Why all PR pros should work as wait staff

Juggling orders and handling a customer’s overcooked steak may have more in common with your PR job than you’d think. Listen up.


One of the things my wife and I love about living in Minneapolis is that we have our regular restaurant hangouts. Our favorite is a hole-in-the-wall bowling alley that serves outstanding food and has a pretty strong beer list. We are frequent visitors for brunch on the weekends, and I host business meetings there frequently.

But besides the food and ambiance, one of the biggest reasons we love it is a waitress. We are actually bummed when we go there and she’s not working. She has our coffee before we even sit down. She knows our kids’ orders. She’s fast. She’s prompt. In short: She’s great at her job.

And being a waitress is a hard job. Ask anyone who has worked in the service industry. That’s why I think everyone in PR should work as a waiter/waitress before they enter the PR business.

Crazy?

Maybe, but here are five reasons why it’s a credible claim:

1. You’ll learn to prioritize.

One thing you’ll learn quickly while working at a restaurant is that it’s all about prioritizing. There’s a customer who needs his steak cooked a little longer. Meanwhile, a couple needs a booster seat for their kid. At the same time, a manager is on your back about a wrong order.

Waiters have to constantly prioritize, and a career in PR is no different. I don’t know about you, but each day I prioritize my to-do list at least three or four times. Some days I do it even more.

2. You’ll learn to deal with negativity.

In the service industry, dealing with customer complaints is just part of the job. You learn to deal with it gracefully.

In the PR world, we sometimes forget the “gracefully” part. We face negativity a lot, from managers, clients and colleagues. They’re all customers for us.

How do you deal with them? Your answer says a lot about who you are as a PR professional.

3. You’ll learn to think on your feet.

This is a critical skill for wait staff. How do you solve problems on the fly for your customers? If you excel at thinking on your feet, you’ll be a good waitress—and PR counselor, too.

Why?

Say you’re in a pitch meeting with a new client, and they ask a question your team didn’t anticipate. Are you ready to quickly jump in with potential answers? What if your boss pulls you into her office to brainstorm for a client who needs two new ideas in half an hour? Are you ready?

This type of quick thinking is what translates into job promotions in PR.

4. You’ll learn how to anticipate needs.

One thing I love about our waitress at the bowling alley is that she always anticipates our needs. There are two cups of coffee on the table before we even get settled. There’s oatmeal divided in half, and two pieces of toast for each of our kids instead of all four on one plate (which would inevitably lead to a huge fight). She’s great at thinking one step ahead.

In PR, thinking one step ahead of clients is key to success. You need to anticipate questions clients will ask, barriers that lie ahead, and challenges your team will face on certain projects. It can mean the difference between success and failure.

5. You’ll learn to see all sides of the customer experience.

The best waitresses see all sides of the customer experience, from the minute a customer sits down (did you take her drink order?) to the order (did she get everything she needed?) to the moment she pays the check (did you get her the right change?).

A happy customer will return, and in most cases, leave a good tip.

In PR, it’s just as important to see all sides of your client’s perspective, especially in agencies where clients usually deal with more than one person on your team. Do you all give him the same level of service? Are you all on the same page in terms of responsiveness? All of this adds up to a singular customer experience for your clients.

Arik Hanson is principal of ACH Communications. A version of this article originally ran on his blog, Communications Conversations.

Topics: PR

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