Dec 9, 2014
Goucher CDO
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Article on Transferable Skills

What Being a Waiter Taught me About Customer Service

By Alejandro Zendejas, Customer Service Representative at BSI Financial Services Inc

After I graduated from Georgetown, I had been applying and interviewing for full-time employment while working a summer job for the university as a student security guard. My contract was ending in the beginning of August, and luckily, a friend of mine that worked at a local Mexican restaurant referred me to the management to become a waiter. Despite only doing the job to earn money for survival and to extend my stay in Washington, DC, until I found a full time job, I learned numerous customer service concepts and absorbed fundamental interpersonal skills that helped me land my current job as a Customer Service Representative at a mortgage servicer.


At Georgetown, I decided not to go through a conservative, secure path of obtaining a job in finance, consulting, law, sales, or education through the Career Center. I did not see myself working in any of those locations after graduation because my desire was to attain a job at a non-profit that dealt with foreign affairs and international development as well as the federal government. These positions are extremely difficult to obtain in Washington, DC, since the openings are extremely scarce and the competition is fierce. As I felt my time was running out, I decided to seize the only opportunity available to mostly support myself through the month of August while crashing at my friend’s apartment.

Without any previous background in retail or hospitality, the owners of the restaurant and the management decided to bring me in. I did not know the nuances of waiting tables until I began my training, shadowing veteran servers and practicing carrying the drink tray with one hand. I was reticent, observing my fellow waiters, and asking any question I could think of, whether it seemed stupid, redundant, or ingenious. In my first actual shifts, I made mistakes that irked the kitchen crew; however, the management was receptive and helped me whenever I faltered. The other waiters advised me and provided pointers in improving the quality of my service. When I began to work more shifts, including weekends, the owners’ perception changed after they witnessed my progress and positive reviews began coming in. Ever since then, I would always refer to a more seasoned waiter or the management for all my work concerns. Furthermore, I valued everyone in the restaurant because they took part in my development.

Now, I am in a similar position at my current job. I became hired with the basic idea of what caused our economy to collapse and virtually no knowledge of the mortgage industry. I was educated on laws regulating creditors, absorbed terminology inside the mortgage business, and learned proper phone etiquette when dealing with borrowers. I am still stumbling, but in this job, like waiting tables, one can only excel through repetition. My manager is extremely helpful and my co-workers do not hold back in correcting me. I see myself as a member of a team focused on maintaining borrowers current and assisting them on their homeowner goals. I demonstrate deference to my co-workers because they have been in the business longer.


In all restaurants, a waiter’s principal duty is to be a messenger between the kitchen crew and the customers. If a customer’s order is wrong, the waiter will always bear the brunt of his inattentiveness from the patrons. For that reason, waiters must be active listeners, taking notes and paraphrasing what the customer said to ensure that every detail is remembered. Additionally, a waiter must remain proactive, gathering information to be aware of the situation at the tables. Checking up on your customers once in a while is important because it makes them feel valued. Showing up at your table and asking a simple question such as, “How’s everything going?” without being overbearing will inform you of the actions you need to take to satisfy their present wants. These desires can range from refilling their drinks, to serving more of a complimentary appetizer, and providing recommendations on dishes to order.

In the end, it comes down to effective communication between a representative and a customer. At my job, I apply these skills whenever I receive a call from one of my customers in my pipeline. During a conversation with a customer, I always ask what I can help them with, taking notes while talking, and try to give an answer. On the other hand, I make outbound calls to check on the borrower to see if he is able to make payments, remind him of an upcoming due date, ask if they need any loss mitigation assistance, and request missing documentation. Through iteration, rapport is established, and the flow of information between a server and a customer remains open and honest.


In customer service, multitasking becomes second nature. Waiters are the masters of this skill due to the circumstances of the profession. In a restaurant, waiters need to execute by timing their actions, remember the serving process, and handle the pressure from customers.

