10 Things I Learned from Working in the Service Industry

I’ve spent about 10 years working on and off in the service industry (7 years as a Valet, 2-3 years Pizza delivery, 3 weeks Car washer, 1 Summer Promotions, etc). While some of the jobs have been horrible, others were actually enjoyable and didn’t pay that bad for the time. But no matter which job I had in the service industry, I was always learning about people and their weird behaviors.

10. No One Cares

I’ll get fired if you leave your car here. You’ll have to move it.” I told a woman that who wanted to go back into the restaurant for a few more hours at the end of the night. I left to bring back a car, she left her car there. The next day I got fired. People generally don’t care what your problems are. They just want their needs met.

9. Wealth does not equal generosity

Most times the guy with the Jaguar was likely to tip just as much as the mom in the Dodge Caravan. There is no correlation between wealth and generosity. Those who are wealthy and generous, will tip heavily. But there were plenty of rich people who tipped nothing and other people with cars that barely turned on who tipped generously.

8.Life and work is what you make of it.

The working conditions were often horrible (mostly in the Minnesota winter) and sometimes boring (4 hours of downtime at a wedding). But work was almost always fun because we made it fun. We invented games like seeing who could kick their gum the farthest.

7. Actions matter not, words.

“I’ll hit you on the way out,” is said by a lot of people who don’t tip. People who only say “Thank you” or “I’m sorry I don’t have any cash on me.” aren’t that thankful or that sorry. If they were, they would get money from the ATM inside the restaurant. If “Sorry’s” were money, I’d be the richest valet alive. At the end of the day no one cares what you say, it’s what you actually did that matters.

6. People have little self-awareness

I’m sorry you have to deal with that.” is something we’d frequently hear from customers who witnessed an outburst from another customer. People were rarely aware of how others were perceiving them. Customers would yell and scream over trivial matters while looking insane to others. Rude people rarely know that they’re rude. Likely because they see themselves as victims.

5. People can justify anything by claiming to be a victim

People will do things that they normally wouldn’t do if they believe they are a victim (whether it’s true or not). If they feel the company is being unfair to them, either through bad scheduling or little pay, they won’t have any guilt about taking a little money from the til or under reporting cars parked.

4. People are weird

I’ve seen a lot of weird people and seen a lot of crazy things happen. If you spend enough time in any major city, you’re probably well aware of this, but the more you get to know people and their quirks, the more weird you realize we all are. This is why I think Seth Godin’s We Are All Weird is quietly brilliant.

3. Most people are predictable

The person who says “Keep the car up front. I’ll make it worth it.” never will. People would repeat the same 5 jokes when I worked as a valet. When I cleaned cars at the State Fair, people would repeat the same 3 jokes. 99% of people who would tip $1 would fold the dollar bill up so it looked like more. Most behavior was predictable.

2. Employees will stay longer at a bad company if there is great comradery

At one of the companies I worked for, almost every employee hated management, with good reason too. But despite loathing the managers, they stayed at the company because they loved the other coworkers and enjoyed their job. There is also a bonding aspect to shared suffering. Though, don’t think this is something you can abuse. If employees like their job, but hate management, they will eventually leave. It will just take them a little bit longer. Eventually the people I worked with all left their job at once and took a few accounts with them.

1. Stories Spread

Everyone in the industry has 1,000 stories to tell–from crazy customers to weird things employees did. Good stories spread. That’s more than I learned from my marketing degree. If something interesting happened one night, it wouldn’t be long before everyone else had heard about it. This is also the quickest way to pass time. People would constantly tell stories from weird things that happened the previous night. People who were great story tellers were always the most fun to work with.

I’ve probably missed a few other things I’ve learned, but if you’ve worked in the service industry and have some wisdom to share, I’d love to hear it.

Connect with me on Twitter: @BenNesvig and get blog updates via Facebook.


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