Why Servers Can Make Rockstar Agents

Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams Realty - Chestnut Hill 9510462

I’ve heard it a million times. Waiters/waitresses/bartenders make kick-ass real estate agents. I’m a case in point. But, really, why exactly is it that those with experience in the service industry, often turn out to be some of the best, brightest, and most successful in the biz?


It’s pretty simple, really. And here’s why.


To start, lots of people get stuck in the restaurant business, not for lack of motivation, but for lack of another option. Many are making 50k+/year, more than most of their friends with college degrees and entry level jobs. And most can’t fathom the thought of a 9-5 job, especially after months/years of a random schedule. They learn to love the flexibility of getting time off via a simple “request form”, while hating that they simply can’t willingly give up a weekend/night shift because that’s where the money’s at. They also grow to know and love the concept of “the better the service, the higher the tip”. Because it’s always all about the money, honey (but even more so when you’re making $2.63/hr). So from the get-go, servers already have the mentality of a real estate agent: need/love for flexible schedule, desire for high income potential, and excellent customer service skills.


Many servers/waiters/bartenders just haven’t realized yet that there are far better “tips” to be made elsewhere. Or they know it- they just can’t seem to find the way out. Which is why when they do fall into a limitless career like real estate, they will be SUPER-motivated. (Disclaimer: by “they” I don’t mean all. There’s plenty in the service industry using the job as a means to an end; i.e. working their way through school, an extra job on the side, fresh-outta high school and undecided, recently unemployed, etc. And some are simply content and happy to be there. By the “they”, I’m referring to those in the category I was once in. The “I hate it but I feel stuck and the $’s so damn good” category.)


When you’re in the service industry, you deal with ALL kinds of people. I’ve always been a firm believer that every human being should wait tables once in their life. It should be a post-high-school, pre-college pre-requisite. Face it- PEOPLE skills are one of the most important skill sets in both life and business. While there’s plenty of self-made millionaires and tech geeks who made it sticking to their socially inept roots, no bi-zillionaire CEO or six-figure sales leader is without a strong sense of self and the ability to chat up strangers.


And you learn all the business basics, because when you think about it, earning a commission is just like earning a tip. These are some of the things I learned from waitressing that carried right over into the r.e. world:


Be Confident. Waiting on large parties and having to grab the attention of 10 guests at once, to read off the nightly specials and featured wines, hello intro to public speaking. (I’ve read the #1 fear of most Americans, by the way) In real estate, not only do I field dozens of calls a day, but I go out with complete strangers for hours at a time, all day, every day. My success depends on being able to relay that confidence and security, right off the bat.


Knowledge is power. Whenever I used to start a new waitressing gig, my tummy would growl with nerves the first few weeks. Not knowing the answer to what’s in the seafood casserole or if it can be fried, is the equivalent of having to GPS your way through a showing. Don’t know the market conditions, or whether heat & hot water is included? What am I paying you for? …Knowledge assures a guest or client that they are in good hands, and knowledge has the power to add or take away value.


Psychology. When you interact with hundreds of people a day, you realize how many are coming out for more than just the food. Many are regulars. They LOVE the attention. They want to tell you their life story. And your tip depends on listening. Bartenders get it the worst. “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about your break-up, another vodka?” …In real estate, there’s always a story behind any deal. And almost all transactions have a pretty deep emotional aspect for the client. So you have to be the realtor, the best friend, the counselor… you get the point.


Networking is key to any success. Many of the guests become your friends. They know what you do for a living, and you know what they do. They know you’re only here to pay your way through college, or because none of your interviews have panned out. I got many job offers and plenty of business cards to stick in my apron while waitressing. Sometimes I wish I’d been a realtor back then- free advertising! …And in real estate, it’s your job to know everything about your clients. That’s how renters become buyer clients, and buyers continue to buy, and all your clients send referrals time and time again, especially when you’re referring your clients to them for their areas of specialty, like personal training, massages, accounting, etc.


The customer is always right. Yep, pretty basic business rule across the board. “Oh, you asked for broccoli?” (I wrote down mashed, seems odd I’d make such a mistake, grits teeth) “Oh, I am SO sorry for that. I’ll have your new side out in a flash!” I surely could go on for hours about instances in the restaurant business about this one …In real estate, you’re faced with plenty of times when you want to scream. You may have stressed to your clients the importance of making the offer tonight, or getting their pre-approval before starting the search. They didn’t listen and they lost their dream home. Well, it’s surely unfortunate. But it’s your job to soothe and keep on looking, not criticize their mistake (lest you want to lose a client). You did your job, and now they learned their lesson. If anything they have realized to trust you more, and hopefully they will jump on the next dream home that comes on the market, pre-approval letter in hand!


