10 Lifelong Lessons We Learned from Waiting Tables

Waiting tables taught us some valuable lessons that we still use today—outside of restaurants.

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Smiling waitress offering to young couple tasty dishes. Focus on girl ; Shutterstock ID 746909929; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home
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When you work a serving job, you fill your brain with all sorts of ultra-specific knowledge, like what side comes with which dish, what the happy hour specials are and which cook can put up a plate on the double. Once you hang up your apron, you might think you’ll never use those skills again.

That is until you’re readying for a dinner party and all of a sudden you find yourself remembering the right way to polish a wine glass. It turns out that some of these lessons are more useful than we ever knew. Check out some of the most valuable lessons our staffers have learned while working at restaurants.

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Two waiters serving lunch and brining food to their gusts in a tavern. Focus is on happy waitress. ; Shutterstock ID 1384574858; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home
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“It’s important to build good relationships with your coworkers. It’s nice to know someone has your back and can quickly bring that extra side of ketchup to your table when you have your hands full—and you can do the same for them!”

—Katie Bandurski, Assistant Editor

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Waitress cleaning glasses in a restaurant; Shutterstock ID 450466837; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home

Attention to detail

“Where I worked, it wasn’t uncommon to have to roll 30 to 40 silverware bundles each night. I considered myself pretty good at this task—polishing each fork and knife, creating a neat fold and neatly stacking each bundle until it formed a stack that was nearly a foot high. One night my manager took a glance at my giant tower of silverware and told me to do them all again. Ten years later I can still feel my shock and anger—I was so proud! She pointed out that I had rolled the napkins with the seams facing the outside. ‘You must pay attention to even the smallest detail,’ she said. To this day, you won’t find a napkin folded with the seams out on my table—and I know to pay attention to the tiniest details of any task.”

—Nicole Doster, Senior Editor

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Happy smiling waitress serving food to a young happy group of friends in a cafeteria. Waitress serving on tray coffee to customers. Happy woman serving capuccino to group of multiethnic students.; Shutterstock ID 505366549; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home

Have a good attitude at work

“One of the greatest lessons I learned is to put a smile on your face, even if you don’t always want to. At work, it’s important to have a good attitude even when it’s hard. Plus, big smiles meant big tips.”

—Rachel Wilke, Social Media Editor

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Smiling young African entrepreneur wearing an apron and using a digital tablet while standing in front of the counter of a trendy cafe ; Shutterstock ID 1059547061; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home
Flamingo Images/Shutterstock

How to be a good host

“Working in different restaurants taught me what a welcoming atmosphere feels like. Waiting on all kinds of people taught me what a difference a gracious attitude can make (going both ways!). Now, when I host parties or even run meetings at the Taste of Home offices, I try to create the right mood to make people feel at ease and ready to mingle (or brainstorm).”

—Lisa Kaminski, Associate Editor

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Female waitress is carrying two plates with sandwiches.; Shutterstock ID 1154258752; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home


“The biggest thing I learned was how to organize my workflow to maximize efficiency. I was always thinking, how can I maximize this trip to the kitchen? or how can I wait on tables more effectively? or how do I keep track of four different tables that are at different points in their meal?”

—Lynne Belcher, Culinary Assistant

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Two male and female waiters serve a table in the restaurant wiping glasses for wine; Shutterstock ID 1145179853; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home
Yulai Studio/Shutterstock

How to set a table

“I learned how to set a table—a surprisingly valuable skill!”

—Lara Eucalano, Associate Editor

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Smiling waitress taking an order in cafe; Shutterstock ID 388630609; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home

Creating a workflow that works for you

“When waiting tables, I learned to create an order of operations and stick to it. I don’t miss crucial steps that way. So, in service that meant taking orders in the same sequence every time; I’d know who got each dish when the food came out. And splitting checks was way easier. Now, I use that methodology in all kinds of tasks from cleaning the bathroom to grocery shopping to editing articles for TasteofHome.com.”

—Ellie Martin Cliffe, Deputy Editor

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Business lunch executive people toast with red wine young waiter serve; Shutterstock ID 100260941; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home
CandyBox Images/Shutterstock

Go above and beyond to make things right

If you spill red wine on a guest, always apologize, but also offer to pick up the dry cleaning tab. Going that extra step shows you really care.”

Sarah Farmer, Culinary Director

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Male chef preparing salad in kitchen. Gourmet chef making delicious dish in restaurant kitchen.; Shutterstock ID 746467468; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Amazing recipes and tricks

“When I was serving, I used to hang out in the kitchen and watch the chef so I could go home and recreate the dishes I loved. Sometimes, if I was lucky, the chefs would give me a few pointers or even the recipe.”

—Jeanne Ambrose, Former Executive Editor

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Friends Talking Coffee Shop Worker Concept; Shutterstock ID 361397309; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home


“There are a lot of negative and stressful moments in serving, but overall the experience was positive. My first serving job rewarded me with some of my best friends.”

—Joe Hrdina, Designer

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is a former Taste of Home editor and passionate baker. During her tenure, she poured her love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa also dedicated her career here to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.