In college, I waited tables to pay the bills. Working the lunch rush at a busy restaurant like the Olive Garden is intense. You have to keep on your toes to get people their drinks, meals and check in well under an hour and everything has to be right the first time, nobody has time to wait for you to correct your mistakes during their already too-short lunch hour.

Plus, since your wages are dependent on tips, it helps a lot if you can do it with a smile and project an air of cool confidence instead of being a flustered, distracted mess.

I don’t wait tables any more, but as a busy mom of five who works at home, those lessons I learned from being a server have served me well as I try to get it all done with less stress and a bit of flair.

  1. Minimize the number of steps you have to take.This is horrible advice if you want to lose weight, but if you want to get too much stuff done in too little time, then you have to make every step count. Organize your actions so that you are never going any where empty handed.
  2. Write things down.I know there are servers out there who pride themselves on being able to remember orders but I found that writing things down was the best policy and ensured that I wouldn’t forget the extra ranch and have to make another trip.
  3. Clean as you go.During my early days of waiting tables, I never felt like I could spare that extra minute to straighten out the drink or salad station. The thing is, a mess only added to my feelings of anxiety and keeping things tidy and organized made it that much easier to get things done quickly, but in a calm, collected way instead of a mad panic.
  4. Speaking of mad panic: breathe.Don’t get so wound up about all that you have to do and forget to breathe fully and deeply. Taking short, shallow breaths is not only hard on your body but also adds to the feelings of stress.
  5. Take control of the situation.At first, I’d walk up to take a tables orders and frantically tried to keep up as they told me what they wanted willy nilly with no particular rhyme or reason. Once I got more experience under my belt, I learned to take charge by asking one person for their order and from there, going around the table clockwise. People don’t usually mean to make your job harder and don’t generally mind friendly clear directions but you have to show that you’re the one steering the boat otherwise it’s like herding cats.
  6. Keep the lines of communication open.Good servers know that if there are going to be delays the worst thing you can do is hide. There is no need to give updates on every little thing but people appreciate getting a heads up when things will take longer than expected and being able to reach you easily if there are concerns.
  7. The storm always passes.No matter how bad and out of control things might feel on a very bad night, it always ends and calm is restored. Do the best you can and you will start to see results even if it feels like you’re in the middle of chaos.

What lessons did you learn about time management from you first job?