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Lessons in waitressing

June 27, 2012

Throughout my professional life, one thought has lurked in the back of my mind: If all else fails, I’ll go back to waitressing. You see, when I was at IU, I was a server at Macri’s in Bloomington, and I loved it.

It wasn’t my first restaurant job, but it was the first one where I earned tips, and that made it my favorite. I’d always been motivated to excel; at my first job I worked at a busy McDonald’s where the manager timed our counter service, and the speediest register workers got prizes. I appreciated (and still have!) my Mickey D’s-branded cooler, but the immediate gratification I got from good tips was even more invigorating.

What does that have to do with running a public relations firm?  A lot.

Good service means happy clients. At Macri’s, an ice-cold beer and a piping hot sandwich served on time and with a smile were important. In my PR experience, clients have similar expectations: meet deadlines, deliver what you promised, and do it in a way that’s low-hassle, stress-free and even fun.

Results are everything. You can have the best wait staff in the world, but if the customer doesn’t like what comes out of the kitchen, he or she never comes back. Same thing in the agency world. Show me what you did for me today.

Collaborations are key. If the kitchen got backed up and food came out slowly, my service and reputation were affected. In other words, sometimes I was at the mercy of others’ performance. As a two-person agency, we rely heavily on collaborators – and we choose those collaborators carefully because our reputation relies on their work as well as ours.

Don’t just take orders. When customers ordered the Macri’s BRT, Old Chicago or other popular sandwiches, I knew they wouldn’t be disappointed. But I also knew when a customer needed help making a menu selection, and I’d be honest when I suggested something. Clients today want that same kind of service: educated and experienced opinions. Most of the time, they even appreciate it when we push back and or play devil’s advocate. Why? They’re paying for expertise, and they want to hear it.

Like people. One of the best parts of being a waitress was simply interacting with people and helping them get what they want. And that’s one of the best parts of what I do now, too. I help people and their organizations reach their goals, and I have fun along the way.

What about you? What was your first or favorite job and how has it prepared you for what you’re doing today?

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