My kids are 13, 10, and 7. Here’s what I plan to tell each of them when they are old enough to work…
“Pick one of your favorite independent restaurants and apply for a job. When you work for an independent restaurant, you work for a business that was once an idea by a member of your community. It was a dream to create a place that you and your neighbors would visit to congregate, socialize, and dine. A place that was unique, that offered something your community was lacking. A place that you would want to return many times per year for many years. A business that would create jobs for members of your community, that would make donations to your community, and where the dollars spent would be invested back into your community.
Now that dream has become a reality, and that restaurant means everything to to the owner. It’s his “baby,” and he is looking for people who will help them nurture it and make it even better than it already is. There’s a giant amount of financial and emotional and physical commitment being made by her and therefore she will be looking for hard-working, empathetic people to help her restaurant live up to the dream she had when she first opened her doors. She’ll only settle for people who care about the customers and care about teammates, and who are willing to give both of those groups everything they’ve got. The owner won’t care where you went to school or what degree you have, or what color your skin is or where you were born. All that will matter is if you are willing to pour yourself into your job in a meaningful way that makes the business better (There aren’t may types of jobs where all of that is true.)
You’ll work hard, and you’ll often be completely exhausted after your shift. You’ll learn a ton about yourself and how well you are able to navigate dealing with what at times will be highly intense, stressful situations. You’ll learn how to deal with pissed off customers and pissed off fellow staffers and people who are irrational and people who aren’t pulling their weight and people who think they know more than they do and people who like to boss you around. These are great skills to learn because you’ll use them for the rest of your life. But you’ll also have the opportunity to be a part of many special instances, like birthdays and anniversaries and marriage proposals and happy, meaningful occasions for the people celebrating them – occasions you can help make very special and memorable for your customers, and trust me you’ll remember those events as well. And you’ll work with lots of fun, unique people, passionate people who will work hard and enjoy those moments right along with you, and who will have your back during tough shifts and hard times, just as you will have theirs when they need you. You’ll spend time with many of them outside of of work, and make many new friends. You’ll laugh together, you’ll struggle together, and you’ll form a lasting bond with many of them that will carry on long after you’ve moved on to other things.
You’ll learn all of this at any type of restaurant, but it’s different being at an independent restaurant because you will be able to interact with the owner, a person who once had an idea and went through long, hard process of turning that idea into a reality, and who cherishes the business more than you can imagine until you’ve started your own business. You can learn a TON from anybody who has done that. And if you show up to every shift with your focus not on yourself but on how you can help your teammates and serve your customers, you’ll find that each day gets a little easier and you’ll get a little better at what you do. The longer you are there and the more questions you ask and the more initiative you show, the more that owner will want to keep you on the team. And many independent owners will want to keep expanding their business, whether it’s by opening more locations of their current concept or launching new concepts. If you’ve given that owner everything you’ve got and you’ve shown you care about his or her business, you’ll have a chance to be a part of that growth. You’ll get to learn what it takes to start from an idea and go through the entire process of turning that idea into a reality. You’ll have a chance to learn new skills, be creative, and have a hand in building something. That’s very rewarding, and very educational.
After a while, you may decide you love being a part of a thriving, growing, successful business, and decide to stick around. Or maybe you’ll eventually decide you want to leverage what you’ve learned to start your own restaurant. If you do, you can bet your owner will support you even while hating to see you go, and he or she will be your first customer on opening night. Or, maybe you’ll decide that the restaurant business isn’t for you and you want to pursue another career. If you do, I guarantee you’ll always look back to your experience working for an independent restaurant and say that’s where you learned many of the most important lessons you know about life and business.”
I’ll say these things from the heart because it’s absolutely how I feel. I can’t wait to have the conversation with my 13-year old in a few years.