How to Succeed as a Restaurant Employee: Experts Weigh In On Top Employee Qualities

How to Succeed as a Restaurant Employee: Experts Weigh In On Top Employee Qualities
D. J. Costantino

By D. J. Costantino

As the restaurant industry is going through a period of rapid change, it can be hard to keep up. The traditional back-of-house and front-of-house roles are a relic of the past. Servers have become sanitation experts. Gone from dropping plates to packing to go boxes, carrying bags up the arm instead of dishes. Chefs have had to become food packing experts. Managers are making deliveries. The constantly shifting restaurant industry can cause some uncertainty. But it can also create a lot of opportunities for growth and success in your restaurant role. We talked to five experts about what that means.

But there are qualities that every restaurant employee must embody to be successful in their careers. We asked five experts what they think are the most important qualities.

Qualities of A Successful Restaurant Employee

Know What You Want Out of a Role—and What to Look For

Before you can understand what qualities and skills you need to succeed as a restaurant employee, you must first decide what success means for you.

“Success as a restaurant employee depends on how you choose to define what success means. Perhaps it means getting up to speed quickly. Maybe success means learning new skills and demonstrating your ability to lead. Success can also mean asking for that promotion or applying for the server position when it opens up. My advice is to communicate with your manager about what success looks like for you. Make success a conversation. The best way to ensure you will succeed is to identify your goal and then run toward it!” says Rachael Nemeth, CEO, Co-founder of Opus Training.

If you're an employee who's unsure about what you want, seek out other members of your team with different roles. Larger organizations with multiple locations have positions in different departments that require all kinds of skills sets such as operations, HR, and more. Single-unit restaurants often have team members wearing different hats, so opportunities to do things that interest you are abound. There are so many opportunities for advancement in the hospitality industry—chat with management and other teammates to learn and discover what success means to you.

Stay Hungry

Every great restaurant employee is hungry—and not for food. You can do the same thing day-in and day-out, but there's no progression on that treadmill. It's essential that restaurant employees are always looking for new opportunities to learn and grow.

“At Fuku, our high-performing employees are hungry...They have an appetite for learning our processes and contribute to the ongoing feedback culture. All we ask is for our employees to arrive to work hungry every day. If they do that, Fuku will provide a satisfying feast of fried chicken and professional development to take their career to the next level” says Frank Palmieri, Senior People Operations Manager at Fuku.

Hunger is also reflected in the values at Hopdoddy Burger Bar.

“For us, successful team members are able to showcase their authentic individuality while following Hopdoddy core values. Potential leaders are simply those who have an extra dose of those qualities and a drive to do more. For example, one of our core values is “have the hunger.” Great team members always strive to learn more and better themselves. Great leaders strive to teach more and bring the best out of others,” says Kelly McCutcheon, Vice President of People at Hopdoddy Burger Bar.

If you're stuck, here are a few ways to make sure you're always “hungry” and demonstrating drive.

  • Ask your teammates for feedback (and implement it!)
  • Look to other team members to see what you can learn
  • Be willing to teach others—even those with ranks higher than you
  • Learn processes inside and out and look for ways to improve them

Be A Team Player

You can't succeed alone—nobody can. No matter your definition of success, lifting those around you will be a part of it.

“I think the first thing you have to look for in a team member is do they match your company values. We have 4 so we keep it simple: Family, Greatness, Energy and Fun. If a team member comes in and gives us answers and actions that emulate these values then generally they work out really well. In our environment we look for people with a sense of urgency, a great smile (we have an open line so we look at people who can still interact even when making sandwiches), and the ability to be flexible. When we look for future leaders - again the values always play into it but we are looking for those folks who love the people they lead as opposed to loving themselves as a manager! We take care of and engage with our family and we want people who have a passion to develop others.” says John Isbell, VP of Learning & Development for Portillo's Hot Dogs.

A restaurant is nothing without an amazing team behind it, and you can't have a great team if even just one person is acting selfishly. And sometimes it's not always intentional. It can be easy to become siloed in your role, just focused on getting your tasks done and getting out. Sometimes, that's ok, and it's what you need to do. But if it becomes the norm, you'll quickly find yourself stuck and not contributing to your team. You also won't be doing anything to advance your career in the process.

To avoid this, spend some time chatting with team members in other parts of the restaurant or on other shift schedules. If you're on a rotating shift schedule, this is the perfect time to learn from others you don't always get to work with. Ask them what they are struggling with, and be open about what's giving you trouble. You may be surprised to find ways that you can support them, and how they can help you, too. Everyone has that thing they need a little help with.

Closing Thoughts: How to Succeed as a Restaurant Employee

The restaurant industry is constantly changing, and old ways of doing things are becoming relics of the past. As you navigate your career, make sure that you take the appropriate steps to define what success looks like for you—and what you need to get there. But perhaps the most important thing is to choose a workplace where your contributions are valued.

“Make sure that you are dedicating your time for somebody who is truly appreciative of it” says Ken McGarrie, Author of The Surprise Restaurant Manager.

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D. J. Costantino
D. J. Costantino

Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!