Kill ‘em with kindness. This is an extension of above, but many don’t understand this simple life technique. It’s the basis of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends & Influence People”, still one of the top-selling business books worldwide 75 years after its original publication. You’ll never get a 20% tip from a table who doesn’t like you. And you’ll never make lifetime clients out of people who don’t genuinely like and appreciate you. So if you’re not a nice person, or can’t at least try to be one, you may as well give up on the dream of becoming a millionaire (the right way, at least).


The harder I work, the more $ I make. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons it’s so hard to escape the industry. Having a rough week? Give up my shifts. Spent a little too much this month? It’s ok, I’ll just pick up a few extra nights. … Well, it’s the same in real estate. When I first started out, I’d often get criticism from friends, family and even colleagues, for working too damn much. But it wasn’t long before they realized that I was happy as ever, and that all my hard work paid off. Because I knew one missed call could equal thousands of commission dollars lost, or if I turned my phone off for even one day and a client needed me, I could lose that client, and a dozen lifetime referrals. If you want to be successful, you need to want to work hard.


You’re either eating chicken or eating feathers. This is something an old real estate boss used to say, but I’d learned the lesson long ago. Don’t spend the money you haven’t made- because just like you never know what typical busy Friday night might turn into a ghost-town and lunch-shift tips, you never know what transaction may fall though resulting in zero commission. Just because you had one record-breaking month, doesn’t mean the next one won’t be slow as ever. Boston’s September rental cycle is a clear testament to this.


Multi-tasking. Seriously. I still wake up in cold sweats once in awhile after a nightmare where I had 12 tables, too many drink orders, none of my food coming out in time, and guests walking out without paying the bill. Granted, I don’t suffer through these insane dreams nearly as much as I did when I was a full-time waitress, but instead sometimes I have the real estate-version: it’s a Saturday, I have 7 back to back showings, the first one is late, second one is early, all the keys I need are missing, the tenants won’t let me show their apartment, a client’s deposit check bounced, landlord won’t negotiate on a fee, my phone is STILL ringing… but, at the end of the day, I managed to make it all work, and close a few deals. If you can’t do a thousand things at once, you’re neither cut out to be a waitress or a real estate agent. FACT.

Ok, I admit that I didn’t necessarily LEARN all of the above from waitressing, but the skills behind them were certainly practiced, primped and fine-tuned while taking orders, so that becoming a real estate pro was a quick, easy transition. And truth be told, real estate is not for everyone. Not every waitress can be a rock star agent. However, there are plenty of great careers out there where past-restaurant junkies can shine: any sales position, car sales, medical, sports-related, any customer service position, music promotion, technology start-ups, the list is endless. And keep in mind, while all the above lessons will ease you in, success always takes a certain level of dedication, drive and commitment. But if you want it bad enough, you’ve already got the tools my friend… USE ‘EM!

Posted by

Melanie K. Fleet

Real Estate Agent

Comments (47)

Justin Kautz
Loced your post. Reminded me of my days serving in my 20's. Very true and hits home!
Jan 24, 2012 02:25 AM
Marshall Brown
Mid America Inspection Services, LLC - Fargo, ND

Thanks for the reminder. The skills that my wife learned working in her dad's restaurant in Tucson have served her well through out her life. I like to think some of them rubbed off on me too.

Jan 24, 2012 02:26 AM
Marnie Matarese
Showing you the best of Sarasota!

Melanie, fabulous post.  I was a waitress in the skies for TWA for 16 years and that experience is used every day in exactly the ways you pointed out.  My best knowlege of how to read people and react to them came from interactions with all the hundreds of thousands of flyers I came in contact with and I learned to adapt my personality and my responses to the different types of people.  I still consider myself in "the service business" as a Realtor.

Jan 24, 2012 02:34 AM
Nick Burnett

Nice post, and as a relative newbie myself I appreciate the wisdom.  I find the same challenges I had waiting tables play out in real estate.  ("No, you can't expect teh owner to comp your meal just because the beans looked pale...")

Jan 24, 2012 03:21 AM
Rocky Dole
Revelation Real Estate - Maricopa, AZ

My past job is probably an even better example.  I was a poker dealer in a casino before starting into real estate.  In that job you were stuck on a table for 30 minutes at a time.  Even if you really hated the people who were at the table you were still stuck there for the 30 minutes.  This was also a tipping profession with a low base salary so we had to get people to tip us in order to make a decent salary.

Jan 24, 2012 06:05 AM
Rachel Tipton
KingOne Properties International - Pawleys Island, SC


Fantastic post! I spent plenty of time as a waitress and it is true that it prepared me in some ways for the challenges of real estate. Every day I hope the market continues to improve so I will not have to go back to waiting tables EVER!

