Working as a server in restaurants gave me the unique ability to read and cultivate relationships with people from all different walks of life. These insights have allowed me to excel as a Patient Care Coordinator (PCC) for a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon and dramatically increase sales for the practice.
It may seem like apples to oranges at first but, in truth, the two positions do involve many of the same strengths and skills, including the abilities to:
Listen to what others are truly saying, not what you want to hear
While serving, you come across many different kinds of people. Some need to be guided toward everything they eat and drink, while others don’t want your direction on anything, they just want their food in a timely manner. Some will complain no matter what. Every kind of person I waited on in a restaurant has sat in front of me for a surgical consultation. I know the person who likes to hear themselves complain will continue to complain until all their complaints have been spoken back to them word for word. It is only then that they will really feel heard. In my experience, their demeanor softens and smiles form as soon as they feel like you really listened to them.
For someone working in the restaurant industry—servers in particular—it is important to understand that each table, each guest, has something different happening in their world. Some guests open up immediately and let you in, others don’t. A server needs to pick up on the needs of each table very quickly. While one table is gleefully celebrating, another may be in mourning. Compassion is a learned behavior. Eye contact, warm smiles, and a positive attitude go far.
The same holds for my current clients. Those coming in for a surgical consult have mixed emotions. Some are ecstatic, some are apprehensive, others are sad, depressed, lonely, scared, in need of a life change. Simply asking the client what has brought them into the office that day, how long they have they been thinking about surgery and if they have support to move forward can help them open up. When I am compassionate to their needs, they feel comfortable and understood.
Read people (through body language and gestures)
As a server, you get to the point where you can instantly feel the aura that surrounds a new table. Body language speaks volumes. If you are really paying attention to your tables, you get a lot from just seeing them interact with the host and each other before they even sit down. As a PCC, I had to figure out ways that I could do this before the client even comes into our office. I call them before their scheduled date to let them know we are excited for them to come in. I email them a greeting from me and the doctor with all requisite office paperwork. I want them to feel welcome and have a sense of who we are before they step through the door.
Prioritize and multitask
Serving isn’t just about taking orders, delivering drinks/food, and cleaning up. The responsibilities of a server are in preparation for the shift, getting tables ready, back of the house work (rolling silverware, polishing glasses), equipment cleaning, stocking and restocking … to name a few. These behind-the-scenes tasks help the restaurant run smoothly. Along with these responsibilities, a server is also tending to numerous tables, filling and refilling drinks, waiting in line for orders to come up and making sure orders are being given to the kitchen in a timely matter. A server’s responsibilities multiply as their tables fill up.
The ability to prioritize the restaurants’ and the guests’ needs is important if the server wants happy guests. The ability to prioritize the needs of my patients and those of the practice – often simultaneously – is equally important.
Be sensitive to costs
As a server, the higher the bill, the better the tip, but for some diners cost is an issue and I want to be sensitive to budget concerns and constraints, when possible. Same is true as a PCC. I want to do my job and sell the surgery, but I also want to make sure my client does not feel overwhelmed by the process. I want to upsell and turn a face-lift into a face-lift, brow lift, chemical peel and chin implant, but the cost can be prohibitive for some. I have to be able to pull the reigns back when the cost is too much, to guide them back to what they came in for and come up with a plan that they can actually afford.
Nothing like sitting down for a nice meal, excited for a fun evening, ready to order some great wine, amazing food and enjoy the night and your server comes over and barely says hello. You ask her/him about their favorite item on the menu and they reply, “Umm…well…I guess the entrée a lot of people like is…”
I work for a surgeon who has an amazing background and years of experience. I am not just selling surgery, I am selling my surgeon and our practice. It is important that I am able to convey knowledge about her accomplishments and background. When patients feel my excitement for her and my love for the work she does, it escalates their excitement.
Put someone else’s needs first
In life, we go through many things- love, loss, grief, joy, obstacles and excitement. As a server, all of those things must be left at the door before you even start your shift. It is the same in raising a family; your kids needs come before your own. As a PCC, my clients needs trump mine.
Anticipate the needs of others
While everyone loves a happy bubbly server, people coming off of a funeral don’t need a server acting as if nothing is wrong. They need a server that will cater to their needs and be understanding. When a client comes in for consultation and the first thing out of their mouth is “Well, I lost my husband sixmonths ago,” I know this consultation is more than a woman wanting to regain some of her youth; this consultation is the beginning of a new life for her. Most of the time this specific kind of client just needs someone to talk to, and on that day … it is me. When I take the business out of the consultation and make it more of a personal interaction, it allows for a trusting environment.
Of course, the decision of what to eat does not compare to the decision to undergo plastic surgery. My first priority is that patients feel safe and comfortable with their decision.
Julie E. Sharp is Patient Care Coordinator at Winslow Facial Plastic Surgery in Indianapolis, IN