day when I would be so tired from the previous days commute to college (one hour each way) and the late night of studying, but still I would find my smile and welcome the first table in at 8 a.m. in the morning. “Would you like your usual?” I would ask with a grin.

The power of hard work

In the restaurant business, the harder you work the more the reward. The more hours you put in as a waitress the more money you make. The more caterings you book and prepare the more money you make, and so on. You get more for putting in more. This is harder to see when the reward for working hard is not increased pay but rather improved visibility within a team, additional publications, or more opportunities to lead.

The importance of great public relations

Notice that I said great not good. The best businesses succeed because they put, that’s right, their clients first. Learning the value of your clients and those within your network is something that you cannot master fast enough. Learn to show others that you not only want to make them happy but that you care. My mother is an expert at this. Everyone in her restaurant is family and she cares deeply about the opinions of each person. This shows through in her work and the environment that she creates for her customers. They keep coming back, not just for the food but for her hospitality.

How to sell a pie to someone who is no longer hungry

A great server can sell a piece of pie to anyone. And if you can sell a piece of pie to someone who does not want one then guess what, you can sell them just about anything. The power of a strong sales pitch transcends career path. As a scientist I have had to learn how to sell my research to granting agencies, my peers in science, and to the lay public for example. Further, we all must learn to sell ourselves through a strong elevator pitch.

Money Management

When you start working in your family business when you are 12 you learn to manage money early on. I remember going to the bank with my father and opening up my first savings and checking accounts. His guidance showed me that you not only pay yourself but you must first pay your savings account. These skills in basic money management still to this day are key to my success as an adult. I feel that the sooner we can teach our youth to manage the funds that they will gain the better off that they will be. Further, learning think strategically about your finances will help you to make decisions like, pay off my college debt now or invest the money in my Roth IRA? These are not easy questions to answer but when you think strategically about your finances these things can be answered appropriately. 

Teamwork and Team Management

As a young leader, I quickly had to learn to manage those around me. Often those on my team were older than me, which posed another unique problem. What I learned and still see as invaluable is the power of respect. You must lead a team with respect for each of the team members. As long as they know that you respect them then most of the time your respect will be reciprocated. My parents taught me to treat everyone equally and that every position on the team was equally valuable. This is an insight that you should never loose sight of. Those leaders that I have looked up to the most have been those that did not set them apart from the rest of their team.

This is just the beginning of the list, as every day I am reminded of the value of my upbringing. We must not forget that from where we came as it is what defines where we may go.

Teresa Evans, Ph.D.

Dir. of Career Development, Lecturer II, UT Health San Antonio

Teresa is an alumna of the Neuroscience Ph.D. program. She is the Director of Career Development for the Office of Workforce and Career Development at UT Health San Antonio.  

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