An entrepreneur who waited tables in college took away business lessons that made all the difference in his startup

SetterDavid Steckel, cofounder of Setter.
  • There’s a lot in common between working at a restaurant and running a business, said Setter cofounder David Steckel, who’s done both.
  • Both roles require workers to negotiate between several parties and anticipate problems to best serve the customer, Steckel said.
  • He still uses the skills he learned from waiting tables in college in the home maintenance-management business he founded.

There’s a surprising amount in common between working at a restaurant and running a construction project.

David Steckel would know. He went from waiting tables in college to founding Setter, a company that manages home maintenance projects. The startup announced a $US10 million Series A, led by Sequoia Capital and NFX, in November.

Steckel told Business Insider that he gained many of the skills he uses today from that early restaurant gig – the most important one being how to negotiate between customers, clients, and employees.

“If you actually think about the structure of a restaurant, you have a very similar environment to a marketplace,” Steckel told Business Insider. “The language you use with a customer is very different than the language you use in back-of-house with the kitchen staff.”

“In front-of-house, the lights are warm and low, in the back they’re fluorescent and bright,” he said. “You get back into the kitchen and you have to negotiate with the kitchen on behalf of your customer. Then you also have the bartenders who are busy trying to serve all the other waiters, so you have to negotiate with them to make sure your customers are getting what they need.”


Read more:
Here’s what it takes to make $US100,000 a year as a waiter in NYC

That constant push and pull is similar to what Steckel said he faces at Setter. The Toronto-based company, founded in 2015, pairs customers with “home managers” to take charge of their home maintenance and repair projects. Whenever the customer needs their plumbing fixed, their walls painted, or their yard landscaped, for example, Setter contacts vendors and contractors, negotiates a rate, and arranges the appointment.

That’s a lot of moving parts.

“You’re kind of changing gears with your language, your ability to negotiate, and you’re using all your skills at the same time,” Steckel said.

Of course, restaurant patrons are usually less anxious than a homeowner in need of a new countertop. Home maintenance is naturally stress-inducing for most people, Steckel said, while diners typically don’t get upset unless something goes wrong.

But regardless of the situation, a good worker puts their customers’ fear at ease by anticipating problems and taking action to correct them, Steckel said.

“No matter how good your restaurant is, at some point the food is going to be cold or it’s going to be late,” he told Business Insider. “You don’t just go to a table to your customer and say the food’s late. You say, hey, here’s something to snack on, the kitchen is a little behind, and I’m going to offer a solution.”

Steckel learned from his restaurant gig that if you’re proactive about fixing a problem, customers will remember how you helped them more than they will remember the problem itself. That leads to them having a better experience and being more likely to come back.

“If you have the ability to take a deficiency and turn it into an opportunity to add value to the customer’s life, we’ve found their loyalty,” he said.

“So in effect, when something goes wrong, it’s an opportunity to have a better relationship.”

NOW WATCH: Ideas videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.