20 Restaurant Skills You'll Quickly Learn on the Job (Updated)

20 Restaurant Skills You'll Quickly Learn on the Job (Updated)
AJ Beltis

By AJ Beltis

Working in a restaurant is something more than 15 million people in the United States do. It’s one of the most hands-on jobs you can have – and equips employees with an abundance of restaurant skills as a result.

Like any job, a restaurant job teaches skills and processes you can put on your resume in addition to soft skills that make you both a better worker and a more well-rounded person.

If you’re new to the industry and are wondering what experience you’ll acquire in a restaurant job, or if you’re an industry vet looking to clearly communicate your abilities and skills on a restaurant resume, read on for 20 distinct skills gained while working in a restaurant.

5 Restaurant Skills for Your Resume

When you’re applying to new restaurant job and need to outline and organize your tenure on a single resume, consider bucketing your experience into these five restaurant skill areas.

1. Health, Allergen, and Safety Training and Certifications

Cross-contamination. Spills. Undercooking. Commercial kitchen equipment safety. Food allergies. Misunderstanding one of these in a given role can be disastrous.

Many restaurant employees are either required or choose to get certified in one or more of these areas. Examples include a TIPS certification, ServSafe Allergen, or a local accredited restaurant safety course.¹ If this is something you’ve done, name the course(s) taken, the certification achieved, and/or the name of your educator/institution for added credibility.

2. Food Service, Kitchen, & Hospitality Tech

In the ever-expanding landscape of restaurant tech, employees will become skilled to some degree with a variety of different technology and software tools on the job. What those technologies are completely depends on the role, but here are a few of the more popular examples:

  • Servers and front-of-house roles tend to familiarize themselves with point-of-sale technology, scheduling software, online ordering integrations, and perhaps even reservation software.
  • Cooks and back-of-house employees tend to work with inventory management software and kitchen display technology.
  • Managers have to deal with all of the above, on top of restaurant accounting software, online review management, and others.

3. Cooking and Meal Prep

Back-of-house roles involve constant time spent hovering over a grill, standing by an oven, and diligently working magic on a cutting board. A resume for a cook or chef job should include familiarity with and specific experience in the following areas, if applicable:

  • Meal prep of specific menu items
  • Cooking specific menu items
  • Recipe card creation
  • Menu item creation and menu building

4. Taste Profiling

Restaurants are coming to realize that education is one of the best ways to engage and retain staff. For example, at Branch Line in Watertown, Massachusetts, employees not only partake in relevant industry classes – they take turns hosting them.²

These increasingly popular restaurant employee classes and programs supplement traditional training and equip employees with extensive taste profiling for different types of food and cuisine in addition to beer, wine, and spirit tasting. As a result, employees can speak knowledgeably about these topics and offer catered recommendations and pairings.

Whether it’s in a formal class or just from years of experience, most restaurant employees walk out on their last day with some heightened taste profiling experience. Even if the skill was gained in a fast food restaurant, it’s likely you’ll know more about seasoning, meat, condiments, and certain types of cooking oil than the average person.

5. Business Savvy

Restaurants offer a unique upward momentum ability, where hustle and hard work in front of the right eye can be immediately noticed and rewarded. One of the best ways to move up in the industry is through experience – as Careerbuilder.com notes, “it is common for professionals in this job to have worked their way up.”³

The more experience you have in the industry, the more likely you’ll improve on your business skills and be able to practically apply them on the job. You can approach thinking about this skill in two different ways:

  • General Experience: This pertains to less formal business training. Examples include general understanding of finance, customer satisfaction, business hierarchy, and career advancement.
  • Practical Experience: This is where things get more technical. For example – business classes or certifications, experience with restaurant open book management, or practical business projects you’ve been assigned. Basically, if your experience led to any direct changes to the business or involved a class, that’s where this skill fits in.⁴

15 'Soft' Food Service Skills [List]

In addition to the hands-on skills you gain while working in a restaurant, there are plenty of supplemental “soft” skills you’ll pick up on the job. These are skills you might not end up giving their own line item on a resume, but are valuable life skills that you’ll come to appreciate sooner or later.

