Guest Commentary: What teens learned from restaurant work this summer


Carrie Leishman is the president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association and its Educational Foundation.

According to the National Restaurant Association, more than half of all adults have worked in a restaurant at some point in their lives, including 1 in 3 who said that restaurants were their first job. Summer employment for our youth is plentiful in the food service industry — more than any other business sector. Restaurants undoubtedly continue to be the state’s largest employer of teenagers and the unofficial training ground for developing talent, and remain an important pipeline for building tomorrow’s professional workforce. Restaurants help individuals sharpen both technical and soft skills important for any industry, and time spent working in restaurants is fun! Friendships made while working in restaurants are often tightknit and long-lasting, and the perks go well beyond staff meals and cool restaurant swag.

Consider the lessons and values learned from working in a local sandwich shop or an ice-cream parlor that cannot be taught in class. I promise you that showing up on time with a clean shirt and performing non-glamorous tasks, while learning to get along with a diverse cross section of individuals from all walks of life (whom our children may not usually choose to interact with at school or in the community), is meaningful. It may not always provide the same excitement as scrolling through TikTok and Instagram or taking hundreds of selfies; however, early work experience offers something more valuable. It teaches kids more about teamwork (without getting a trophy). It builds a young person’s sense of responsibility and work ethic, as well as decision-making skills and how to civilly resolve conflict. Your teenager is building communication skills, confidence and a sense of community beyond his or her own cellphone!

The front-line experience offered through a summer job helps build a young person’s motivation. Teenagers witness what type of employment and career opportunities may be available to them upon graduation. Positive and poor managers alike provide a window into what educational advancements may be needed to succeed or to choose a different pathway for future success.

So here’s to the parents who encouraged (pleaded or forced) their teenager into that summer job — you helped them pay for those Starbucks’ lattes and late-night fast-food runs. It helped ease the pressure at the gas pump for the car you have generously provided for them and gave the opportunity for your teen to make decisions with his or her own money. More importantly, that restaurant job taught patience, cultural acceptance, grit and determination, and an awareness about society outside of a book or a bubble — which, in the end, helped to provide the important lessons about life that will last long after the last paycheck!

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