Jan 24, 2012 06:18 AM
Bill Reddington
Re/max By The Sea - Destin, FL
Destin Florida Real Estate

Lots of great info. One difference I see is that people have to eat. They don't have to buy or sell. And I thought that being a bartender all those years ago was just for the free drinks and meeting women. Who knew! 

Jan 24, 2012 07:40 AM
Jimmy Phan
Phan real estate group in hickory

what a post Melanie

i understand exactly what you went thru.

i am in restaurant business so i am right there with you from the beginning.

congratulation on this great post

jimmy phan

Jan 24, 2012 08:43 AM
Evelyn Kennedy
Alain Pinel Realtors - Alameda, CA
Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA


Nice first post.  You have a future as a blogger here on ActiveRain.  Just about anyone in a service industry can do well in Real Estate if they can tackle the technical part of it.  It is as you say, "Customer Service" is key.

Jan 24, 2012 09:32 AM
Ann Wilkins
Golden Gate Sotheby's International Realty - Oakland, CA
Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont CA

I waitressed all through high school and college and back in those days, you could pretty much pay for your education with your earnings.  Most all the salespeople that I have met through the years have at one time been in the restaurant business.

Jan 24, 2012 10:58 AM
Winston Heverly
Winston Realty, Inc. - Atlantis, FL

Melanie, whether you are a server or not, somewhere along the line you develop a little hustle or you should. Some of us have strived to be the most efficient as possible while also challenging oneself. Besides bussing tables quickly  in a fine restaurant always made the Waiter/Waitress look good.

Jan 24, 2012 12:52 PM
Eric Michael
Remerica Integrity, Realtors®, Northville, MI - Livonia, MI
Metro Detroit Real Estate Professional 734.564.1519

Great analogy, actually. I never thought of it that way, but it's all true.                                                 

Jan 24, 2012 01:13 PM
Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

I think we can all take things from prior careers and apply things to real estate.  

Jan 24, 2012 02:30 PM
Sylvie Stuart
Realty One Group Mountain Desert 928-600-2765 - Flagstaff, AZ
Home Buying, Home Selling and Investment - Flagsta
I share the belief that everyone should be required to wait tables at least a year in their life. You definitely learn a lot of helpful skills, but also you don't treat waiters as poorly as some people do. I waited tables and bartended through college and can easily see how it translates to my success in real estate. Fantastic post, I had never heard this premise before, but it works!
Jan 25, 2012 12:34 AM
Dan Derito
Success! Real Estate - Brockton, MA

What a fabulous perspective.  It's amazing that people in this business forget, and underutilize, the talents that they already have.  "Cheers," for a nice blog.

Jan 25, 2012 01:52 AM
Melanie K. Fleet
Keller Williams Realty - Chestnut Hill - Newton, MA
"Let me be your real estate agent for life!"

Thanks for all the awesome feedback everyone! I'm glad you enjoying reading. I've only been a real estate agent for a few years, but the parallel is something I've always joked about, so it was a real pleasure to finally sit down and write it out. I look forward to posting more in the future!

Jan 25, 2012 05:42 AM
Deborah Grimaldi
Grimaldi Appraisal Services - Cranston, RI
(401) 837-9633

Melanie I can see that you are on your way in the Real Estate World, good for you, I also was a waitress when I was going to school and I could not help to relate, laugh and appreciate all those similarities.......Best of luck to you.

Jan 25, 2012 09:44 AM
Bob Miller
Keller Williams Cornerstone Realty - Ocala, FL
The Ocala Dream Team

Hi Melanie,  Thanks for the great post and for reminding me why you are right.  As I am now searching for buyer specialists and showing assistants I can reach out to servers!

Jan 26, 2012 12:06 PM
Matt Robinson
Professional Investors Guild - Pensacola, FL

Wow, very LONG, but very good post.  You make some great points about the service industry.  I think the biggest reason why waiters succeed is just that they understand good service, and that without it they don't get paid.  I wish the people working the drive thru at McDonalds were paid based on whether or not I was satisfied.  I bet they'd actually get more order right, and maybe even include some ketchup, a straw, some napkins, and not fill my cup all the way to the top with ice so I don't end up paying $1.79 for 3 oz. of soda.

Sep 08, 2012 04:28 AM
Martin Kalisker
Natick, MA
Real Estate Ethics & Dispute Resolutikn

Hi Melanie -

I sort of stumbled upon your post and can't agree with you more.  When I recruit agents, I am looking for the passion in their eyes, the look of determination and confidence, and the ability to juggle many tasks at the same time.  Good luck to you and your career in real estate!

Apr 06, 2013 01:45 AM