If you’re just now looking to get into the restaurant workforce, make sure you brush up on these skills. At the very least, a basic comfort with all of them will be required on day one, but don’t worry – you’ll quickly get better at each of them every time you clock in.

1. Patience

We wouldn’t make you wait for this one. Patience is a crucial restaurant skill. Between rude customers, reacting to mistakes from coworkers, and long stretches of time without substantial breaks, you’ll need to be physically and emotionally patient in any restaurant job – all while maintaining a smile on your face and a welcoming disposition.

Remember, the customer is always right! Keeping your cool when things escalate ensures you won't accidentally make matters worse, and helps riled up customers save face and collect themselves.

2. Multitasking

Whether you’re prepping multiple plates in the kitchen or accommodating multiple parties at their tables, you’re never taking care of “just one thing” in your restaurant job – which is why multitasking is one of the most essential restaurant skills.

Waiters, servers, and managers alike need to juggle countless customer requests. The trick is to be dedicated to all of them without losing focus on any of them. It’s not exactly for the faint of heart, but when mastered, multitasking maximizes efficiency and productivity without detracting from the guest experience.

3. Mental Math

One of the most valuable yet unappreciated restaurant skills acquired on the job is the ability to do quick mental math. Cashiers and servers reading this sentence can probably tell you the change for a $6.78 check out of a $20 bill yields one ten, three ones, two dimes, and two pennies before someone without restaurant experience even finished reading this sentence.

Even in the back of house, workers need to routinely check orders currently being worked to ensure there aren’t too many steaks on the grill or enough chicken wings in the fryer.

And you thought you’d never use math after you finished school.

4. Communication

Communication is imperative if you want to survive working in a restaurant. There are two facets to this skill, both enormously important:

Staff Communication: The always-moving pieces in a restaurant can become even more scrambled with staff miscommunication. Servers need to know the best ways to let other servers know that a table is calling for them, on top of how to let the kitchen staff know the boy at table four has a severe soy allergy.

Meanwhile, the back of house needs to know how to let waitstaff know what’s been 86’ed to avoid an awkward conversation with the woman who is now heartbroken she can’t have the swordfish she was craving. Understanding and adhering to these best staff communication methods and channels is a key cog in smooth restaurant operations.

Guest Communication: Guests need to know they are welcome and valued, and it’s every employee’s job to ensure that truth comes across clearly. What may be seen as incidental – such as tone, facial expression, or word choice – could severely impact a guest’s experience, and restaurant employees need to respect and appreciate that.

5. Attention to Detail

It’s your job to know the customer who left her plate almost completely untouched likely found something unsatisfactory about her meal and to ask her if there’s anything you can do. It’s your job to ask the waiter if he made a mistake when he added peppers to the hamburger order when you’re pretty sure he meant pickles.

Triple checking orders, not forgetting to send that extra request to the kitchen, adding that final garnish every time before it’s ingrained in your muscle memory – it’s all part of the job.

6. Speed

Not only does efficient service make guests happy, it also increases a restaurant’s table turnover time – meaning the restaurant can serve even more guests every shift.⁵

The trick to mastering this restaurant skill is to be speedy without being pushy. Preparing a guest’s plate too fast means the appearance and quality of the meal could be jeopardized. Showing up immediately to a guests’ table and asking what they want comes off as pushy. Find that sweet spot between aggressive and lackadaisical and you’ve found the restaurant speed sweet spot.

7. Kindness

Unless you’re working at Dick’s Last Resort, being kind to your customers is an asset at any restaurant job–or any service industry job for that matter.⁶

Obviously, if guests are being intentionally obnoxious, rude, or confrontational, that’s reason to involve management to try to diffuse the situation. But in all other cases, a positive vocal inflection, a smiling face, and a helpful and guest-first attitude will get you far in this industry.

8. Listening

There’s a lot of noise in a restaurant, but this doesn’t negate the need for active listening.

