For some people, the time between university and finding a job related to the field they’ve been studying can be full of anxiety. Weeks go by while it gets harder and harder to keep focus on finding that dreamt starting position especially when you’re working on something that hasn’t anything to do with your degree.
However, it’s funny how that period in your life can become a fountain of knowledge and experience for the next step in your career. Don’t get me wrong, obviously there’s no better way to become a good professional in a job than actually working on it, but still I got some sort of ‘lessons’ out of working in hospitality.
1. Each customer (a.k.a. “user”) is different
While I was looking for my first opportunity in Madrid, I worked in one of the busiest bars I’ve ever seen, so every day I had to interact with hundreds of different people.
Saying that, in the bar, there was a funny system to order. Basically, there was a little blackboard and chalk on the table in addition to the menu. Each option in the menu had a number, so customers were supposed to write the number of whatever they wanted to have on the blackboard and give it to the waiters. It seemed pretty straight forward for us who were working there, and also for many of the customers. However, every day I had to explain to a lot of people how ‘the system’ work. Off the top of my head:
– There were older customers who were waiting ages for someone to approach their table and ask them what they wanted to eat as they hadn’t even seen the blackboard.
– Some tourists who couldn’t speak Spanish wouldn’t know what to do either.
-If there were children on the table who had taken the blackboard straight away to draw on it, their parents hadn’t thought that the blackboard was supposed to be used for something else and not for entertaining their children OR they had to fight with their children to retrieve the blackboard and be able to order, making their little ones cry disconsolately.
-Instead of writing the number, some customers spent hours writing the whole name of the meals they wanted, and even asked for another blackboard when they had run out of space.
Surely the way food was ordered in the place could be improved. But witnessing those situations I learnt that:
-Never assume users will use your product the way you think they will use it.
-Always give them a way to communicate with you to get what they want in case they don’t understand (or you haven’t explained properly) how your product works.
2. Do things right from the beginning
I will never forget the first time I made coffee with one of those industrial machines. It isn’t rocket science, but on your first day there are too many things you have to remember, and for whatever reason, pressing the right button to use the exact amount of water a ‘cafe con leche’ requires was just something I couldn’t remember.
My first thought was to throw a little bit of the fresh coffee down the sink to get the room I needed to pour the milk in. By doing that, I got the cup completely filthy. I tried to clean it up, but it was a mess. Sso I had to start over, losing more precious time.
-Doing things right from the beginning is paramount, and trying to fix something that is wrong from the basis just makes you lose time as eventually you’ll have to go back to the start. Sometimes it’s better to start again and stop losing time with something that cannot be fixed.
Once I got the coffee machine under control, I found out that my coffees were technically right but they were just coffee. In the rare quiet moments we had, my manager started teaching me how to draw shapes with the milk’s foam. I could tell customers liked it much better getting a coffee which was showing it had been done with care. Every now and then, some customers took pictures of their coffees, tagging the bar in their instagrams.
-Presentation matters. The same product with a good design will always go further.
4. Keep calm and keep on working
The place I was working in Madrid was specially busy. Luckily for my boss, it was the only place of its kind in the area, so especially at lunch and dinner times there were hoards of hungry people queuing. Everyday was like a battle and you needed to do things in a very systematic way if you wanted to give a good and quick service to all of them. However, every day there was something ‘different’ happening which took you out of the routine: someone had broken a glass, a massive group had arrived and you had to rearrange and set a lot of tables, the beer barrel had run out and you needed to change it while people were still ordering beers…
At first, I used to get very nervous when something like that happened, but that didn’t help at all to resolve the problem and go back to normality.
-It doesn’t matter where you’re working: there will be times when your task list will be way longer than you would like to and still new and more urgent things will come up . Addressing each one at a time, and prioritizing the important first and focus on the task you’re doing instead on worrying about all the things that are coming after.