Getting hired in the industry without experience
May 10, 2012 8:01 AM   Subscribe

How do I break into the service industry (i.e. host, server, barback) without any (or very little) experience?

I'm headed to an open call today for a restaurant seeking to fill several positions, including hostessing and serving.

I'm 33 and haven't had any experience since college, where I worked in food service and was a waitress at a diner in my hometown.

Any tips or advice on how to sell myself without having the experience to really back it up? Have you ever done an open call or been on the hiring side of things and could give me some useful information?

We've been asked to bring in a resume and fill out an application. My resume just shows that I've been nanny-ing and before that, working behind a desk.

Also, this is in Chicago, where I can only assume it's competitive and potentially saturated with much more eligible candidates.

I've also noticed that some places ask that you submit a photo along with your resume (I didn't think this was legal, per se...equal opportunity?), but for the record, I'd consider myself of above average looks and appear younger than 33.

TIA for your advice!
posted by patientpatient to Work & Money (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've also noticed that some places ask that you submit a photo along with your resume

It's generally legal. Employers sometimes want to be able to put a name to a face, and if nothing else, it ensures that the person sending in the application is the person showing up for the interview. They can't use your race or gender as a discriminating tool, but that doesn't mean they can't get a picture.

As far as the rest of it goes, a lot of people start as servers and sort of work their way up.
posted by valkyryn at 8:20 AM on May 10, 2012

Apply to every restaurant in the area. It's easier to start at a not-as-good one, but try at the nicer ones too (more money). Start as a host or busser -- a lot of places just won't hire servers that have no experience.

As for the open call -- don't expect to get that job. They are interviewing so many people, there are going to be people with more, and recent, experience.

But apply to every restaurant around you, because for most places, it's being on top of the stack when they need somebody.

Also a lot of restaurants aren't hiring right now -- the peak hiring times are March and September (roughly).
posted by DoubleLune at 8:26 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, ditto applying everywhere, and expect to start as a hostess or barback. Also, add all that food service experience from college back on your resume. It's not like you've forgotten how to carry a tray (or whatever).
posted by salvia at 8:32 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might also try getting a job at a restaurant a little outside of Chicago if you can, work there for awhile, and then apply for jobs in the city after you have some more recent experience.
posted by catbehindthecouch at 8:42 AM on May 10, 2012

i've had success getting work as a banquet waiter first and then using that experience to my advantage. wedding season is right around the corner.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 9:49 AM on May 10, 2012

those naff chain restaurants (chilis, bennigans, tgifridays, the olive garden, etc) are ALWAYS hiring and all you need is to not smell bad and have a glimmer of charm. You will be given crappy lunch shifts and tons of sidework (cleaning up/setting up dinner shift). work for a month there (put it on your resume as "spring 2012") and then move on. most 'real' restaurants consider these places as training schools..they will think 'wellll...maybe you suck, but at least you wont break all of our dishes"
posted by sexyrobot at 9:50 AM on May 10, 2012

Update your resume, not necessarily with dates. List the relevant places and experience. Your application will be where you put all the dates and non-related jobs.

Be fun and effervescent, unless the place is Claw or something, in which case be haughty and snide. Seriously though, friendly and competent is what you want to project.

What kind of restaurant is is? Is it part of a management group or chain? Read up on that, what image do they project? How can you fit that image?

Ask a lot of questions, be honest, and stress your flexibility.

When my dad ran a methadone clinic, one of the clients there could get a job anywhere, for anything, no matter what (and this guy LOOKED like a junkie). On the application there's usually a space asking about special skills, he would put three things in there:

1. I'm reliable, I'll be there when I say I will.

2. I'm flexible, I'm willing to fill in and pitch in as needed.

3. I'm a self-starter, I will take the initiative on tasks.

He would write his application with a black Flair pen (which should tell you how old this advice is.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:47 AM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

You probably won't get a good job in a nice restaurant without experience. However, it's pretty easy to start getting that experience at a casual chain-type place.

Appearance is as important to serving as it is to acting. A lot of the time, serving IS acting.
posted by Xandar at 4:39 AM on May 11, 2012

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