Paul Paz is a "career waiter" turned hospitality consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the author of "Service At Its Best: Waiter Waitress Training -- A Guide to Becoming a Successful Server" (Prentice-Hall), and operates the hospitality information Web site Waitersworld.com.
Several years ago while I was working a shift, the new and obviously distressed busser came rushing into the side-station. I asked what the matter was and she said, "I can't go back out there! Some of my friends from school and their parents are out there, and I don't want them to see that I'm a busser!"
I remember that same emotion shortly after leaving my successful 10-year career in insurance and taking my first job as a waiter. One of my children shared with me years later that, in the beginning of my hospitality career, it was embarrassing to tell others that Dad was
I told my child it was OK to feel that way, and that I understood. (Ironically two of my three wonderful and loving children have successful restaurant careers today!) Still, I ultimately wanted to change his perception of what I believe is a noble profession.
Service is more than waiting tables
There is a common and all-too-frequent misunderstanding of what it is to be a professional waiter and to work in the hospitality business. The negative, stereotyped perception that being a waiter is a dead-end job demanding few skills with little more than minimum wage income potential is all too prevalent. Worse yet is the misconception that the hospitality industry is neither a legitimate career nor a career of choice.
The number of negative comments made by pizza delivery drivers in stories published on this site show those men and women resent such negative comments as well.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that, many who find employment for the first time, do so in the foodservice industry. That can mean they lack essential social, professional and hospitality etiquette skills needed to succeed -- meaning serve customers expertly -- in such a work environment.
J.D. Hoye, National School-to-Work Director (1994-98), pointed out the real problem this sometimes causes: In a speech, she said that (hospitality pros) are an industry that trains thousands of entry-level employees in essential employment skills each year only to have them leave us and take those skills to other industry careers!
So what do we do about it?
Over the years I have become involved with the Hospitality Business Alliance and the Oregon Restaurant Education Foundation (OREF) high school ProStart School to Career Program. With the new school year upon us, I am committed to visit as many of the Oregon ProStart classes as I can throughout this school year, touting the virtues of working in foodservice.
Currently OREF has more than 30 participating high schools involving 1,300-plus students. Over the past five years more than 4,400 students have successfully completed the two-year program in Oregon.
My purpose is to work with these students to put a face on the craft of a career waiter and present real opportunities in hospitality to all these potential peers. I share with those students the personal, professional and financial rewards available: first, as a professional waiter, and second as an industry with limitless career choices.
One concept I try to convey is that written about in the book "Winning At Work," authored by Walt Mulvey, CEO of the online sales of retail electronics store The Good Guys, "Being an hourly employee doesn't make you a victim!" Mulvey writes, "It's an opportunity!"
With the start of the new school year, I recommend you go to your state restaurant associations, local business groups and your schools to see what opportunities are available for us to sell the pizza industry's career opportunities to the incoming labor force. Have your key employees go to classrooms to share their stories of success and opportunity as professionals with your company. (Consider the possibilities of this as a recruiting tool! You can glean employment candidates from these students for seasonal peaks, as well as full-time long-term employees. Plus it's cheaper than a newspaper ad.)
Our industry constantly fights the stereotypes that stiff-arm our county's labor force from giving serious consideration to entering our fabulous hospitality industry. But we must change that perception by helping ourselves first, as we can't afford to wait for someone else to come to our aid.