Should You Encourage Your Teen to Take a Job at a Restaurant?

This post brought to you by National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. The content and opinions expressed below are that of Evil HR Lady.

In today’s helicoptery parenting world, and crazy college admissions, parents often want to do what’s best for their children’s futures. So, we shuttle them to activities and pay to send them on service trips to South America so that they can have cool volunteer work listed on their college applications. There’s no time for a job as a waitress! That won’t help with their future life!

Hogwash. First of all, I maintain that every person should work in  a customer facing job. As one of my favorite readers, Elizabeth West, says,

Everybody should work in a service profession (either food or retail) at least once, so they understand how to be a good customer. Sometimes it’s tough to remember that the further you get from those jobs, but if you have ever been screamed at or had a patron make impossible demands on you, you’re much less likely to be a squid-lipped jerk when you’re on the other side of the counter. 

So that’s at least one reason that your kid should work at a restaurant–so he doesn’t grow up to be as much of a jerk. But there are bigger benefits as well. The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), of course, thinks you should work in a restaurant as well, and one-third of us get our start that way.

There’s a lot to be learned in a restaurant, of course, as demonstrated by the Food and Beverage Service Competency Model, which tells us all the things that can be learned working in a restaurant. But, I’d like to tell you why I think you should send your child into the wide world of restaurants.

1. It’s not all about me. The reality is, all those activities that your teen does, even the service trip to South America, wasn’t about others, it was about the teen. Work in a restaurant? It’s all about other people. The customer is important. The customer doesn’t care about your college scholarship or your date after work. They care if their food is good and fast, and if their glasses are refilled promptly. That’s it.

2. Restaurant work is work. It’s hard work. You’re on your feet. It’s hot. In a lot of restaurants, it’s greasy. Customers aren’t necessarily nice. If you’re a server, you can bust your buns all night with an obnoxious and demanding table and get a 5 percent tip. Sounds awful, why would I want you to subject your child to that?

Because this is real life. And this is how real life works. Learning to handle disappointment with a smile on your face, and learning to keep on working when your feet hurt is how you learn to succeed.  Parents and teachers try to set up situations where kids will win at everything they do. A restaurant trains you for real life.

3. You learn responsibility. You have to be on time, stay on task, and work hard. You have a manager and coworkers who may or may not be your friends. You have to follow your manager’s instructions, even when you don’t like them. There is no extra credit and no re-doing tests. You have to do the job when assigned.

4. It’s lots of fun. I realize everything I’ve said up until now sounds like, “You hate your kid? Send her to work in the restaurant!” But, it’s not like that. Your teen will learn that hard work and crabby customers can actually make for a fun evening. You bond with your coworkers. You learn to laugh at the crazy things that happen at work.

5. It looks great on a resume. If I’m hiring for an entry level job, I’m going to be a lot more likely to consider the person with experience in a restaurant  than someone with perfect grades. It shows me you know how to work. If you have a positive reference from a manager in this situation, that says a lot. It’s hard work and it translates into any work environment. Someone with a couple of years of waitressing under her belt is far more likely, in my experience, to be flexible and capable of handling the unexpected. Why? Because she’s been doing that for a long time.

So, my advice is, at minimum, summer jobs for all teens. The harder the better.

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24 thoughts on “Should You Encourage Your Teen to Take a Job at a Restaurant?

  1. #5. I love to see restaurant or farm work or military service on a resume. It tells me you realize that life is NOT all about YOU.

  2. Yes, I think EVERYONE should work in retail and the food industry (at least once). When you are a cashier working in a grocery store or as a waitress it gives you a whole knew perspective when you are on the other side of the table. IMHO, it makes one more humble and perhaps patience.

    1. I agree working in a restaurant or a customer facing job does teach patience but it also gives them insights on how to interact with various people and how to stay polite when they encounter mean people. I remember having to work with customers that were completely irate and yelling at me for something that wasn’t even related to me. It teaches you to have a thick-skin and not to take things personally but also to listen and try to solve the problem.

  3. yes. this is so true. I have two candidates applying for a desirable job. One has a 4.0, some work experience,and volunteer experience. The other has an okay school gpa, no work experience in my field but a few years of retail and good references. I am hiring candidate number two. Handling difficult customers is a transferable skill, display marketing- transferrable skill, sales- transferrable skill.

    1. You learn so much about handling difficult people in restaurants and retail. Such valuable experience!

  4. Yes, I think EVERYONE should work in retail and the food industry (at least once). When you are a cashier working in a grocery store or as a waitress it gives you a whole new perspective when you are on the other side of the table. IMHO, it makes one more humble and perhaps more patient. (Sorry for the typos 🙁 )

  5. I would also say that retail/waitressing helps a teenager get their rose colored glasses ripped off their face. You learn about the real wold and that life isn’t fair. You learn the games people play to get what they want (customers & coworkers) and how to act professionally.