Timing is crucial for ensuring a quality dining experience for the patrons. After customers arrive and are seated, few minutes exist that a waiter has to make an introduction and begin serving. Once the waiter introduces himself, he must return with water and an appetizer (depends on the venue) and inquire if the customers are ready to order. As soon as the order is complete, a waiter must instantly register the beverages and entrées correctly and deliver the drinks within a short period of time so the customers have something to sip on while waiting for their meal. Timing forces a waiter to be conscious of when his last activity with the customer was, which will give him space to manage other tables or complete additional tasks.

Alongside timing, remembering the process of taking an order is significant since it allows a systematic progression of tasks. At some restaurants, customers are numbered based on where they are sitting. Waiters must take note of each customer’s number so they can know from which person the ordering should begin. Another aspect of the serving process, which is imperative for waiters, is checking for IDs right after drinks are ordered. Some jurisdictions send undercover cops to penalize restaurants whose staff does not follow the law. Subsequently, handling food and beverages is tantamount to keeping utensils sanitary. When placing drinks and food on the tables, waiters must be cognizant of the way they are holding the plate or the glass. At the end of the meal, waiters should ask if the patrons want anything else, and the answer will lead to a dessert or the check. If the customer wants the check, a waiter should permit the table to see the cost. The instant that the checkbook is placed on a table with the type of payment, the waiter must take heed to special instructions, charge the payment amount, and return the book soon thereafter. Even though the patrons are finished, a waiter cannot take the checkbook until they leave the table. By remembering the nuances of any process, tasks will flow more smoothly.

Lastly, pressure from customers will pervade the restaurant. Every customer wants to be treated like he or she is special. Each one will have different preferences in their orders or requests and varying degrees of patience in receiving what they want. Regardless of the situation, a customer is always right. A waiter must own up to any mistake committed and assure the customer that measures will be taken to remedy it. Customers are constantly a priority, and an excellent waiter will always remember that.

These three items relate to being a customer service representative because a person in this position is the first one a customer will encounter on the phone. When I receive an inbound call, I have to answer the phone within three rings. After answering, I have to verify the borrower and give them the disclosure as mandated by law for debt collectors (even in my outbound calls) as part of the call process. During my phone conversation, I must have the borrower’s account information in front of my screen to be prepared to answer any question that the customer faces. If I need to put the customer on hold in order to do research, I cannot leave him waiting past five minutes. As the conversation reaches its end, I ask if there is anything else, and then, I finish with a thank you. Before going for my next call, I always record the call by writing notes of the important aspects of the conversation. In the event that a borrower cannot reach me, I tell the borrower in our parley to leave a voicemail and give me up to 48 hours to return his call. If a mistake happens, the representative must call and inform the borrower of the error and apologize. A customer service representative is the first line of response in any company, and must be mindful of his behavior and the person on the other side of the line.

Focus on Customer

Nevertheless, customers are people, human beings, just like us with feelings, cravings, and wishes. While being a waiter or a customer service representative, it is imperative to recognize this element in order to build patience. The one thing I have learned in both jobs is that we, as humans, influence others based on our own feelings. If a customer is having a bad day, a representative’s cheerfulness or friendliness can ease any worry. Conversely, some circumstances may be too difficult to overcome such as the fear of losing a home. In that case, you as the representative should demonstrate empathy as the customer tells his story to let him know that you care.

While speaking with any customer, anyone in the service industry must follow the Golden Rule. Treating everyone with the equal and utmost respect as you conduct business will eventually lead your customers to respect you. Your reputation will improve with the person as well as the company’s because you are the face of the company that people see or interact with. By doing an outstanding job and respecting customers, the company’s ratings and reviews improve, which will then cause potential clients to hold the firm in high regard.

Being a waiter checked my pride and curbed my entitlement I had received from graduating from the most prestigious university in DC. It made me realize that everybody has to start somewhere before reaching a desired job. When an opportunity came to interview to be a customer service representative, I decided to try it out just like I did as a waiter. Working in both positions has showered upon me greater appreciation for any individual providing a service to a customer. Notwithstanding that my current job at a mortgage servicer is simply a stepping stone for my career, I have gained negotiation skills, learned how to build trust with people, become more responsive to concerns as well as inquiries, and taken home-ownership knowledge that will help me in my adult life.

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