How Working in a Pizza Shop Made Me a Better Student

close up of a slice of pizza
Kyle holds a pizza coming out of a pizza oven, while smiling
“My value system fuels my student and professional life,” says Rowan University advertising and public relations major Kyle Schachner.

What’s that thing employers look for? A college degree? A high GPA? Oh, yeah—experience. You can learn anything you want by reading a textbook or asking Google. But you can only gain experience from, well, living.

Experience offers wisdom parallel to none. My experiences taught me lessons that I ingrained in my value system. My value system fuels my student and professional life. A load of my experience stems from working in a pizza shop. So, here are some lessons I learned there and how I apply them to being a student.

1) Patience. When you work in the restaurant industry, the customer always comes first … no matter how ignorant, insensible, rude or impatient they act. Customers represent money. Money tops all in business. So, I sport a constant smile. When you demonstrate patience and amiability, people usually reciprocate. Place principles before personalities. You won’t adore all of your professors, bosses, fellow students and co-workers (though, I’ve been fortunate). Everyone offers a unique perspective and delivers different ideas. Be patient and listen. You’ll hear some awesome stuff.

2) If There’s Time to Lean, There’s Time to Clean. Stop being a bum. If you’re on the clock—or in the classroom—get off your phone. Be present. Be active. Be productive. If you have four hours to devote to studying, don’t stop at three.

3) Time Management. If we gave pick-up orders a 10 minute wait-time and deliveries a 45 minute wait-time, I made the pick-up order first. Simple, right? If you have a paper due on Tuesday and a presentation due on Thursday, do the paper first. If your friends ask you to go out, finish your paper first. If that new episode airs tonight, finish your paper first and watch it On Demand later. If your phone blows up, put it on silent. Success doesn’t wait for your convenience. Still simple?

fruit pizza
One of my more creative pies, a fruit pizza.

4) Be Creative. I concocted pies ranging from shrimp scampi to cheesesteak to plantains and mangos. My boss granted me complete freedom with the gourmet pies. If a new pie sold, we continued making it. If it didn’t sell, we ate it ourselves. Innovation fueled my interest at work, and pushed customers through the door. It cemented our market positioning and distinguished us from competitors. As a student and emerging professional, you need to position and distinguish yourself from competing college grads. From graphic design to biochemistry, every field requires creativity and innovation. Some ideas trump others, but all ideas offer value. Effective ideas require a process. It often takes dozens of flimsy thoughts before I conjure a compelling idea. So, brainstorm. Don’t fear rejection. And in return, don’t reject others’ ideas.

5) Be Dependable. When everyone else called out or just didn’t show up, my boss called me. And I always answered. Whether it meant working a seven-day workweek or ending “Boys’ Night Out” earlier than expected, I always showed up. By demonstrating my loyalty, I received more responsibilities and multiple raises. When I couldn’t offer expertise or knowledge, I provided dependability and work ethic. As a student, dependability and work ethic manifest twofold. 1) These virtues precede and usher the characteristics of a strong student. Character ultimately determines my academic success—not my natural ability. Natural ability without character equals wasted potential. 2) Dependability and work ethic communicate your personality. This communication leads to high reputation, which renders networking opportunities, internship and job offers, and increased affinity in group projects.

6) Value Yourself. My boss always sought my personal gain first, not the benefit of his or his business’s. “I’m teaching you these things so you can use them when you open your own business,” he’d say after instilling his wisdom. “Go to school, get out of the game,” he said when I started community college. He valued me before I learned to value myself. I transitioned from a “What can I do?” to a “What can’t I do?” attitude.  

7) Embrace Learning. I mastered how to navigate the restaurant business and spin a tasty pizza. In return, I work my way through college and carry a skill to fall back on—pizza survives recessions. Forget what the “cool kids” say. Learning is cool—especially when it earns you a degree—which earns you a sustainable career. People across the world dream of attaining an education, but never cross the opportunity to actualize that dream. And I hear people complain about studying for a quiz? Sheesh.

By: Kyle Schachner, Ventnor, NJ (Atlantic County)
Double major, public relations and advertising