      1. I very much agree!!! Especially to the response when they get the ‘rose colored glasses ripped off their face.’. I was 16 when I started my first job and I thought I’d just walk in start working and walk right out. I had gotten so many great characteristics out of it. I learned to be patient, how hard it is to work in “the real world”, and also how I looked at my mom as she was the bread winner in our house with 3 girls. She would always tell me, “If you don’t like the clothes I buy, then go out and get your own job and work for it.” I thought it was that simple. Yet, I don’t regret a single moment in any of it. Also, I learned how to respect others such as the supervisor, the boss, and work as a team. I wasn’t such a “brat” as you would say. I took how much appreciation in everything I bought and earned. I strongly agree that your teenager should be encouraged to work out in the ‘real world’. They will appreciate a lot more and be more respectful and responsible.

  6. I would have my kid do retail but not waiter/waitress. It is hard to teach them about money management when their pay varies wildly. Also I have had pretty bad experiences working for restaurants, and if my kid/s have the same experiences I think it could give them a negative outlook on work.

    1. Actually, learning to deal with the variability is actually VERY useful. I can’t think of a better way for someone to learn about the concept of not spending everything you get NOW.

  7. What a true story this entire post is. Retail/hospitality industry roles teach so many vital skills to young people. They generally don’t realize they are learning these key ideas but in most cases it works. From personal experience I learned leadership and time management most effectively from my role in a restaurant – I was rewarded well for my efforts and was constantly pushed to achieve greater results. It sounds like a glorious role but I still spent time cleaning up after kids and mopping floors, too! Nice post!

  8. Working in a restaurant also teaches people to tip decently, and to not penalize the server for things outside that person’s control.

  9. Awesome post, as always!!!!! I cherish my high school and college work and have made life-long friends. My bank teller experience in college is crucial to my finance work now.

    1. I forgot to add – working with people’s food and money – the two things that make customers go bizerk!!!!

      1. Or working the returns counter. I swear the coping methods people working the customer service/returns counter came up with probably positioned them well to endure anything…

    1. Ah, good catch. Anyone ever mentioned to them that it is probably cheaper to treat their employees better than lobby for the continuation of poor conditions? I can’t really recommend anyone letting their kid get suckered into working as a waiter or waitress.

    2. I’m on their side. Sorry. The thing is, low wage jobs are training jobs–and that’s what most restaurant work is. Training for the rest of life. If you increase the costs of hiring people for these jobs, the people with the least skills will be the ones who lose their jobs.

      This means the people without the fancy school and the familiar connections won’t have the opportunity for paid job training that they have now. I’d hate to see that happen.

      1. But the reality is that these jobs are now filled by adults who lost their jobs due to the recession, loss of manufacturing jobs, “lean” production/process implementations, etc. These jobs that used to once be filled by teens are now being filled by people that cannot get any other job due to many reasons. The point is, if this is the new reality, we need to make changes which includes wage increases and employee advocacy.

      2. That’s simply not true the UK manages just fine with stronger employment regulation and company’s just absorb it as a cost of doing business.

  10. As a southern girl growing up in a rural area (High school Graduating class of 23… people!) During the school year/ball season I would do farm work that could be done before school or after ball games and on the weekends. The famous reasoning my father had was “hard work builds character”. Only now that I’m sitting in a management position with a masters degree on my wall do I recognize these things in resumes that I review. I believe that shoveling rock for a septic system, driving T-posts and stretching new barbed wire fence, hauling hay, grinding and painting pipe fence in 110 degree weather made me what I am today. If that doesn’t reinforce the drive for an education I’m not sure much else does. My dad even made me weed my 10 acre watermelon patch on junior prom evening before I could go…

    During the summers I worked in the local convenient/ feed store/ grocery/ pizza parlor/ movie rental (remember those)…. the list goes on and on this place had it all! I was able to work face to face with customers in a service industry. I was a hard little worker, never late, never called in, always willing to go the extra mile for anyone. I will never forget a group of power line workers who came in for burgers every day for a week, I would take their order and direct them to have a seat (at one of the 2, four person tables the convenient store had for the ole coffee drinkers) and I would bring out their food when it was it ready. – Just as i did anyone who wasn’t just buying gas and cigs. 🙂
    Something magical happened after they ate and left that first day, the men handed me money as they were leaving – “you are all paid up, I reminded them”. One man said “This is for you ma’am thank you” – i probably looked at him like he was crazy because this was a crappy old gas station for crying out loud. I had never been tipped before – I didn’t know how to react, I told the man it was unnecessary it was my job.. ofcorse 16 year old me accepted and thank them profusely. Each day that week the men would come I would serve them whatever they ordered and each day they left a tip. I worked at that job intermittently through high school and college and never got another tip. I still remember what it felt like to be rewarded for the same hard work I gave to everyone.
    Life story to say I do believe working difficult low paying jobs as a young person can make a huge impact on your life. For me 18 bucks made me realize no matter where you are, if you keep working hard someone will notice!

