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September 18, 2022

By Yoo Eun Kim and Yoo Jung Kim, M.D

Jobs in the food service industry get a bad rap. You are always on your feet, customers can demand, and the pay is often dismal. It goes without saying that restaurant jobs have become more difficult due to nationwide staff shortages and poor customer behavior during COVID-19. That said, these gigs can provide a crash course in human interaction and behavior.

Growing up, we worked as cashiers and salad preppers in a small Asian restaurant operating in an economically depressed city with a crime rate well above the US average. Still, since everyone has to eat, various people-including unhoused, high school students playing hooky, former felons, aircraft engineering team, and military personnel in uniform-come by our restaurant.

We encountered many different customers, and if they became regular, we had the pleasure of getting to know them. Our patrons include Harvard-educated county judges who see defendants as whole people, quiet accountants who will disappear into their jobs before tax season, and single mothers and their sons who often make dinner between the two of them. buy side rice.

Meeting hundreds of people from various backgrounds made us realize that each person has a unique story and situation. Listening to them makes us more empathetic to the wider humanity. We also came to the dismal conclusion that while neither money nor education can guarantee happiness, they can solve many, many small and not-so-small problems.

Serving customers also teaches us how to interact more effectively. For example, we learn to recognize subtle verbal and nonverbal social cues. And we see firsthand how the customer will respond better when we mirror some of their body language and speech patterns. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this behavior is known as “mirroring”. Mirroring is one of the ways humans show empathy to others by taking their mannerisms, consciously or unconsciously.

Interaction with customers from all walks of life allows us to recognize and pick up small tics and modes of expression. That way, we will become social chameleons to put others at ease, help us diffuse tense situations and increase our chances of receiving tips.

Finally, working in the food service industry makes us aware of the influence of external stimuli and trends on customer behavior in general. For example, look no further than the holidays, when people go out and come to our restaurants in droves to fill their shop-weary bodies. We also see an increase in revenue during the payday and release dates of highly anticipated blockbuster movies.

On the other side of the coin, we see our incomes plunge during economic recessions, Football Sundays, the Fourth of July, mad cow disease scares, and major international pandemics. Working in a restaurant shows us some triggers that control our behavior as individuals and as a crowd. And when we can’t control these stimuli, we learn how to anticipate their effects (basically by preparing ourselves to work harder that shift)

Our jobs in the food industry help us develop empathy for people in all walks of life, practice our interpersonal skills, and reveal some of the forces that influence our behavior. The restaurant gave us-as teenagers-practical lessons in life, which we were happy to take into our future professions in medicine and education.

Yoo Eun Kim is a former teacher and education manager. He is currently an MBA candidate at Stanford University Graduate School of Business. His articles have appeared in USA Today, Chicago Tribune, The Mercury News, The Korea Times, and other publications.