Why Everyone Should Wait Tables When They’re Young

Have you ever waited tables or worked behind the counter in a restaurant? Millions of your peers have, for sure. Restaurant jobs are among the easiest for young people, who don’t mind working irregular hours and have few marketable skills, to get and keep. In some circles, working in restaurants on school breaks, or year-round to fund extracurricular activities, is a rite of passage for high school and college students.

For various reasons, the youth labor force participation rate is steadily falling: It’s below 50 percent overall, by some measures, and higher in disadvantaged urban and rural communities. This deficit erodes students’ “soft skills” and work experience, threatening their long-term employability — even after they’ve obtained advanced certifications or degrees. It also threatens to accelerate the drive toward increased automation in low-skill industries — a trend that would likely occur independently of employment patterns, but is nevertheless exacerbated by a lack of youngsters willing to work long hours for peanuts.

All this is to say that youth employment is absolutely critical for America’s future. It’s also important for our young people. Working in restaurants is a great “trial run” for aspiring professionals, no matter what careers they ultimately decide to pursue. Let’s take a look at some of the top benefits of youth restaurant employment: why everyone should work in a restaurant at least once before they age into more productive forms of employment.


  • Character-Building. Restaurant gigs involve repetitive tasks that need to be completed on tight deadlines. To ensure that their clocks run on time, managers tend to watch employees closely: the proverbial micromanagement approach. Dealing with picky, overly attentive managers builds character and resolve.
  • Cool Under Pressure. Most restaurants have rush periods. Some are predictable, some not so much. Both types need to be addressed, stat. Dropping lower-value tasks to put out fires elsewhere teaches youngsters the value of prioritization and teamwork — critical skills in any workplace.
  • Go Along to Get Along. Restaurant staffs are diverse and personality-driven. Workers who don’t get along well with their peers tend not to last long. Mastering the art of getting along is invaluable, no matter what the future holds.

Is There Any Hope for Aspiring Restaurant Workers?

Long-term employment trends don’t look favorable for young restaurant workers — or for any low-skill employees, for that matter. Once thought automation-proof, restaurant jobs are increasingly vulnerable to efficiencies that boost productivity (and profit) for managers and owners while squeezing hourly wage earners (or eliminating their jobs entirely).

What’s more, cracks are beginning to appear in the foundations of America’s tipping regime, which has always been unusual in the developed world and which faces increasing pressure from fair-wage activists who argue that restaurant staff should be paid under a more generous, flatter wage scale that eschews tips in favor of living wages. This might be good news in the short term, but it could well end up backfiring — saddling workers with wages that don’t rise with inflation, and removing the opportunity to earn a few extra bucks per hour through tips.

Still, the potentially grim outlook shouldn’t stop ambitious youngsters from walking into their local eateries and asking to speak to the manager. Restaurant jobs and other customer service positions are great for building character and instilling the discipline and professional expectations necessary for workplace success. Parents, take note.


Scott Vollero is an international entrepreneur and expert in the precious metals and automotive parts recycling industries.