    -P.S. I shared the 18 total tip dollars with my 2 other coworkers over the corse of the week because we were all freaked out and excited!

  11. I don’t like this post for a number of reasons.

    1. You’re not doing what you want to be doing. We should be encouraging people to take these kinds of jobs, and you’re discouraging them from doing this by using terms like “responsibility” and “hard work.” You know, those buzzwords that Americans love to use. No wonder there’s a stigma against this kind of work.

    2. The terms you use are misleading at best and inaccurate at worst. The meaning of “hard work” and “responsibility” in a workplace context is dependent on economic conditions. As with any job, all you need to do is do slightly more “hard work” or be slightly more “responsible” than your competition*. With jobs that pay at or near minimum wage, you couldn’t possibly have less competition. I know that from experience when I worked at a grocery store. The store paid minimum wage, but management was mostly very nice, the customers were very nice, AND the store was unionized. And would you believe it — the quit rate was through the roof. Trust me, if people were worried about just getting by, they wouldn’t be quitting left and right. And just by doing what I was told to do, I was way ahead of the competition, which stayed on task 50-70% of the time, if that. At a very large retail store recently, I ran into an employee who could speak almost no English and another who could speak English, but was barely able to form an understandable sentence. At least in my area (California), I seriously doubt companies have the ability to only hire employees who “work hard” and that are “responsible” in the way that you see those concepts.

    If you argue that teens “work hard” in jobs like these, I can also argue there’s no such thing as “hard work” here. For that, I could continue, you can go to India. Compared to India, there is no such thing as “hard work” here. And that’s a good thing. I was told I needed to “work hard” at the grocery store, so I was at first apprehensive. I was pleasantly surprised to see that all “hard work” meant was not lollygagging in the break room while you were supposed to be doing go-backs.

    Suzanne, how about a post rewrite. Putting our vast marketing knowledge to work, we know that talking about things like “hard work” and “responsibility” and other Things None of Us Like (But Won’t Necessarily Admit to Disliking) is no way to convince people (especially teens) to do something. How about focusing on the advantages, so that someone in their right mind will actually want these jobs? Think economically:

    1. At minimum wage jobs, you couldn’t possibly have less competition. If minimum-wage employers wanted better job applicants, they’d have to pay more. You should still make a sincere effort*, but it’s not like you’ll get fired at these jobs for an honest mistake. Your sincere star student teen at her worst will probably outdo most of her competition at their best.

    2. With minimum wage jobs, your reputation couldn’t be less important. It took less than a month for my FIRED coworker (yes, fired, even with those “standards”) to find another job. And the new job wasn’t at a grocery store; it was at a doctor’s office. This means that your honest mistakes couldn’t be less relevant. These are the kinds of jobs in which you can fail, dust yourself off, and try again, and you couldn’t be punished less for doing so.

    3. The less desirable the work, the better you’ll be treated. Hate cleaning toilets? So does everyone else. And that’s a good thing. Cleaning toilets at minimum wage is like being paid even less than minimum wage doing a non-gross job competition-wise. Been to a restroom at a large low-price retail store recently? That’s your competition right there. I’m sure your teen will make a good impression just by sweeping the floors, and that’s if management even bothers to look inside.

    4. Because employers can’t sacrifice less to make minimum-wage jobs available, those jobs couldn’t be more available.

    Ah, job security. Ah, no competition. Ah, low standards. Wish I had more of those at my current non-minimum wage job. At my current non-minimum wage job, more qualified people want to take my job away from me because my company offers more (in terms of salary and everything else). That means I need to make sure my employer thinks I’m worth more than they are, or at least the same (there are costs associated with replacing a worker). At a minimum-wage job, you couldn’t possibly need to worry about that less.

    *The only reason you’d need to make a sincere effort is to improve your chances for future work with higher wages and/or in poorer economic conditions.

    Wait! I take that back. Don’t post anything like what’s above. Doing so would probably convince people to pursue minimum-wage jobs and therefore slightly increase competition. Wages, naturally, would not be affected, but conditions will become slightly worse because an employer wouldn’t need to offer as much to convince people to work for them.

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