Section: Opinion

Kenyon students should have service industry experience

There are few things in this world that are less enjoyable than low-paying service industry jobs. There are far too many rambunctious customers, spilled milkshakes and angry hatchback-driving mothers asking to see the manager over an incorrect french fry order.

Despite this, I find that having some experience in the service industry is extremely beneficial in developing employable skills and interpersonal problem-solving mechanisms, and I highly recommend it for all Kenyon students.

I realize, however, that the average Kenyon student has minimal financial obligation to obtain a low-paying job. The median income of Kenyon students’ families is an astronomical $213,500, the 14th highest in the nation. While college is undeniably a financial burden, families earning this much or more have less of a problem affording college, as that amount of money, along with Kenyon’s guarantee of providing 100 percent of demonstrated need-based aid, is just enough for one or two undergraduate tenures. But, despite a predominant lack of financial need, Kenyon students can still benefit from improved social skills and worldly insights that come as a result of a service industry job.

I worked two consecutive summers earning minimum wage as a front-of-house employee at a takeout restaurant on the south side of Chicago. In my six or so cumulative months of taking orders, handing out food, wiping down tables and serving Italian ice, I often found myself exhausted and annoyed. Amidst my occasional frustrations, it was imperative to be courteous, no matter my mood. It was this mandatory etiquette that, while straining at times, enabled me to holistically be a better, more sociable individual, regardless of circumstance.

Furthermore, there are few things that can better prepare you for the pace and general impatience of the world than dealing with other people in a service industry setting. Many college students don’t have the ample interpersonal experience under their belts to adequately handle the many real-world conflicts and scenarios that result from America’s general hustle and bustle. No amount of time spent grinding out calculus problems can prepare you for being polite when others simply are not, and certainly no amount of Karl Marx prepares you for verbally placating an irate individual.

It is important to note that not all academic activities are inapplicable to the real world. Many extracurriculars, specifically, have immediate applications. For instance, the Collegian sharpens both time management and writing skills, Student Council teaches conflict-resolution abilities and Social Board emphasizes planning and budgeting tactics. Outside of an academic environment, however, people are often much less cooperative, accommodating, and patient. It is only through working in higher-stress, lower-paying service industry environments does one learn to handle these interpersonal roadblocks while simultaneously appreciating the work of others, no matter how seemingly trivial. 

Until I worked behind a register, I did not recognize that service industry workers are constantly under immense pressure to be accurate yet hasty, firm yet polite, flexible yet resilient. I did not recognize that tips, no matter how small, can drastically help somebody’s financial stability. I did not recognize how a simple compliment can make the end of shift all the more bearable. These realizations are all valuable life lessons that I may not have learned had I not worked in a service industry setting.

If you are a Kenyon student, you may never have to work in the service industry, and that’s fine. However, the new perspectives, experiences, and appreciation for the little things in life, things that would otherwise be taken for granted, make working a low-paying job worthwhile. Am I saying that working for service or retail is necessary to obtain a better understanding of the world? No. But for a college student with only 18 years of life experience, it certainly helps.


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