“Have you tried the chicken?”: What the restaurant industry has taught me

I wasn’t quite sure what I’d be getting myself into when I looked at Boston Chef job postings that late, sad November night in Mugar Memorial Library (sad, I should say, because I was up studying). I needed a job, that much was true. I couldn’t work at my internship anymore because my schedule conflicted with the time I needed to spend at my college newspaper. I was sad to leave as I’d worked there since May and had developed great friendships and connections there.

Walking to the South End twice a week had become one of my favorite things to do in the city, so when I saw a hostess job opening at a restaurant near my old internship office, I decided, why not? My mother had raved about their pink peppercorn ice cream (which I came to learn hasn’t been on the menu for about 15 years) and the chef’s famous chicken since I could remember. I sent an email off with my resume and didn’t think about it again.

Two days later, I got a phone call (while at my internship, no less). “Hi, this is Alyson from the bistro. We got your resume.” They asked me to come in and I said I would.

My friend Margel, queen of the restaurant business with experience in waitressing, hostessing and cocktailing, coached me on what to say. “Be as friendly and charming as possible,” she said. “It’s all about politeness and about accommodating guests.”

Lo and behold, she was right, and I got the job. I had left the restaurant feeling good about the interview but unsure I’d get the position as I had no fine dining experience. What could they want out of a girl who had spent half her high school career elbow-deep in Kimball Farm ice cream? But, I was wrong, and thus began my first foray into the world of fine dining.

Since I’ve started working there, I’ve learned a few things about not only the restaurant business, but about life. One, it never hurts to be nice to everyone. Why wouldn’t you be nice? Every time I drop off a dish at the dishwashing station I yell “thank you!” to all the boys behind the drying racks. Confused “you’re welcome…?”s morphed into “you’re welcome sweetheart!”s pretty quickly. Two, it’s easier than you’d think to make connections with people. The owner and I struck up a conversation about journalism and, more specifically, have bonded over the events of the James “Whitey” Bulger trial, as he remembers Boston during Whitey’s reign of terror. Three, you can learn a lot about life by just listening to people. Sure, journalism has taught me that too, but there’s something to be said about bouncing ideas off people you don’t have all that much in common with. I can talk to my father or mother about an idea until I’m blue in the face but sometimes it’s nice to get new perspective from an objective party. Last night, I debated the pros and cons of pursuing a public relations internship instead of a journalism internship next summer with my general manager who gave me some really great advice. Lastly, I’ve learned just how valuable my sense of humor is. If I was unable to find the humor in every situation, I would have wilted months ago: customers can be brutal.

All in all, it’s been a fantastic place to work and I’ve had a pretty great experience so far. If I was 21, I’d toast a nice glass of rosé out on the patio to that.

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