First jobs are the best lesson makers, yes? It's like a little segment of a developing teenage brain gets blown wide open with all the street smarts entering in. My parents had a couple of homemade ice cream shops on the Cape and all six of us kids worked there. I was just 6 when the first one opened, and started off by filling napkins and spoons and wiping tables. I finally started serving customers at age 12 and was a manager at age 16. I learned a LOT about life from scooping ice cream, such as:
1) Hard Work Makes Hard Workers
Duh, I know, but it's true. The shop was insanely busy on summer nights, with lines out the door for hours. We were literally running around, scooping orders, ringing people up on the register, making waffle cones, grabbing buckets of ice cream from the flash freezer, wiping tables and counters, and keeping the line moving as fast as we could. It was busy, hard work. At the end of the night, around 11 pm, we had to lock the doors and then do a thorough cleaning of the whole shop. Sweeping, mopping, washing all the buckets, sanitizing scoops and soft serve machine parts, reconciling the register, cleaning the bathrooms, bringing in chairs from outside patio, etc. We would go home exhausted. But the whole experience of working hard made all of us hard workers in every other aspect of our lives - school, jobs, sports. We knew it was the only way to succeed.
2) Even If They Are Crazy, They're Still Customers
Oh people be craaaaazy. They could be rude and demanding and difficult. They ordered the grossest combinations, like pistachio ice cream with pineapple topping (blech!) and we had to remember that no matter what, they were the customer and they were to be kept happy. Which leads me to...
3) Customer Service is All An Act
I'm not saying that people who work in customer service are "fake" but that they are definitely "putting it on" if they are good at their job. No matter whose order you have to take, you do it with a smile and cheerful attitude. When you answer the phone, you smile when you say hello...people can hear it. You learn very quickly how to make small talk, even if you are asking the same two questions to everyone, everyday. People just want you to listen to them and so you act like the nicest, best listener in the world. It can be exhausting to be "on" for introverts like me, but I truly feel that everyone would benefit from working a customer service job at some point in their life. Especially while they are young.
4) How to Count Back Change
When I was about ten years old, my mom took me over to the register and taught me how to count back change. You don't do the math in your head. You literally count back the change as you give it to the customer. For example, the total is $2.60 and the customer gives you a five. You put their five on top of the drawer (not in it, because then they can claim they gave you a ten) and start counting up from 2.60 to 5.00 as you hand them back the difference. "Forty cents makes 3, and 1, 2 makes 5" It's kind of hard to type out, but it makes a world of difference when you know how to count back change instead of trying to do the math in your head and getting flustered. It was a skill I took pride in teaching the new employees.
5) You Can Scimp on Everything but Quality
Running a business is a constant balance of trying to make money while providing a great quality item. My parents never went cheap on ingredients. They soaked their raisins in real rum for the famous Rum Raisin ice cream that Arnie loved.
We bought lemons by the case and then zested them and squeezed them for hours to make Lemon Meringue ice cream. The most popular flavor, Cape Cod Mud, had four mix-ins to the coffee ice cream made with the best coffee concentrate. Everything was done with the freshest, purest ingredients because my mom was an ice cream aficionado! We did a great business because customers knew they were getting the best around.
6) Happy Workers Make Happy Customers
Without good workers, you can't run a business well. We made the store a fun place to work, and it was like hanging out with friends every day. There were lots of jokes and awesome memories were made. We had a couple of tip jars that we called "College Funds" and we would write the colleges where the workers attended on the outside of the jar. It was a pretty impressive group of kids who worked for us! Customers loved reading where we were all going to school and tipped generously. My job was to accumulate all the tip money each week and divvy it up based on the hours everyone worked. It would come out to an extra $2 or $3 per hour! The workers loved that. We also gave them an ice cream at the end of their shift (sounds like a small thing but JP works at an ice cream store now that only gives employees a 50% discount). We always had good kids who wanted to work for us because there was this fun family atmosphere. We even had Irish students come over every summer for years to work for us, and my parents would rent them an apartment or help them find one. It was such a good time.
7) There is a Big Huge World Out There
Growing up on the Cape was normal to me, but once I started serving customers, I realized people traveled from all over the world to visit Cape Cod in the summer. This opened my eyes to how big our world was. I was pretty sheltered - school, work, church - and it was interesting (if not scandalizing at times) to see people from all walks of life. Customers would talk to me about how they traveled from Rome or made the four hour drive from New York just to get our Peppermint Stick ice cream! I think the travelling bug bit me when I started meeting all of these interesting folks. It was the first time I understood that even though the world is huge, we are all the same! We all want to be treated with kindness and we all love ice cream ;)
Now all I want is a dish of mocha chip with jimmies. Mmmmmmm, take me back! Happy ice cream eating weekend everybody! See Kelly for more takes, and let me know what your first job was in the comments!!