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How To Thrive in Your Restaurant Job

Chris HillAuthor

Ask a current restaurant owner whether you should open a restaurant of your own, and you’ll likely hear, “don’t waste your money!”

But why? Well, it’s hard, it’s demanding, there are so many moving parts, and there are way more challenges in this industry than in any other I’ve come across.

Though the restaurant industry is the perfect place for those passionate about food and hospitality, it can take its toll on your well-being.

Had someone shared with me the eight ideas listed below a dozen years ago or more, I could have saved a lot of time, money, brain cells, hard feelings, and plenty of other negative things that kept me from achieving my true potential — especially in the early years.

Take it from someone who knows: Here are eight ways to stop  the restaurant industry from taking over your life. 


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1. Be Intentional and Set Professional Goals

A lot of us began working in a restaurant it at a young age because we needed a summer job, some way to pay the bills, or a way to sustain ourselves while attending college.

Most of us keep finding ourselves being pulled back into restaurants even if we promise ourselves   never again!

Why? Sure, you need a job, but ask yourself —  why am I working here? Does this job put me one step closer to achieving my long-term career goals?

We all should have goals that we set out to achieve in life  —  those goals are the “mountains” we’re continuously climbing. The question to ask yourself is: Does this job help me get closer to summiting my goal mountain? 

No one can answer that question for yourself but you. 

Sometimes we have to make sacrifices, sometimes we have to take jobs we don’t want to because they’ll create better opportunities for us in the future.

Your restaurant job  can be a lot more than just a paycheck — even a stepping stone to future places in your career — if you’re intentional about it. If you realize your restaurant job isn’t a stepping stone toward achieving your future goals, look for another opportunity that is. 

2. Focus on Yourself

 It’s easy to get frustrated with fellow employees who aren’t pulling their weight , especially when  they show up late, clock out early, don’t clean their station properly, or they aren’t attentive with guests.

 The thing can’t control them: The only thing you can control is yourself.

So, focus on what you can control  —  the energy you’re putting into your work and the way in which you manage the relationships around you.

The minute you own your shortcomings and focus on what you could have done differently when things go awry , you’ll notice a shift. You can’t hold yourself accountable for others’ mistakes or missteps, just yours.

3. Appreciate The Other Jobs People Around You  Do

The better you can understand the people with whom you work – including their working style and their responsibilities – the better you’ll understand the way the company works as a whole.

It’s easy to get frustrated with the kitchen when they’re dragging tickets on a Friday night and table 20 just asked for their meals  for the third time. It’s a lot harder to put yourself in the shoes of your restaurant’s kitchen staff who are doing their best to get the food out and manage the other orders they need to tend to.

Maybe that busboy isn’t lazy, maybe something bigger is going on in his life beyond the walls at work that you can be empathetic towards.

I’m a big believer in giving the benefit of the doubt. If you take time to appreciate the people around you, I guarantee you’ll become a better person because of it.

4. "You're the average of the five people you spend the most time with." 

Here’s a simple way to visualize this iconic quote: If you want to be a millionaire, go hang out with five millionaires.

If you set goals for yourself (which you should – refer to advice tidbit #1 above), a great way to go about achieving those goals is to learn how others who have been in your shoes were able to create success.

If you want to be a great chef,  find a great chef to study under. If you want to be a great bartender,  find the best mixologist in town and shadow them.

Ask: What did they do in their career to get to that point

All too often in this industry — I’m speaking for myself as well — the five people we are around most are the five we work with closest, which we don't always have a say in. 

We do have the luxury of living in a world where proximity to mentors isn’t an issue . Find a great YouTube page or restaurant podcast that will help you achieving your vision, mission, and goals.

5. Don’t Settle For a Paycheck 

 Every day that you walk into work, you have an opportunity to hone your craft, learn new skills, grow professionally, and move your career forward. 

Don’t just settle for a paycheck .

 I firmly believe that employers should provide their employees with the best opportunities possible to succeed; you, too, should be looking for these opportunities daily as you go into work. According to a report from 7shifts, 75% of restaurant employees surveyed say that a clear career path and growth opportunities are either important or extremely important for job satisfaction.

If you work for a company that doesn’t push you,  you’re not growing and moving closer to the goals you want to achieve in your life.

Fix this by asking for more responsibility in your role. If your boss won’t give you more responsibility or opportunity to grow, it’s time to find someone else to work for.

6. Go Home After Work and Save Your Money 

While in college, I got job waiting tables at a prestigious restaurant in Atlanta where I’d easily walk out with 200–300 bucks a night.

I can’t recall a shift at the restaurant that wasn’t followed with a few drinks and shots with the crew at the bar next door. We got to know the bartenders pretty well  —  they took good care of us and as a result we took good care of them.

Nights ended with me leaving the bar bleary-eyed with substantially less money than what I had when I walked in. It pains me to think how much money I could have saved had I not gone out after working all of those shifts.

I know it’s hard, especially when you’re young and want to have fun. 

My advice to you? Start a savings account, especially if you’re FOH and walk out with tips every night. Instead of stopping by the bar on your way home, stop by the bank.

Put money aside that goes toward your future and don’t blow all your cash on the cold-as-ice Jager machine next door.

7. Disconnect  

When you get off of work, get off of work!

Spend time with family and friends and do things that are important to you: The things that make your soul happy . 

As long as you’re plugged into work, you’ll always be partially on the clock  —  which I think is unhealthy.

There was a three or four year stretch in my own career where work was all I thought about and all I did . It was an obsession. I’d get off of work and still be thinking of specials we could be running for the following day or what I needed to do in the morning when I got back to work.

This was almost the end of me — it became a dark period in my life and ended up, ironically, causing me to temporarily fall out of love with the work that I was doing in the kitchen.

8. Take Care of Yourself

As a whole, those of us in the restaurant industry don’t take the best care of ourselves. 

There are the obvious ways  — in my experience, restaurant staff are known for  drinking too much, smoking cigarettes, and maintaining unhealthy relationships with drugs.

All three of those vices can and will ruin your life. Though you may feel like you’ve got a handle on your habits now, they will catch up to you. The most important thing you have on this earth isn’t your family, your bank account, your creativity or anything else related to work  —  it’s your health, both physical and mental.

If you take anything at all away from this list, let it be this: take care of yourself.

Don’t Lose Sight of What’s Most Important in Life 

At the end of the day your career is just that, your career.

 Your partner, your kids, your friends, the pieces of life that make it worthwhile (in addition to doing the work you love) are the things that matter.

It’s a balancing act — sometimes you’ll slip too far in the wrong direction — just know that you can always get back on track.

Now that you’re done reading this list, pass it on to someone else in your life.

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