I worked in the restaurant industry for almost 30 years. I started as a busboy and worked my way up to multi-unit management before settling down as a waiter because I enjoyed it the most, for many reasons.
Being a waiter allowed me the flexibility of scheduling that I didn’t have when I worked as a manager. And I enjoyed the fact that, for the most part, I controlled my income by taking care of my customers. It taught me to think like an entrepreneur.
Here are three lessons I learned from the time when I worked at Steak & Ale and how I apply them to my writing business.
Enjoy what you do and serve the customer.
One night, as I was going about taking care of my customers, one of them surprised me with the question, “Did you use to work at Atchafalaya’s?”
“Yes,” I said. “That was three years ago.”
“That’s right,” he said. “And you waited on us one time. That was the best service I’d ever received. From now on, I am going to request that you be our waiter when I come here.” He tipped me handsomely.
A couple of weeks later, the restaurant manager telephoned me at home. He said that someone called and said he’s bringing in clients the next day and wants me to wait on them. I immediately knew who it was.
The manager told him that it was my day off and I wouldn’t be in, but he will have the best waiter take care of him. The man said, “No. Will you call Rasheed and see if he will come in to wait on us, and call me back?”
I went in the next day, worked for an hour off the clock to take care of my customer, and made $50.00. That was in 1996.
When I said I controlled my income, for the most part, incidents like this were a part of it. The other part is the fact that when your customers are asking for you, the management tends to give you the best stations to work and make sure that you are making enough money to stick around.
Readers are your customers
Most of us are here because we enjoy writing.
Just as the restaurant was bringing in customers for me wait on, Medium is providing us with a steady stream of readers for whom we can write. These are our customers, and it is our job to serve them.
Are you writing with the reader in mind? Medium subscribers are some of the most discerning readers with a wide variety of interests. They want to be informed, educated, or entertained.
As long as we can fulfil one or more of these needs, we’re doing our job. But, merely doing that is not enough. We must bring to the table what no one else is.
To use an analogy from the restaurant industry, don’t be just an order-taker, be a super waiter. A super waiter not only knows everything about every menu item, but he also listens as the diner, asks questions, and recommends appropriate things from the menu to compliment the dish.
A super waiter knows that the larger the check, the bigger the tip. He also knows that it’s not the only way to get a bigger gratuity. He brings his personality to the table, as well.
As a writer, you can be an order-taker by writing what’s popular on the platform, or you can be a super waiter and add your personal stories to illustrate the point, and use your voice to enhance your articles.
Stuffing your piece with fluff may increase the reading time, but, awww you know it’s not an effective way to keep them coming back.
Do your best, and you’ll be in demand.
I learned, as a waiter, that when customers ask for you, the managers will give you the best station — there are areas in every restaurant where more customers like to sit. Also, you become the best waiter, the one who gets to serve select customers.
One night, the manager took me aside and told me, “A couple is coming in at seven o’clock, and it is the lady’s birthday tomorrow, but the gentleman has to be out of town, so he wants to surprise her. I have set up a table in the backroom for them. They want to be left alone but have a memorable experience. Take care of it.”
It was a memorable experience for me, as well. It was the first time I had the opportunity to articulate my philosophy of work.
On one of the follow-up visits, the lady explained that while she likes what she does, she hates working for her boss. She also had an interest in horses, and her husband was encouraging her to go into business for herself.
“Would you work for yourself if you had the chance?” she asked
I said that I have always worked for myself, which confused her because I was working at the restaurant.
I explained that the restaurant and I have a mutual understanding and an agreement. I would show up on certain days and times to perform specific tasks for and on behalf of the restaurant. In return, the restaurant pays me a minimum wage and provides an opportunity to earn more money in the form of tips. I also choose my hours, for the most part.
If I am not performing to their expectations, they can fire me. At the same time, if they are not meeting my needs to my satisfaction, I can terminate the contract and offer my services to someone else.
Be the best at what you do, and take pride in your work. When you do, money is never a problem.
It works the same way on Medium
When you put out your best work, you will attract readers who will clap and highlight your stories, which will expose your work to more readers. You will get the best stations; it’s called Curation. I was thrilled when the story about my brother’s passing and my grief afterwards, was curated.
How a Lost Wallet Helped Me Grieve
When it mysteriously showed up ten miles from where I lost it on the day my younger brother died.
You will also attract more significant publications who might offer you to write a column for them. Ask Shannon Ashley.
I have been able to get my work accepted in a couple of big pubs, and it has made a difference for my writing business. I am not where I want to be, but just as I learned in the restaurant industry, showing up and working on your craft is the way to make progress. You learn from those who are doing what you want to do, but you add your voice and your stories to make them what only you can bring to the table.
Only you have your life experience, only you can tell those stories, and only you can bring your perspective to everything you write.
When you’re the only one, there is no competition.
It is risky to have all your eggs in one basket.
I learned something else that night that influenced my thinking. While I considered the customers at the restaurant as my customers, the truth is that I had only one customer — the restaurant where I worked.
As an employee, you are in a service business. You’re a service provider to your employer. It may be in the form of time, or it may be in the form of expertise or a combination of the two, but you are exchanging value for value. You are getting paid for what you have to offer, and your employer is the only customer you have.
Any business that relies on only one customer for all its revenue is a risky business. There is no security in it. Smart enterprises always diversify and have multiple profit centers.
Have you put all your writing eggs in the basket?
I know I have at the moment, but I am working on changing that. But while you’re on Medium, you can add diversification to your portfolio. People who read poetry may not be the same as those who read self-help, or those who read analytical pieces or personal accounts. I have written all of them.
You can add a link to your email newsletter at the end of your articles. Those who want to read more of your stories or your work on other platforms may choose to sign up. These are now truly your customers. You can take them wherever you go.
If I had the way, back in my restaurant days to collect information about the people I served, I could’ve let them know whenever I changed a job. The gentleman who found me three years later at another restaurant could’ve been eating at Steak & Ale along, and I could’ve been his waiter all along.
How are you adding Multiple Profit Centers in your business?
The Bottom Line
I have shared with you three lessons from my previous work that I am applying to my writing business. Have you learned something in your work that you could use in your current endeavour? If so, what? Leave a response here, or better still, write an article about it so others can benefit as well.
You would be overcoming writer’s block by having something to write while acting with a server’s heart, and it will be something only you can bring to the table.
Thank you for reading.
I am a self-proclaimed weirdo, Jack of Many Trades and Master of Some. I live the Freedom Lifestyle — life on my terms, and help those who are interested in doing the same. (Join the Tribe)
“You can let others tell you what it means to be successful, or you can decide it for yourself.”