At my 40-hour-per-week restaurant job this summer, a few of my coworkers asked me, “Where else do you work?”
While I replied that I only took on a part-time internship on top of my employment, I couldn’t help but think of some of my friends from home who were working two nearly full-time jobs from June to August.
Hundreds of employment opportunities wash up to shore every Memorial Day as tourism crashes down on our little beach town.
During the summer months, my friends and I hit the beach on our days off and squeeze in lunch dates between double shifts. The majority of my high school classmates worked during summers or year-round, often in restaurants, since they had turned 14 or 15.
That’s why it took me by surprise when I moved to campus and met dozens of students who either didn’t have summer jobs or had never worked before.
I shouldn’t have been surprised — a 2015 report found fewer than 32 percent of teenagers were employed during the summer. The number of 16- to 19-year-olds in the workforce has also declined over the past two decades.
I believe that many students think they don’t have time for jobs.
College applications, extracurricular activities and AP classes eat away at a typical high school student’s time and energy level. Summer internships or study abroad programs might be the equivalent time commitment to a busy college schedule.
All of these opportunities available to students cast a shadow on taking a monotonous summer job. But there is a lot more to learn at a restaurant than just the table numbers.
Working through high school and college teaches you the value of the dollar. A $100 pair of boots seems more valuable when you think of them as ten hours of your life. Understanding the amount of time and effort you’ve put into your bank account teaches you not only the value of your earnings but also the importance of budgeting.
Your coworkers are likely more diverse, both in terms of age and lifestyle, than your classmates. A job introduces you to people whom you may not meet otherwise.
Despite the diversity, a constantly rotating schedule and the cycle of seasonal employees, your team learns to bond and work together.
The diversity among your coworkers dwarfs in comparison to the diversity of your restaurant’s patrons. I’ve been treated like a servant, a nuisance, a beloved grandchild and, most favorably, a qualified adult. While condescension is disheartening and frustrating, it contrasts the other response you receive: respect. Rude customers only make the customers who treat you with kindness seem even more wonderful.
Fortunately, working in a restaurant ensures you will become one of those wonderful individuals. The hours you put in behind a host stand, a notepad, a bus-bin or a commercial dishwasher culminate in a heightened patience and appreciation for others in the same positions. Spending just a few months in the restaurant industry during your teenage years can train you to be a far more generous and courteous customer.
All of the benefits of restaurant work contribute to the epitome of the college experience: independence and maturity. Securing your own source of income creates a level of independence, and learning how to work with and please different types of people builds maturity.
The benefits of student employment extend beyond the college years.
Restaurant work trains students to work hard and be punctual. The fast-paced nature of the food industry stresses the importance of efficiency, a fundamental skill for any job or level of study.
A part-time or summer job could be a fundamental step on the Lehigh stairway to your career aspiration.
If you can, carve time out of your summer or semester to take orders, wipe tables and learn invaluable life lessons and skills.
Plus, there’s likely free food — every college student’s top motivator — involved in these different job opportunities. Apply today!
Marissa McCloy, `20, is a designer for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]