AABP Award 728x90

Guest Opinion: Success and waiting tables

BY ANDREA HANSEN | Director of development, UnityPoint Health Foundation;
co-founder, VenueFox

Editor’s Note: This is part one in a six-part series about the lessons Andrea Hansen learned as a server at Okoboji Grill, where staff members are taught the 12 Key Steps of Service. Hansen’s series focuses on how she applies those lessons to her career. The remaining installments will appear in Lift IOWA throughout 2016.

I’m at a midpoint in my career. I have many goals still to achieve but as I reflect on the first 15-plus years, I classify it as a successful start. I’ve enjoyed interesting and challenging roles, worked for small and progressively larger organizations, and started a business while still working full time.

When I think about what has contributed to my successes, I attribute much of it to my experience waiting tables while in college. Okoboji Grill in Des Moines gave me my first server job. The restaurant trained its staff on the “12 Key Steps of Service,” and even now, those key steps of service influence how I approach my career.  

Over the next several months, I will be sharing several of the lessons and skills I use every day that come from starting out in the service industry.
Greeting people

From my time waiting tables, I became comfortable meeting new people. I’m even comfortable starting the conversation. This helps me tremendously when I attend networking events and introduce myself to people. It also helps me in public speaking. Speaking in front of a large room of people about a topic you know well isn’t much different than walking over to a table of strangers and going over the menu with them.
In social and professional settings, meeting someone new at events should be done with a smile, eye contact, your full name and whom you’re representing.  “Hello, I’m Andrea Hansen, with UnityPoint Health – Des Moines.” Or “Hi, I’m Andrea Hansen, the groom’s cousin.” If I’m not being introduced by someone else or if I’m alone, I try to be the first to introduce myself. This helps others feel more comfortable because the pressure is now off them to start the conversation.  
Taking an order

When waiting tables, after you greet the guests, you take an order for drinks or appetizers. A good server suggests something specific to consider.  

In networking situations, it’s the same principle. Have a few questions ready to ask after meeting someone. Open-ended questions work best for small talk. How are you involved with this event? What interested you in attending tonight? Keep the conversation going by sharing something about yourself or your reason for being there too. Right away you can learn something about each other and take away one or two details that will help you reconnect at a later date. When in a larger group, you wouldn’t ignore the rest of the table and only take one person’s order, and the same is true when talking in a group. Try to include everyone in the conversation by asking each person a question or their opinion on the topic.  
This first communication with new people will set the tone for the rest of your interaction, and in waiting tables, being able to sense how the guests are feeling as you approach them is important. Were they waiting a long time to sit down? Are they in a hurry? Do they look happy or frustrated? In my professional roles, sometimes things go wrong or people’s situations are out of your control, but being able to adjust to a person’s situation and offer empathy where needed can help turn an awkward greeting into a positive one.

Next up in Hansen’s series: How “take the entire order” and “ring up the order quickly and in proper sequence” are gateways for effectively working with all types of people, managing projects and communicating clearly and directly.

Andrea Hansen is a director of development for UnityPoint Health Foundation in Des Moines and co-founder of Venuefox.com, an event planning website. She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and social work from the University of Iowa and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan. Having returned to Iowa with her husband to raise their family, she enjoys being a part of programs and projects that help make the Des Moines area a great place to live and work.  
Connect with Hansen on LinkedIn or via email.

wellabe brd 090123 300x250