All restaurant employees need to listen to guests during their visits, but there’s more to it than that. Anyone with decision making power in a restaurant needs to listen to guest feedback, reviews, and employees to ensure the business runs smoothly and continues to grow. Servers and cooks need to listen to feedback from their managers to ensure they’re doing their jobs well and to know where they can improve.

9. Trust

In this industry, success on the job is largely dependent on others. Back of house needs to trust the front of house to send the right orders and clarify modifications. Front of house needs to trust back of house to consistently make delicious meals without mistakes. Management needs to trust everyone to take their work seriously to keep the operation of the business flowing.

The key here is to always assume positive intent. If something seems off about a coworker who doesn’t seem to be on his or her A-game, maybe it’s a personal problem rather than laziness. In turn, if something is affecting your work performance, you should be able to trust your manager enough to explain what’s happening so you don’t come off as unfocused on uninterested.

10. Stress Management

Anyone who has worked for an hour in a restaurant knows how stressful it can get. A shift can quickly escalate from a slow night to a line out the door with no warning, and you need to be able to smile and deliver exceptional results either way.

Being able to keep your composure and offer outstanding service no matter the circumstances helps develop the crucial skill of stress management. Without it, you won’t last two seconds in a restaurant job.

11. Physical Endurance

Believe it or not, there are more than 2 million search results on Google for the term “bartender injuries.”

That’s because bartenders – like all restaurant employees – are on their feet for extended periods of time and are constantly working with their hands. Restaurant work is more physically demanding than one might expect, so stamina and endurance are key.

12. Cleanliness

My time in a restaurant has taught me one simple fact: there’s always something to clean. Cleanliness impacts both presentation and safety in a restaurant, and is thus one of the skills that will most impact the customer experience.

Dishes, tables, surfaces, boards, grills – you name it. Working in a restaurant requires being able to identify when something needs to be clean and, depending on your role, knowing how to clean it well yourself.

13. Mentorship

With a constant rotation of new faces in and out of the industry, there’s always an opportunity for a seasoned pro to show the ropes to a newbie.

Mentorship is one of the most rewarding parts of any job. A mentorship role in a restaurant – official or unofficial – can quickly lend itself as a qualification for a restaurant manager or team trainer position. It’s also personally rewarding and makes employees who take the role on more accountable, responsible, and invested in the team.

14. Memorization

Over the months or years you spend working at a restaurant, you start to acquire a memorized list of everything on the menu and all of the ingredients they contain – which comes in handy for questions about food allergies, drink pairings, and substitution ideas.

On a micro level, you’ll also need to memorize the little details about orders you’re sending or preparing, and custom asks from guests that you didn’t have the chance to write down.

15. Teamwork

Working in a restaurant builds a unique, family style, collaborative dynamic between you and your coworkers. With an open mind and a great group of professionals, this results in a solid understanding of and appreciation for teamwork.

Bringing this skill to any restaurant will be more than welcome. Positive teamwork builds strong camaraderie and leaves more staff members satisfied – which can help lengthen the less than two month average tenure of a restaurant employee and lower replacement costs.

Hard Work and Experience Builds Your Skills

Despite the fact that millions of people call a restaurant their place of work, the restaurant workforce suffers from a notoriously high turnover rate and oftentimes low levels of specialization and training.

Those who take it upon themselves to learn and develop new restaurant skills are those that stand out in the vast sea of restaurant workers and enjoy a long, happy, successful career in the food services industry.


Sources:

  1. TIPS Alcohol Training, ServSafe Training
  2. Branch Line Employees Pop Up With New Coffee and Wine Bars
  3. Restaurant Manager Career Spotlight
  4. 4 Perks of Open-Book Management for Restaurants
  5. Ways Your Restaurant Can Maximize Table Turnover and Boost Revenue
  6. How Dick’s Last Resort Is Bringing Back Bawdy in 2019

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AJ Beltis
AJ Beltis

AJ Beltis is a freelance writer with almost a decade of experience in the restaurant industry. He currently works as a content specialist at HubSpot, and previously as a blogger at Toast.