Why Johnny Can’t Mop

A stint in foodservice beats any internship, anywhere.

Mopping is much less glamorous than everyone makes it out to be.

The other day I had a hilarious conversation with an old business connection that validated a theory I have about the best training a person can receive in their early work experience. So as not to embarrass anyone, I’m not going to get any more specific than saying that the business this fellow is in involves a packaged beverage product, and that he’s going through the early growing pains of turning a one-man operation into one that requires employees.

So what is the best work training a person can receive to prepare them for the world of work in general? A restaurant job. This friend of mine was a chef for a long time, and then a restaurant consultant, before starting his current business. And me? I was a waiter and bartender off and on for about 15 years. The laughs we had all revolved around a simple work task. Mopping.

My friend creates a premium product that has a certain hip prestige associated with it, and he’s a sharp guy, so attracts hip, sharp youngsters as employee prospects. This is all great – it brings a unique tone to the workplace and the product. But it highlights something that’s as valuable as practical information as it is amusing.

Want to see your young, smartphone-toting, Twitter-happy hipster employee turn into a deer in the headlights? At the end of the workday, say to them “Fantastic job today! You rock!”, and then pull the mop and bucket out of the utility closet. After the initial look of perplexedness disappears, and they accept the fact that they’re actually going to (gasp) MOP A FLOOR, the real comedy begins. No, the water has to be HOT. No, I mean reeeeeaaally HOT. WHOA! Not so much soap! The SOAP doesn’t do the work, YOU do! No no no! Squeeze that sucker out before you start! We’re CLEANING THE FLOOR, not WATERING THE GARDEN. By the time the person is done with this first terrifying mop experience, they’re so eager to get back to just SERVING CUSTOMERS that it’s like they had a six month training program in customer service.

Anyone who has worked in restaurants knows this routine all too well. In foodservice, you have to spend entire workdays cleaning up people’s drool, food scraps, and other dining and face-wiping debris, and then turn around and talk to them like you’re they’re personal butler. It’s like changing a baby’s diaper and then having the baby say “good job, now go fetch my pipe and slippers, will you?” A simple task like mopping almost becomes therapeutic. This is probably why the military places such an emphasis on cleaning in basic training. Six months of mopping floors and cleaning toilets, and you’ll do ANYTHING to move on to the next task, even killing your fellow humans.

But the serious point I’m making here is that foodservice – specifically in a full service restaurant – gives a person a range of training that you will find in no other job, anywhere. If a person is doing it right, they’re dealing with everything from sales and customer service, to maintaining product consistency, to ballet (try carrying a tray with six dinners on it through a crowded room!) to conflict resolution and therapy (some kitchen lines are more like battlegrounds than work areas) to sanitation tasks like mopping and waste disposal.

Next time you’re hiring some young green employees, don’t just look at their education and the more “professional” school jobs they try to pad their resume with, look for a year at Mel’s Diner.

About Ian

Ian is a media consultant, writer, musician, and budding public speaker with an eye on being the next Ellen. Ian's interest in helping others find success and happiness stems from his experience with events planning and media consulting with organizations like Interfluence.com and the Kenya/US NGO Amara Conservation from 2000-2008, which taught him how little we all know about what we're really doing. From 2008 until April of 2011, Ian wrote for and maintained the site DissociatedPress.com. Ian learned long ago that the journey to success may take occasional detours, and often eschews the road map in favor of taking in life's scenery. His first business venture was a small telecom company in the late 1980's, but subsequent ventures included pursuing a pop music career, screenwriting, and the foodservice and retail employment that often follows such pursuits. After struggling with addiction for years, Ian is happily embracing recovery and the clarity it brings.