7 Unexpected Lessons from Working in the Service Industry

I’ve been working in the service industry for about a year now, and just from the past year, I’ve had some pretty odd tales from the front desk of my hotel. Looking back, I have worked in the service industry for a total of about 8 years with my jobs combined. I’ve worked at a YMCA, my college campus Department of Recreation (in Operations and Customer Service), and other jobs working with the public up until now at a hotel. I’ve learned some valuable life lessons from working with people in these different capacities that I can use in my daily life and in my career.

As a consumer, you interact with people in service industry jobs on a daily basis. Think about it. The person who checked you out at the grocery store, your daily coffee run, the person who helped you get in your dressing room, the person that gave you keys to your hotel room on your past business trip– All of those people were there to serve you, as the consumer.

As someone who has been there, experienced that, I fully believe that everyone should be required to work in the service/retail/hospitality industry at least once in their lives. Why? Because it’s humbling.


#1) It will make you more appreciative for those who serve you in your daily life.giphy


Do you thank the person that took your coffee order? How much do you usually tip for services? Are you the person that looks for something to be wrong with your order? How do you handle that situation?

Whether its the waitress taking your order at your local restaurant, the front desk agent helping you at your hotel, or even a cashier at the grocery store– All of those individuals are working very hard for their money by serving you. Having worked in the service industry, I try my very best to treat all of these individuals like me with respect and courtesy. Even when I am unhappy, but they are trying their hardest to make sure my experience is great, I take that into account. Most customers don’t realize that many mistakes or discrepancies come from somewhere out of the front-line staff’s control. It is their job to handle the brunt of your anger or disappointment, but keep in mind these are people working their hardest (usually for minimum wage) to serve you up a stellar experience.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 75% of the minimum wage workforce are adults 20 years and older who are working to support families. That’s crazy!



Most 9-5ers who have not worked a service job have also never experienced what its like to be standing for 8+ hours a day without a break. Standing is especially exhausting between the extravagant guests and customers’ requests, handling complaints, and constantly providing a positive guest experience. Some days after a long shift, I will just curl up in bed and not be on my feet. Heaven on Earth right there for a service industry worker!  

#2) You will interact with many different different types of people from every background and culture that you may not normally encounter in your personal life or career.

In general, humans will interact with people of the same general socioeconomic background in our personal lives and careers. That is, unless you work a service industry job.

When you enter a job such as retail or hospitality, you will meet many different types of people because everyone needs to eventually get groceries, run errands, shop, etc. At my hotel, we have many different types of people from the white collar business travelers, the multi-level marketers of Salt Lake City, to the foreign travelers from Europe, China, Japan, and India, and even families on vacations from neighboring states. These populations don’t all share the same culture, values, or behaviors. Naturally, “common courtesy” doesn’t always mean the same thing in all cultures either. I’ve found that certain cultures tend to be more abrupt in their conversations than others. Some travelers like making conversations, while others seem disinterested. You will come across all these extremes, and learn how to adapt to their differences quickly.

#3) You will inevitably grow a backbone.anigif_enhanced-buzz-32288-1391967447-8


Piggybacking off my previous point, not all people will be polite or nice to you. Even if they are from the same city or state or country as you, manners will vary from one family to the next. In an industry where the service staff is generally under-appreciated, you will learn that some people are just plain rude. My tactic to deal with this is just to let it roll off my back. I can’t take every comment personally, because 90% of the time, the person either 1) doesn’t know they offended you, or 2) just doesn’t care about your feelings as a person. Sad, but true. This is extremely frustrating at times, but when people are nice, you just appreciate that so much more! 🙂

#4) You will learn how to read a person’s true character.

Have you heard the phrase that “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person.”?



According to this USA Today Article which touches on this phrase mentions that:

The CEO who came up with it, or at least first wrote it down, is Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson. He wrote a booklet of 33 short leadership observations called Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management. Raytheon has given away 250,000 of the books. Among those 33 rules [the rule mentioned] is the only one that Swanson says never fails.

Another nugget of advice Swanson has?

“Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with,” […] “Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.”

Sounds pretty accurate to me, especially the last part. Your true character shows when you’re interacting with someone such as the waitstaff, flight attendant, front desk agent, or cashier. We (the service industry staff) can see right through you if you’re not a nice person, and we do take stock of that.

#5) You will come to appreciate a “normal work schedule”, your time off with your family, and a schedule that fits others’ schedules in your life.

One of my biggest struggles of working in the service industry is the weird work schedule. In a hotel, a typical front desk shift is either 7am-3pm or 3pm-11pm (with night audit being 11pm-7am). Hotels are a 24/7 industry, so holidays, weekends, and evenings are almost always a given too. When you have a significant other that works a “normal” 9-5 schedule like me, finding time to spend time together can be a challenge. It really does make you appreciate your time off with your loved ones. Or getting a weekend off in general. Or two days off in a row. I’ve worked early mornings, nights, weekends, and holidays since I entered the workforce in my first job at the YMCA. I have come to appreciate the meaning of a weekend.

#6) You will learn to think on your feet and multi-task.giphy-1


In hotels and restaurants especially, there will always be many activities going on at once that all need to be taken care of ASAP. Working in a fast-paced environment will force you to learn to manage your time, learn to multi-task, and maintain a positive experience for your customers and guests. There will always be issues and unhappy guests that need an answer or solution right now. And guess what? Tomorrow will be a different set of issues that are just as urgent. In the service industry, you learn to roll with the punches!

#7) It is humbling.318843_10151944080330072_583593121_n

My last, but most important, point is that working in the service industry is humbling. You learn so much about people, those that you interact with at your favorite businesses, and the true meaning of customer service. I really appreciate awesome customer service after all these years. I make sure I tip my waitstaff, my baristas, my bartenders, my drivers. Remember that anyone providing a service to you is doing just that– a service.

Have you ever seen the show Undercover Boss? Well, it’s on CBS (and Netflix), and it’s awesome. The premise is that the CEOs (or any executives within the company) go “undercover” and work various jobs at their company. The jobs they work are the bottom of the totem pole– the front line staff, factory workers, delivery drivers, etc.– and they work physically and/or mentally grueling jobs that they are truly not paid enough to do. The CEOs usually discover star employees who are giving their all at the company to provide an excellent experience to their customers, and at the same time working long hours to make ends to meet at home. Spoilers…Usually, the boss will give these star employees who are working incredibly hard despite difficult circumstances or low pay either a raise/promotion, money for their families for a vacation, college tuition, etc. The ends of these episodes make me cry (happy, mushy-feeling tears) more often than I’d like to admit. 🙂 This show is great at taking a look behind the scenes at typical situations that people in hourly jobs in the food service or hospitality industry encounter on a daily basis.


I’ve found working the service industry to be extremely helpful as a deeper understanding of the public. It’s not easy, I will not sugarcoat it. But it is eye-opening. Regardless of your background, perhaps on your way to your dream career, take a walk on the opposite side of the counter and see what others experience as they serve you.

Have you ever worked in retail, food service, or hospitality? What are the life lessons you’ve learned from your experiences? Did I forget anything?