My first job (that wasn’t babysitting) was a server at a family-owned ice cream shop. I was hired at 15 and a half, and I worked there seasonally all through high school and the summer after my first year of college. I was lucky to find a part-time job that let me start working and saving money so early.
While it wasn’t a “traditional,” sit-down restaurant, and we didn’t offer table service, working at the ice cream shop for nearly 5 years taught me a lot about food service, and customer service in general. Even though it was part-time and I haven’t worked there since I was 19, it was my first job, and I learned a lot in my time there. Sometimes I still draw on those experiences, as it was good practice for my next steps.
So, here are the top lessons I learned from 5 years working in food service.
1. Not everyone has people skills… but they CAN be learned. Interacting with strangers, especially in such a public setting, can be daunting for some people. Fortunately, like most things, it gets easier the more you do it. Even our quietest, shiest Super Scoopers (that’s what we were called) became super friendly and personable after a few months on the job. It’s also kind of built in to the job.
2. The customer is always right. Even if they order something crazy, and then say it wasn’t what they ordered. Smile and nod, and say, “My deepest apologies, how may I fix this for you?” There is no alternative to this. The customer is always right.Have you ever worked in food service? You'll understand this. Click To Tweet
3. Children LOVE gummy bears and sprinkles. If I had a dollar for every time in those 5 years that I served a cup of vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles on top, I could’ve paid my college tuition. If I had the same for children who wanted gummy bears, I could’ve paid for grad school. I guess it’s because they were so colorful, and kids love colorful things? Also, they’re sprinkles, not jimmies. There are not a thousand little people named Jimmy on your ice cream. There are sprinkles of sugary goodness.
4. There IS such thing as “too much ice cream.” One year, toward the end of the season (mid-November), my boss asked me to make “a few batches” of mint chocolate chip ice cream for post-season quart sales. “A few batches” turned into 65 quarts of mint chocolate chip ice cream, and green food coloring as far as the eye could see. For a month after, if I saw something green, I actually felt a little nauseous. Believe it or not, I did actually get tired of ice cream after a while. I still love a sweet frozen treat sometimes (cake batter or cookie dough flavors, please), but I needed some space after my last summer.
5. Some people have very interesting tastes… and those tastes can become predictable. Like on The Big Bang Theory, when Penny doesn’t have to ask the guys what they want to eat at The Cheesecake Factory, because they are creatures of habit. We had regular visitors who rarely ordered different flavors; for those people, I started preparing their order when I saw them walking through the door (or at least mentally preparing it). We had one lady who came every Wednesday around 2:00 and got a coffee milkshake. But, every now and then, they’d break norm and get something different. It kept us on our toes.
6. Working in any kind of customer service is the best way to learn and practice communication skills. Talking with customers is part of the job. It ranges from “Hi, what can I make for you today?” to having a full conversation because the customer is wearing a t-shirt with your favorite college on it. It’s also cleverly veiled PR practice. Being able to communicate with customers about any issues they experience, or if anything happens behind the scenes, is a skill that will take you far in life. Telling a group of children that you’re out of vanilla ice cream teaches you a lot (yes, that happened…once). And of course, being friendly creates a memorable experience for customers.Working in food service is an experience like no other. Here's why! Click To Tweet
Working in a small, family-owned ice cream shop was definitely a unique first-job experience. What was your first job? What was your biggest takeaway from it?