Headshot of Jessica Motley

Serving and Studying: Working Part-Time in the Food Industry

Hello and a warm welcome to this new academic year from the Careers Service.

If you’re looking for a part-time job, today’s student guest blog post is a must read! Jessica Motley, one of our recent Careers Service Equality, Diversity and Inclusion interns, shares her experience of working as a waitress in a busy Edinburgh restaurant. Jessica also reflects on the skills she developed.

Over to Jessica…

As an American international student entering the fourth year of her law degree, participating in several societies and engaging in yearly internships, such as my role as an Equality, Diversity, Inclusion Support and Research Intern with the University’s Careers Service, I did not believe that I would ever find the time to complete part-time work while at university. However, since I went from eleven required classes in second year of my law degree to only four classes in my third year, I discovered some free time that I decided to fill with a part-time job.

To find part-time positions, I used platforms such as MyCareerHub, Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) Jobs, and Indeed.com. I often looked to the signs in store fronts to see if they were hiring (especially those near my flat for smaller commute times!) and if there was a chain I was interested to work for (i.e. Nando’s, Boots, Primark etc.) I would visit their website directly to check vacancies. I did not intend to end up in the food industry: in all honesty I was applying to every customer service-based job that was hiring, but I have found that securing a role as a waitress has been incredibly beneficial for me.

As a waitress I had more duties and responsibilities than I previously realised such a role entailed. For instance, from passing a test to receive a food handler’s licence, through to learning the opening and closing restaurant routines, I was also tasked with food prep, making drinks, hosting, taking orders, delivering food, packing takeaway orders and a lot of cleaning. I soon realised that all these responsibilities centred on providing an exceptional customer service experience; an ideal that I practised during all my shifts, which were scheduled 5pm to closing every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

There are so many little skills that I learnt from this position: proper knife etiquette, how to make different coffees, the proper way to carry a full drinks tray without toppling them everywhere, how to work as a cohesive front of house team and the positive effect of a smile. However, two skills stand out which will benefit my future careers:

  • The first is my increased memorisation skills.

Upon starting my position, I realised that I would quickly have to memorise table numbers, menu item numbers, and the orders of all the customers I was serving. Despite believing that I could not reach such a lofty memorisation goal, I realised gradually that it was attainable. Within three months, I could answer questions about what any one customer had ordered amongst the nine tables (28 customers) that I waited on. I could tell how long customers had been waiting, what dishes they had received, and what dishes they were still waiting on, while also having memorised all the dish and table numbers. I fully believe that my short and long-term memory have never been stronger than they are now thanks to this position.

  • The second is admitting to and learning from my mistakes.

Whether it was accidentally pouring a tub of mango puree on myself, ordering the wrong main for a customer, or dropping a drink on my way to a table, I quickly had to become comfortable with admitting my mistakes and asking others for help. In a fast-paced environment like a restaurant, there is no time to cover up or deflect issues that have occurred, you must face them head on and immediately so you can continue giving an excellent restaurant experience. As a people-pleaser, it was good for me to learn that admitting mistakes and asking for help will not cause others to look down on or be disappointed in me. In fact, it often garnered more respect, and I could take what I had learnt and assist others when they made the same mistakes.

Parting advice…

From my time waitressing, I think there are a few things that other students should keep in mind while looking for part-time work:

  • The first is the management and work environment that you are entering. I was quite lucky to work for a restaurant that was student friendly and prioritised my student schedule over my work schedule. Finding an accommodating environment is important to healthily complete part-time work alongside studies.
  • I would also say don’t give up! As a student, it can be disheartening not to hear back from applications or to feel embarrassed when you do not know “basic skills” like how to make an espresso. If you are willing to persevere through the recruitment and training processes, ultimately the right job and position will find you. Be patient and trust in yourself as you go forward with this process.

Thanks Jessica for highlighting that part-time work is a great way to expand your skill set.

The Careers Service can support you with looking for part-time work:

  • Have a read of our advice on “Where to look for part-time and vacation jobs”.
  • Discover Careers, a drop-in exhibition style event, is being held on Tuesday 27th September – Thursday 29th September 2022 to help you get thinking about all things careers, jobs and employability. Read about the event, and what to expect on our website. If you’re looking for part-time work, you’ll find inspiration within this event.
  • We are also running sessions on “Finding part-time jobs” throughout semester one. Find out more about these sessions and how to book in our Career Essentials guide.

We’ll be publishing more blog posts from Jessica over the next few months – look out for these on Inform.ed!


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