Those who know, know. Working in a restaurant shapes you. Your work ethic, your character, and your idea of what a 'stressful situation' is will never be the same.

Many of us at AntiSocial have had the opportunity to experience the work culture unique to restaurants. And unlike anything else on our resumes, it’s provided us with an ingrained set of skills we use to succeed in our careers today.

I sat down with three AntiSocial employees from different departments to get their take on how working in a restaurant has shaped them today. I know firsthand how valuable experience in the restaurant industry can be — I served and bartended (and at one point, washed dishes) for over ten years, working everywhere from dive bars to fine dining.

I, like many of my colleagues, learned how to problem solve on the fly, that efficiency can make or break you, and having a thick skin is a priceless commodity. We realized quickly that all of these are relevant to working in a digital marketing agency. We put out a lot of fires on a day-to-day basis but still ensure the greater machine of our company runs smoothly — much like a diners restaurant experience should be. You learn that no matter what is happening behind the scenes, the show must go on — and typically as quickly as possible. Both industries are fast-paced so staying organized and efficient is often your key to success. Plus, being able to graciously receive constructive criticism from clients and colleagues has its similarities to dealing with unsatisfied restaurant guests.

restaurant marketing

Professionalism, perspective, and objectivity.

Project Manager Taylor Lowe started her serving career in a diner. She was 17 and new to the industry; the place she worked had no hostess, no bartender, and no dishwasher — so you did everything yourself and you did it fast because you didn’t have a choice. Taking that energy to Cactus Club at 22, Taylor worked in almost every role Cactus offered. Here, she learned what it meant to be a professional, how to prioritize, and the beauty of staying objective in the face of adversity.

Mind mapping helps Taylor stay organized and sane during the hectic process of project management.

Taylor Lowe: “One of the best things I’ve taken away from Cactus Club is the practice of mind mapping. Regardless of how busy it is, I would stop and mentally picture where all of my tables are in their dining experience then create a plan. And now, I do this with my clients. I prioritize then execute tasks in order of importance.” 

Ah, the art of smiling through stress — something all FOH hospitality staff know well. 

TL: “I also learned how to work under stress. You can’t show a table you’re stressed, you can’t show a client you’re stressed — you need to remain neutral the entire time. Restaurants, just like digital marketing, are a fast-paced environment. People are asking for things you don’t have time to do and you can’t think about how you don’t actually have the time, you just have to do it.”

Taylor goes on to speak about managing both positive and negative situations, and how hospitality has allowed her to take an objective standpoint to both criticism and compliments – constructive or otherwise. 

TL: “Hospitality was really good for character building, both in negative and positive situations. When someone is complimenting you or your work, you take it in stride. Just like when someone is criticizing you. People can be rude but knowing that their anger and their frustrations have nothing to do with you is a valuable lesson.  Being able to rise above the situation is really important.”

TL: “Not taking things personally was a huge learning curve. When people first got mad at me I was so hard on myself. It’s helped me develop a thick skin and an objective perspective, which is so important for the work I do now.” 

Taylor adds one thing people might not realize is that Cactus Club provided her with the basis of her professional demeanour.

TL: “Cactus Club expects a certain level of professionalism in their restaurant, which breeds a very positive work culture. They educate their staff on a high level of professionalism which can transfer anywhere.”

restaurant marketing

Like a juggling act, but with people.

Back in the day, you could find Scott Mackay slingin’ drinks at Celebrities, a Davie Street nightlife staple. He spent 10 years in the industry, working everywhere from Earl’s and Chambar to The Junction and Pumpjack.

Scott Mackay: “Working in a busy restaurant and working in an agency has a lot of similarities. As a server, you might have a full section with different types of customers, all with unique needs, at different stages of their dining experience, or with different reasons for coming in. Being able to effectively manage and be efficient with your time, being able to be knowledgable while also being friendly, and sometimes making strategic decisions all play a role in how you can effectively service your guests. This is the same as an agency, different clients, with different packages in different industries, all with similar needs and goals, but requiring their own unique approach.”

Anyone who has ever been in the weeds understands the value of teamwork. The value of effectively and clearly telling your team what you need from them spills from hospitality into digital marketing.

SM: “Knowing how to communicate with your team, when to ask for help, being knowledgeable about the offerings, as well as thinking outside of the box all contribute to our ability to work effectively in this fast-paced, ever-changing environment.”

Scott Mackay Restaurant Marketing
From left to right: Nicole Wei, Taylor Lowe, Scott Mackay, Alaina Hase, and Mel Tolentino

Understanding your audience.

AntiSocial photographer and freelance photographer, Alaina Hase, worked at Cactus Club for 9 years. Starting as a host, she worked her way to a serving position, and eventually found herself behind the bar.

Alaina Hase: “When I started I was still in high school. To me, it was such a different scene from school, the amount of people I would speak to and interact with was so far beyond the amount of people I could talk to at school, or even in a different job. When I moved into serving, I could read people’s energy. When you’re flexing that muscle you become more tapped in to your intuition. Serving is so much more than just bringing people their food and beverages, it’s knowing what they need on another level. It’s helped me become a better photographer; creating an actual connection with someone in photography and in serving is so valuable. I have regulars from Cactus way outside of my own demographic that I still hang out with today.”

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: know your audience. Servers, photographers, and every brand we can imagine will benefit from this knowledge.

AH: “With photography, you figure out how comfortable someone is in front of the camera. You can see if they have insecurities, and there are things you can say to build someone up or put them more at ease. Knowing how to gauge someone’s mood and how to work with that is so important.”

We asked Alaina how she thought the ability to interact with people helped her career:

AH: “If you’re just looking at the jobs from a technical aspect, there are thousands of talented photographers in this city. If a client was going to hire based purely on technical skill, they would have so many options but that’s not how businesses work. People want to work with people they feel care about them, people they like as a person, or people with a genuine interest in them. With serving you get really good at asking people questions and finding out about them as human beings. With something as intimate as photography, being able to ask people these questions to get to know them is really important.”

restaurant marketing

What else did working in hospitality teach you that you use now?

AH: “At Cactus, they were adamant that it is your business. Sure you get paid hourly, but the more effort you put in with your customers, the better tip you’ll get. I really took that concept and applied it. The more above and beyond you go, the more repeat clients and referrals you’ll get and now, referrals are the basis of my business. It’s so empowering to have someone say to you, “I’m not going to put a cap on your success and say how much money you’ll walk with tonight” and I’ve taken that to heart with my business now.”

Most of the people at our company worked in the industry at one point in time. I know I’ve eaten my fair share of staff meals hiding in a walk-in cooler, and yes, like Taylor, Scott, and Alaina, hospitality shaped my work ethic and built a part of my character, too.

To find out how we can work with your restaurant, give us a call. We’ll take care of the marketing so you can spend less time in the weeds.