You love your job, no complaints. You’re social, you’re always moving. You’ve honed and sharpened skills over the last few years, moved up and gotten comfortable – and then a pandemic sweeps the world. By no fault of your own you find yourself quite suddenly out of work and not knowing when and if you might be able to return. Maybe you can return eventually, but when you do, somehow it doesn’t feel the same. So, where do you go from here?
If this resonates with you, you aren’t alone. The National Restaurant Association found that more than eight million restaurant employees were laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic last year. In 2021 so far, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that people who work for hotels and restaurants are quitting their jobs at twice the rate of everyone else. In May 2021, that amounted to over 700,000 restaurant employees giving notice.
You’d think 700,000 people leaving their current positions would create an overwhelming influx of applicants to these now vacant spots but yet here in the States there is a labor shortage.
Companies are having to offer up everything from tantalizing signing bonuses to higher wages and better benefits just to get people to show up, clearly it’s not just superficial factors. Outside of obvious health concerns throughout the industry, Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M’s business school, posits another theory he calls “turnover contagion.” Like the novel coronavirus itself, it can spread incredibly fast – and it can hit anyone.
If even just one server quits at a bustling restaurant, especially an experienced server, it often leaves the place under-staffed which in turn makes the job even harder for everyone else. This added pressure can cause even more resignations which in turn leads to exponentially more stress on those who remain and the cycle continues. Besides “Whenever your co-worker leaves, it causes you to think … ‘what is she going to do next?’” Klotz says, “‘And am I missing out on that opportunity?’” It’s this thought of greener grasses somewhere else or the idea of your coworker starting an inspiring new life that can also drive people out.
Maybe the grass really is greener though, while folks are quick to suggest the possibility that generous unemployment payments incentivized servers to stay home. 26 states have ended the enhanced federal benefits before they’re set to expire in September and yet the labor shortage persists. It’s more probable that the time away from their positions during COVID-19 allowed servers, baristas, and bartenders alike, time to quietly reflect on their options and what it might be like to give up the gig life. Many of these professions bore the brunt of COVID-19 restrictions, mask policies, and general pandemic mayhem, but have also been historically overworked, underpaid and fed up. As furloughed restaurant manager Jeremy Gombieski reflected to NPR, being home with his children made him realize how much he values being able to make dinner for them and spending Christmas morning with them. This is time that is not always afforded or guaranteed off to restaurant workers and you never get it back. It also made him think about “who I’m working for, what I want out of life now because working 50, 60 hours a week for what they’re paying just – it isn’t worth it anymore.”
Unfortunately though, like with all good things, finding and landing a great new job takes time. Many who work service industry jobs work long hours and it can be very challenging to juggle current jobs while also being on the hunt for one. Honestly, after a long day of waiting on tables at your job as a server, you’re probably not at your best. Career transitions can be uncomfortable even in the best case, even more so if you’re tired, sleep deprived, or stressed. Here’s some things you should know if you’re considering making your own transition, hopefully making it as smooth and painless as possible even if you have limited time and resources.
Where Do We Go From Here?
With only server experience on your resume can you realistically expect to land another job? It’s a question many ask themselves when just beginning their job search. A few years ago, career site Zippia attempted to seek the answer to that question by examining their database of over 7 million résumés. They dissected profiles with “server” under work history to determine what positions former servers ended up in after their restaurant careers had ended. While many servers took adjacent service jobs such as a barista or bartender, there were many more who found work as personal assistants or administrative assistants. Others became marketing or human resources coordinators, research assistants and agents. There were photographers and case managers, recruiters and teachers…. You name it. All sorts of professions sprinkled in every industry.
As a service industry professional you have already garnered some pretty incredible skills that are not only intrinsically valuable but are marketable, usable and desperately needed. Numerous industries recognize the value of former service industry professionals and actively recruited former servers just like you. Soft skills that are most sought after include being organized, a team player, and having attention to detail. All qualities that a successful server will already have in their back pocket. When you are on the job search, speak to these skill sets and how you can apply them to the job at hand.
Being personable is an attainable skill — it’s not something you have to be born with. It can be encouraged, rewarded, and grown.”
You naturally have had to develop the ability to work well with others in a restaurant. Between scheduling mix-ups and covering for coworkers it takes a lot of great communication and teamwork to make a restaurant run. As a server you need to seamlessly work with other servers, cooks, bussers and hosts, each a cog in the wheel. It’s surprisingly not all that different from other companies.
I strongly recommend that you not only highlight this quality in your résumé, but also reflect on stories from your time serving that really demonstrate your teamwork and collaboration skills in interviews. A good interviewee is always showing, not just telling.
It’s also always great to remind yourself how valuable your team working abilities will be. If you can successfully talk a ‘Karen’ down from a complaint, you can absolutely nail most jobs.
Attention to Detail
As part of a serving job, more than likely there are a ton of moving parts. Remembering who ordered what, all the menu items, and also being aware when a bartender or cook makes a mistake. You’re the face of the brand, you keep it all together, and make it look easy. You also take responsibility and accountability for what can sometimes go wrong. This will set you apart from other applicants. Consider mentioning this in your cover letter, and again, if possible, mention anecdotes that demonstrate this skill during interviews.
If you can serve 50 tables during lunch hour without dropping a plate, missing a ticket, or losing your mind, these skills are already in your toolkit.
Simple, but often overlooked in the corporate workplace – It may seem obvious to you. Tardiness and no call/no shows are the fastest way to lose a restaurant job. Oftentimes there are people waiting on you for their shift change, maybe they cannot go home until you arrive. As we mentioned earlier, you’re a team player and would never want to leave your peer in an uncomfortable situation. So you’re always early enough to put your things away, put your apron on and be ready to get to work by the time your shift starts.
Employers appreciate punctuality. Maybe it’s a wild exaggeration but people say 90% of life is just showing up. While I cannot confirm or deny this, maybe it isn’t too far off? Greet employers with this first remarkable quality by showing up a few minutes early to interviews. According to experts it’s best practice to show up 5-10 minutes early, but no earlier than that.
You likely spend all day chatting with people. Thankfully to secure a great job networking is vitally important. Many jobs aren’t listed on public sites. Positions within companies are often filled through internal promotion and connections.
Working as a server you likely already have a large network. It’s worth it to reach out to fellow alumni who are working in a job or industry that interests you. Your alma mater may have an active alumni network, which can pay real dividends. Warm contacts are stronger than cold ones, and any sort of familiarity or commonality you can connect on makes people more empathetic and more likely to help you. Comradery is key.
Similarly you can also network with former supervisors and peers that may have left the restaurant business themselves. Consider reaching out to old coworkers and putting out some feelers. You may also have some entrepreneurial customers with whom you have built relationships. Now is a perfect time to get in touch with them and hint that you’re looking to pursue new opportunities.
Your experiences as a server may be your biggest learning experience yet, and your greatest building block. It could even put you at the top of the list of applicants and edge out the competition. You know how to charm in an interview just like you know how to welcome everyone in to have a seat at your table. Everyone has a place with you, and you put people at ease. You’re service oriented and make quick realistic judgements that maximize your workflow and that always aim to please. You’re team and detail oriented, punctual and social.
How lucky any employer would be to have you.