What I learned working in a restaurant


Julia Smeltzer

Outside the doors of Olive Garden in North Wales.

After working in a restaurant for the past two years, I have learned lessons that actually have nothing to do with the food I serve or the drinks I pour.

During my sophomore year of high school, I started to look for another job to help pay for a trip I was going on over the summer. At the time, my mom worked at Olive Garden and pushed me to apply since she thought highly of the managers and wanted me to get another job to learn responsibility. Over the past two years, I’ve learned a lot of good and bad things from working there.

1. How to be a people-person

Before starting my job at Olive Garden, I hated talking to people and I would do anything to avoid it. At Olive Garden, I’m forced to talk to people—it’s what I get paid for. My job has broken me out of my shell and I feel more comfortable greeting guests and holding conversations with them even if it may feel a little uncomfortable for me still.

2. Angry moms are the worst

I’ve been cursed and hissed at by too many moms named Karen or Susan. Whether it is because I tell them that we have to charge them for an additional salad because a kids meal doesn’t come with one or if there are not enough breadsticks in her bag even though one entree only comes with 2 of the heavenly cooked sticks. I’ve had times where I’ve simply hung up the phone on an angry mother because it’s quite ridiculous how one person can get angry over a salad and then blame it on me like I maliciously sit there and make up the menu and prices myself. Moms are the worst.

3. Connecting with guests is my favorite part of the job

When I first started working, a couple named Barry and Lou used to come in all the time and sit with my mom and just talk for hours. Every time they come in, they greet me with a big hug and tell me how beautiful they think I am. I would sit with them and they would ask about school and I would show them prom pictures and we would just talk about our day. They are the sweetest couple and were always polite and treated me like a friend, and it really meant a lot to have a great connection with regular guests. During my time at OG, I’ve gotten to meet many other amazing guests that come in all the time. For example, there is this older man named Monte who comes in with his dad who is in a wheelchair, and they come in every Saturday and always sit with the same waitress. Whenever I see them come in the door, they greet me by name and ask how I am, and I make sure they get seated with the same waitress every time. Over the holidays, they came in and gave me a big hug and wished me a happy holiday. There is another older guest who comes in all the time named Bob. Bob is a very special person. He used to come in with his wife all the time until we realized that she passed when he started coming alone. Bob comes in at least 3 times a week and sits by himself in a booth. Every time I see Bob, I let him sit wherever he wants and I just talk to him like a normal person. And every time I see Bob, he always slips me a $20 bill even though I’m technically not allowed to receive tips as a host, and he knows that. I never would’ve thought that I would make these great relationships with guests, especially older guests, but I’m really glad I did.

4. Maturity doesn’t have an age attached to it

As a 17-year-old, it is safe to say that I think I am more mature than some of the older employees at the restaurant, and I’m not just saying that to toot my own horn. Working with people can be very difficult and frustrating. I can recall times where I have trained newly hired employees to work at the restaurant, and most of the time they are older than me. From that experience, I can say that just because someone is older than you doesn’t mean they are more mature or responsible. Multiple times I have had moments where I question why someone is working at Olive Garden. I’ve noticed that most of the older employees act like they are still in high school from all the drama and rumors that happen among them. As a fly on the wall, I’ve noticed that my managers have dealt with issues pertaining to the older employees more than they have with my age group.

5. There are good people in the world

Okay, so let’s ignore #4 for a quick second because there’s actually some really good people at Olive Garden. The past two years I’ve been working there, I have made some of my closest friends and have made relationships with the managers that mean a lot to me. A lot of my close friends from work are in college, but before they left, work was always fun to be at. I would work with people my age and in the summer we were there all the time and we would just have fun in and outside of work. I’ve made friendships with people I probably would have never talked to before or had the chance to be friends with, and I’m super grateful for all my friends I’ve made at work because on days where I really don’t want to be there, they make it worth it. I have also made good relationships with my managers. I can tell they really care about me and I’m grateful for them allowing me to have a leadership position at work and how they treat me like I’m a lot older than I actually am. Our general manager always asks me about school and college and tells me about his family life, so it’s nice to have managers who actually care about their employees. Some people at work have known me for the past two years, and I consider them family. We fight, we bicker, but at the end of the day, we all love each other and hope the best for one another.

It is safe to say that during my time at Olive Garden, I’ve learned some pretty good lessons about myself and the world we live in. Sometimes I hate it and consider calling out every shift (hopefully my managers don’t see this part) but I’m really grateful for every lesson I’ve learned from that place. And the breadsticks; I’m grateful for the breadsticks as well.