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Hi there! I'm Molly: small town enthusiast, digital marketer, and mom of 4, passionate about helping local, small businesses thrive. Stick around to learn how YOU can flourish while living and doing business in a small town.

molly knuth

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First jobs: Why waitressing taught me important skills I use today as a small business owner

I LOVE chatting about today’s topic. I believe so much of who we are as adults is molded by our experiences in our youth, particularly today’s topic of first jobs.

From teaching us the applicable skills needed for the industry we were in, to learning the soft skills like customer service, the importance of punctuality, and time management, the jobs we hold in our teens and early adulthood give us a glimpse of what life is like in the working world.

As small-town business owners, sometimes it’s hard to shed the current situations we are muddling through and the pressures of the daily to-do list in order to remember what it was like being young.

Remember how it felt to be late for your shift when you backed into the neighbor’s car and cracked your bumper?

Or how you burst into tears when you made it to the break room after being berated by an angry customer?

Those seemingly small interactions of our youth are memorable for a reason.

They taught us how to react in real-world settings, how to work as a team, and how to ensure a positive experience for guests in our place of employment. And nowhere taught these concepts better than serving the diverse guests of a restaurant.

First Job at the Local Café

For me, the restaurant industry was an education in and of itself. When I turned sixteen, my parents expected me to help pay for some of the higher-priced non-essentials that my teenage self had to have. Like the all-important jeans from the Buckle or the newest graphic tee from American Eagle.

So my very first job was at our local café serving up coffee to the weekend morning crowds and slinging salads to the Friday night dinner guests. I could

I loved these early days as a waitress for a few reasons:

  1. The level of care and quality of service I provided my customers was proportional to the amount of tip I would receive (most of the time).
  2. My attitude going into the shift impacted the outcome.
  3. The people you work beside often define the amount of enjoyment you get from the job. I worked with a lot of friends!
  4. The leadership in the business is crucial to ensuring happy staff and guest experience.

Bigger and Better

As high school does, it came to an end when I turned 18. And when I moved to college, I got another job at…you guessed it…a restaurant!

For three and a half years, I worked in various positions at our local Applebee’s Grill + Bar. I was first hired as a greeter and hostess, then a trainer for new employees, next as a server, and ultimately a bartender.

Throughout my tenure there, I was able to take on new and better roles within the restaurant by demonstrating my attention to customer service and my reliability as an employee.

At Applebee’s I learned:

  1. To have a sense of urgency and perform under pressure.
  2. To leave my shit at the door. Just because I had a paper to write at the end of my shift, didn’t mean I needed to bring it to the table for my guests.
  3. Leading a large team can be done two ways: through micromanaging or through motivation.
  4. How to memorize an order at the table and then enter it correctly into the POS operating system.
  5. Taking time to help others when they were in need was the whole point.
  6. They never should have taken the original queso + chips off the menu.

How do I Use These Skills Today

While I couldn’t know at the time how these jobs as a youth would manifest in an entrepreneurial endeavor, so much of what I do today was learned by bussing tables, refilling water glasses, and resolving messed-up steak orders.

You have to do some non-glamorous things from time-to-time for the benefit of the whole operation.

The simple necessities are sometimes the most important.

Fixing problems with respect and clarity is crucial.

Truly, each part of work history comes together to shape who we are as a teammate, employee, or boss today. And it is up to us as small business owners to remember those early jobs we held and the people who showed us how to be a leader, both good and bad, as we build missions and teams of our own.

Just for Fun

Doesn’t everyone have a memorable moment (or two!) from their very first jobs?

Here’s a couple of mine:

  1. Scrounging for the coins in my tip jar to buy $5 worth of gas…which actually bought ¼ tank in my Dodge Intrepid.
  2. Opening the café as a 17-year-old at 5 AM so we could feed the hunters during deer season.
  3. Making over $200 in tips on a particularly busy Saturday night at Applebee’s and feeling like I had really hit the ceiling in restaurant success.

Share your first job highlights in the comments!

Biz Spotlight:

Two Gingers’ Tavern and Eatery

If you’re in the local area, check out Two Gingers’ Tavern & Eatery for dining, drinks, and downtown charm in Cascade, Iowa. Located in a 100+ year-old tavern and post office, their venue offers a peek at Cascade’s yesteryear, while providing the food, fun, and flowing drinks that keep you and your friends coming back for more. From their smoked gouda bites to their brick oven pizzas and chicken nachos, each menu item is better than the next. Head over to to plan your next visit!

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Hi there! I'm Molly: small town enthusiast, digital marketer, and mom of 4, passionate about helping local, small businesses thrive. Stick around to learn how YOU can flourish while living and doing business in a small town.

molly knuth

Meet the blogger