There’s no denying it: the Coronavirus outbreak has impacted the service industry in a major way. Service industry message boards, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts are abuzz with horror stories about customers slamming baristas online for wearing masks, cursing out restaurant managers for preventing large parties from sitting together, and worse. Navigate to the comments section on any COVID-19 related thread and you’ll find millions of voices echoing the same chorus: nothing will ever be the same.
Many such commenters have gone so far as to say that, after years or even decades of service, they’re evaluating whether staying in the service industry is a viable option. After all, with current trends predicting that as many as 85% of independent restaurants could close their doors permanently by 2021 if conditions don’t improve, there may not be jobs to return to, even when it’s safe to do so. Naturally, that fear is striking a chord with service industry veterans–they have multitasking, teamwork, and customer service skills in spades, but how does one apply for a job in the professional world when restaurants, bars, or coffee shops are all they’ve ever known?
Here’s the good news: the basic skills one picks up in the service industry are highly transferable to the professional world. What boss doesn’t want an employee who can juggle fifty tasks at once, identify top priorities and act accordingly in times of crisis, and keep a smile on their face when dealing with an upset customer? Here at the Treehouse, we often look for prior service industry experience when hiring for our own team for those very reasons! Transitioning to a professional career is a huge adjustment, but absolutely possible to do.
Service industry employees are expert multitaskers. Anyone who’s worked in a restaurant can tell you about a time they’ve had to fix an incorrect order with an angry chef, while also explaining the gluten free menu to table 25 and remembering to ring in a side of ranch for table 16. The ability to not only handle multiple tasks at once, but prioritize which items on the to-do list are most time-sensitive, is a highly sought after quality in the professional world. Careers in executive/administrative assistance, operations, resource management, and more are a great fit for those who thrive in a fast-paced environment where multitasking, quick thinking, and accuracy are critical.
The best restaurants, bars, etc. are successful because their employees work together as a well-oiled machine. If you eat out at a fine dining establishment, chances are you’ll have a primary server for your table, but you could potentially interact with 2, 3, 4 or more people over the course of your meal (a busser may refill your water; a food runner will likely run your food and drinks, and other servers may stop by to clear plates and silverware in between courses). This isn’t by accident–employees at the best eateries and watering holes are trained to help each other out in every way possible, regardless of job description. The ability to work as part of a team is unbelievably valuable in the professional world, and going above and beyond one’s job duties shows a teamwork mindset, support for the organization, and a good work ethic. Baristas, servers, and bartenders who love being part of a tight-knit team may wish to consider a career in human resources, consulting, or in the nonprofit sector.
Working in the service industry is one of the very best ways to gain customer service and sales skills. A 2011 Aspen Institute survey found that around 50% of Americans dine out once a week or more. Almost everyone has had a dining experience where something went wrong, and regardless of who caused the problem, it’s usually the server’s responsibility to fix it. Much of the time, restaurant patrons are friendly and understanding (“We know you’re really busy tonight, it’s OK!”), but every now and again, servers run across a bad egg (“I don’t care that the kitchen is backed up, I want my food now!”). The best servers can keep a smile on their face, roll with the punches, and own up if a mistake was their fault. They know when to involve the restaurant manager, how to liaise with the kitchen staff if an order comes out wrong, and that every once in a while, the bartender will remake a customer’s drink exactly the same way, and that customer will say it’s much better this time, thank you (cue eye roll). Those who thrive in a truly service-oriented environment might gravitate toward roles in customer service, sales, or recruiting/staffing.
All of that said, we’re not going to tell you that transitioning from the service industry into a professional role will be easy. It’s not widely known that front of house employees at certain restaurants earn 2-3 times the salary of an entry-level worker in the professional world, and that fact alone is enough to deter many service industry pros from making a career shift. Even if you’re willing to take a pay cut, most job descriptions nowadays define “entry level” as having at least one year of experience in a given field – an absurd catch-22 facing workforce-ready young adults everywhere. However, there are plenty of businesses that will benefit from the multitasking, teamwork-oriented, customer service pros that may soon be exiting the service industry in droves and are willing to take a leap of faith. If you’re a service industry worker looking to make such a change, hiring a resume writer or career coach can be extremely helpful in navigating the transition. We’ve certainly seen our fair share of servers, baristas, and bartenders go on to do incredible things in the professional world, and we hope to see more of the same in the years to come!