How to prepare for an advertising career: Step 1- wait on tables.

October 27, 2022 Full Contact

I’ve interviewed hundreds of people for every agency position there is: creatives, account people, strategists, producers, project managers, accountants, and interns. In practically every one of those interviews I’ve gotten around to asking the same question: have you ever waited on tables?

You’d be surprised how many people who answer “yes” know exactly why I’m asking the question. They get the parallel worlds that exist between the energizing chaos of agency life and a typical Friday or Saturday night in a restaurant. They also appreciate just how many soft skills they learned from waiting tables that could immediately be transferred into a career in advertising.

And here’s the thing: you have no idea you’re learning all those remarkable skills when you’re in the thick of it.

Between the time I graduated college with a BA in writing (“What the hell are you going to do with that?”, asked Dad) and my first job as a copywriter, I spent over five years working as a waiter. It turned out to be the ideal job at the time. It let me have my days free to work on my creative portfolio and go on interviews (lots and lots of interviews). Little did I know it would also be the ideal job for many other reasons.

Here are just a few things I either learned or learned to appreciate from being a waiter:

  • Extreme multi-tasking: there is nothing like flying around a full station of tables on a Friday night to prepare you for the barrage of wildly assorted requests, responsibilities, and assignments you will face in the agency world. And just like the agency world, the more different the requests that get thrown at you, the better you get at handling them.
  • Reading the room: everyone is feeling something at any given time. This is as true in a restaurant as it is in an ad agency as it is in life. Learning to understand the different moods, wants and needs of your customers and co-workers will go a long way in how well you treat them- and vice versa. It’s called empathy. Having this ability can work wonders for you.
  • Rising above the weeds: so many things are happening at once when a restaurant gets busy. Every order has its own deadline. Each deadline gets compounded by the more tables you have This could make for an extremely pressure packed situation for you and your co-workers, one in which it would be very easy to panic and/or lose your sh*t. It is also a terrific opportunity to prove to yourself that you can keep your head down and motor through those weeds, just like you’ll need to do in advertising.
  • The awesome power of teamwork: you will not get far in advertising without the help of your co-workers. Some of them will have different responsibilities from you, but their roles can be just as critical when it comes to you delivering at a high level. This type of synergetic relationship is remarkably similar to the busboys, bartenders, hosts and hostesses, chefs, line cooks, and food runners you need to constantly rely on to make you look great in the eyes of your customers.
  • Treating every table like a new business pitch (because it is): From the time a customer sits down to the time they leave, you are not just pitching them the menu- you are selling them on you. How much you do to create a positive and memorable impression in the short time you have with them will go a long way in determining the quality of their experience (not to mention the size of your tip). Translated to agency life, the same thing could decide whether or not you get the chance to begin a wonderfully successful client relationship.

The similarities can go on and on, but hopefully you get the point. The restaurant business is an ideal training ground for a career in advertising. And believe me it sticks with you, as does the passion so many of us still have for the whole industry. It may also explain why Full Contact has been fortunate to have so many restaurant clients throughout our history.

Something else I never would have imagined when I waited on my first 4-top all those years (okay decades) ago.

Marty Donohue
Founding Partner
Full Contact Advertising

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