Service jobs teach lifelong lessons

Columnist and Columnist

University students, rejoice — a national holiday landed us a free Monday this week!

I’m sure most of you celebrated your coveted long weekend accordingly. But did any of you consider its origin or importance before kicking back with a cold one or high-tailing it home?

When half of my popular culture class couldn’t pinpoint, last Friday, what holiday we were celebrating Monday, I decided our student body could use a brief history lesson.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor website. It’s a tribute to the “average Joe” (or Joann) — the diligent, dependable American worker.

As a six-year employee of a local business called Klein’s Dairy Frost in my hometown, I appreciate our nation’s gesture. More than half a decade of serving soft serve ice cream to the populace of Sandusky, Ohio, has instilled within me a vast appreciation for America’s working class. In fact, I think every age-eligible person should work in food service for at least one year. Nationwide, that age is 14, as determined by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Although some may think this age is too young to enter the labor force, I wholeheartedly disagree.

A service job teaches people, especially teenagers, responsibility, people skills and the old-fashioned “value of a dollar.” It shows life is about balance; it isn’t all work and it isn’t all play, but instead, a delicate intertwining of both.

I remember carefully budgeting my time throughout high school, skillfully utilizing my planner to organize sports, work and social activities like a seasoned secretary.

I’d drudge through school, volleyball practice and a few hours at Dairy Frost on a Friday night and still make it to the high school football game before halftime, with the pungent smell of fryer foods wafting through the air behind me.

I didn’t mind. While most of my classmates pestered their parents for spare change to purchase a snack, I could reach into my pocket and find enough cash to nab a Mountain Dew and cheesy fries with plenty to spare.

Before I even entered the “real world,” I began to grasp how its economy operated.

During summer vacation, working taught me valuable skills denied to my peers who spent their summers gallivanting around town, becoming immersed in MTV or sleeping for hours upon end.

My confidence and communication skills improved as I interacted with customers, preparing me for my full-time career as a journalist.

I learned the importance of teamwork, problem solving, networking and job references.

Plus, I can now make multiple soft serve ice cream cones at once! (So if you’re ever in need of an aesthetically pleasing dessert, come find me in a dining hall.)

But, as one can expect, having a job is by no means all fun and games. I’ve dealt with a lot of crap at work — both figuratively and literally.

Angry customers sometimes discover the food I serve makes an excellent projectile, which once resulted in my wearing a shredded chicken sandwich.

I’ve dropped typhoons of strawberry topping and chocolate syrup on the floor and spent several subsequent hours cleaning up the sticky messes.

And a few years ago, a customer thought it would be funny to literally crap in a sundae cup and leave it sitting on the counter for me when I returned — not kidding.

Do you now understand why I think everyone should enter this work environment for at least a year?

The people behind the counter at the next restaurant you visit are working hard to prepare your meal. If you’ve never worked in food service, you can’t quite relate to the pressure of trying to please every customer you encounter on your shift and realizing you probably won’t succeed.

So tip generously. Say “please” and “thank you.” Pay attention when the waiter or waitress tells you to “have a nice day.”

And if your meal isn’t exactly what you ordered, politely point out the mistake — don’t swear, shout or, God forbid, defecate in a cup to get your point across.

Trust me, us food service people appreciate it.

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