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Handshake student stories

Your food service job can serve up these valuable professional skills

"It all started with Chipotle."

What do you think of when you imagine working in a restaurant? You may picture juggling a tray laden with steaming plates, taking orders at a counter, seating hungry diners, frying up entrees on a flattop, taking inventory of a walk-in freezer, chopping produce, or even scrubbing dishes in a soapy sink. These roles are all essential to maintaining the flow of a busy restaurant, but that’s not all they have in common: food service work is also how many real Handshake users have built the skills to succeed in their careers, even in non-culinary professions.

Just ask Becca, a Florida Atlantic University student whose time working in a restaurant helped clarify her goals to become a psychology professor. You could also ask Richard, a James Madison University grad who managed a restaurant before getting hired as a tax intern by EY. Or Brianna, a Seminole State College of Florida student who still leans on skills built at Chipotle as she works in IT and pursues a cybersecurity degree.

Whether you aim to work in restaurant settings for your whole career, or you just want to earn cash and experience for a summer or two, a food service job is a great way to focus on developing your interpersonal skills. Ahead, check out three major ways a restaurant can contribute to your professional development.

What professional skills can I build working in a restaurant?

1. Interpersonal and communication skills

“It’s kinda funny, but it all started with Chipotle,” future cybersecurity professional Brianna shares. “That first job really helped me to get out of my comfort zone.”

The self-professed introvert credits a past job at Chipotle with improving her communication skills, even while struggling with social anxiety: “You learn to push past all the shyness and bring out something else that you didn't even know you had inside you.” In her current job providing IT Support to the City of Altamonte Springs—which she found on Handshake—Brianna taps into these communication skills daily.

Becca had a similar experience improving communication while working in food service. “Before I started working, I was super shy and reserved. I didn't really want to talk to anybody outside of my group. But once I started working in a restaurant, that kind of opened me up,” she says. “Eventually, I could actually hold conversations with strangers.” With the tools in her belt to build genuine connections with people, Becca realized how much she loves learning about others and playing a role in their development. She eventually switched her major to psychology, found a tutoring job using Handshake, and now aspires to teach at the college level.

2. Time management

Becca says, “Restaurant work threw me into a high stress work environment; it helped me learn to work around that and satisfy everybody's needs when I'm super busy.” Becca later applied that skill when juggling her academic and social schedule with the needs of her tutoring clients. Most jobs have their high-stress moments; the rapid pace of a restaurant can prepare you to prioritize tasks, meet deadlines, and keep a cool head even in the most hectic times.

3. Leadership and teamwork

Working in restaurants, particularly as a shift lead, can teach you essential lessons in leadership. “Leadership classes have helped, as well as communication classes, but working at Chipotle is really what helped me get me out of my shell,” says Brianna. She leveraged the skills she built at the eatery to secure a leadership position with her school’s chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

A restaurant environment is also a great place to learn how to work collaboratively with others, an ability that applies to nearly every job. Whether you’re working a busy dinner service, building an app, or caring for a patient in the ICU, the ability to collaborate with other professionals is essential for success.

How should I translate my restaurant experience to my resume?

Your restaurant experience can be an asset to any job application if you find the right way to communicate it. Take a look at this guide for in-depth tips about how to reframe past work experiences, demonstrate impact, and communicate transferable skills. When in doubt, reach out to your school’s career services office for personalized resume and cover letter guidance!

What if I want a career in restaurants?

If you aim to build a career in restaurants, you’re in luck! Handshake has plenty of job opportunities for those pursuing any path, including culinary careers. Megan, a baking and pastry major at Johnson & Wales University in North Carolina, is one of many students who’s secured a role directly related to their delicious career aspirations.

“One day I hope to open a cafe that specializes in gluten free and allergen friendly baked goods,” says Megan Hunt, who used Handshake to land a sophomore internship as a pastry chef. As she plans her future business venture, she’s received advice from others in the industry, but credits one person with the most influential guidance: “My mentor and head chef, who I met via my sophomore internship.”

Be sure to use Handshake’s filtered search to identify opportunities: you can search based on your desired location, a goal job title, or even a specific employer. It’s helpful to add completed coursework, past experiences, and relevant skills to your Handshake profile. And don’t be afraid to apply to more than one role in the food world that interests you! “If you apply to multiple, one will stick,” encourages Johnson & Wales culinary arts grad Gina Gutierrez, who landed an amazing role as a sous chef after applying to a handful of culinary roles on Handshake.

For more inspiration, check out how other students have used Handshake to find jobs and internships, then check out advice for finding your own role at top employers nationwide.

Photo by Kate Townsend on Unsplash

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