At Your Service

The Hidden Benefits of Waiting Tables and Working in Retail

RetailWhen it comes to making a living, most college students end up either behind the register somewhere in the local mall or serving food to hungry customers at a restaurant. With flexible hours and a half-decent salary, customer service jobs are an easy way to make some extra money during the summer months and even on weekends during the school year. But is that all that these kinds of jobs are good for?

Working in customer-driven environments, such as retail or the food industry, provides employees with a number of skills that could potentially help them in their intended career paths. 

“Jobs like waiters, waitresses, retail clerks, etcetera, are excellent ways to build skills that employers find desirable, even though it might not be obvious to some people,” says William Hill, Assistant Dean of Career Services.

Although the kinds of jobs that tend to revolve around the idea that “the customer is always right” are usually seen as undesirable, those who actually work in those areas of employment have noticed that the fast-paced and sometimes overwhelming conditions have helped them gain skills that could be the reason that they succeed later on in life. 

“Since I started waitressing, I’ve definitely improved my people skills,” says Amanda Guarino, a junior English and education major. “I’ve always been very shy, but working with customers has helped me break out of my shell and become more confident.”

As a future educator, Guarino recognizes that she will have to deal with students who have varying needs by effectively dividing and managing her time. Her experience as a waitress who serves multiple tables at once has allowed her multitasking skills to improve, which will certainly help her deal with the students that she will eventually be teaching after receiving her degree.

Jamie Richer, a junior English and elementary education major, has worked in retail for some time and has seen her fair share of unbearable customers. 

“Most of the time, they are super nice and enjoy the help, but sometimes there are customers that come in and act worthier than the sales associates, which makes the experience miserable for both parties,” she explains. 

Regardless of having to handle the occasional rude customer, Richer believes that her work has taught her a lot. “Once I was put in the position to be knowledgeable about products and persuade strangers to buy more and more, I think my communication and business skills increased.”

As another student who has experience in the field of retail, Danielle Raiano, a senior biology major, also feels that her work will help her in the long run.

“I do think that it will help me in my future career because no matter what, we’re always going to have to interact with other people and their opinions and personalities, whether they’re our coworkers, clients, or bosses,” Raiano says.

Although the types of diners and shoppers that often visit restaurants or retail locations can be physically and emotionally exhausting, the terrible personalities of said customers help the employees who have to deal with them learn valuable lessons when it comes to effective communication, multitasking, and general people skills.

Hill explains that working in a customer-driven environment allows employees to not only learn a lot about how to deal with difficult people, but also how to properly handle cash and manage their time, all of which are seen as extremely useful in the eyes of many hiring companies. 

Aimee Parks, Assistant Director of Human Resources for Student Employment, agrees that this particular kind of  knowledge and set of skills has the potential to gain the attention of future, more serious employers. “This [kind of] experience balanced with other experiences could make a candidate more well rounded,” Parks says.

For many, the thought of having to deal with situations involving unhappy customers seems like too much of a hassle to even consider applying for jobs in the realm of customer service. 

However, those who actually work in these particular environments eventually learn and understand how to handle tough sitautions and customers in ways that effectively alleviate tension and succesfully negate any more conflict.

Even though it can be hard not to tell certain shoppers and restaurant-goers exactly how you feel, you’ll be better off in the long run if you stay calm and respond maturely.

Richer explains, “People who assume that retail sucks are usually the type of people that do not work well with people they aren’t necessarily friendly with.” She continues, “That, or they don’t understand that sometimes you have to bite your tongue and put a smile on your face, even if someone is being nasty to you.”

Can working in retail or waiting tables be stressful? Yes, sometimes it can. But all of the difficult customers and long hours on your feet are well worth it in the end. “Those kinds of jobs are not ‘glamorous’ but they do require hard work, and hard work is something every employer appreciates,” explains Hill.

So the next time you come across an angry woman screaming about an expired coupon or a rowdy group of teenage boys who think it’s funny to complain about the way their burgers taste, be sure to thank them before they leave. In the midst of all of their complaining, they are unknowingly helping to prepare you for a brighter future.