This job proved to be a very good learning experience. The bakery was one of 8 or so stores owned by a Chinese family. Each store had its own manager, full-time and part-time employees. My store manager was in his early 30s. The two full-timers were also in their 30s. I was one of their 3 to 4 part-timers, who were all students.
My job included an array of duties: Ringing up customers, boxing cakes, answering phone calls, keeping surfaces clean, washing trays (where customers put their selections), sweeping, mopping, daily inventory, and taking orders of custom-made cakes.
The bakery had around 20 types of buns (breads with sweet or savory fillings) and 30 types of cakes, pastries, and tarts. Back in the 1990s, all prices had to to be rung up by hand, there was no computer to help. The quick turnover of items also made putting price tags on them impractical. It was a cashier's job to be familiar with all the prices and basic ingredients.
I started my job in the evening of a school night. My manager wanted me to start on a slower night so I would not get flustered. I was, however, still a little bit overwhelmed. Operating the register was pretty straightforward, I was able to pick that up quickly. The difficult part was differentiating all those buns/cakes and recalling their prices, especially under pressure. I soon realized that without knowing the products and prices by heart, I would be constantly dependent on my co-workers to back me up.
I didn't want to be the one who was slowing down the team, I wanted to be able to multitask, just like my coworkers.
Remembering what my parents told me, I decided diligence was what would get me through. At the end of my first week, I asked my manager for permission to bring a price sheet home. My manager said that I didn't have to do that, I wasn't going to get paid for it. I insisted and he finally gave in. I went home and made flash cards. I studied them, like I was studying for a test.
Within a few weeks, I was ready. I was no longer nervous behind the cash register. This freed up my mind. I no longer needed to physically wave a bun in the air in mid-transaction to ask for prices. I could ring up orders, package items, while answering a phone call, and still managed to smile at my customer all at the same time.
All my co-workers were more sociable than I was. I did what my mom told me, I did a lot, but I spoke very little. I was always polite to my customers, but I did not know how to hold a conversation. It didn't take me long to realize that our service was just important was our products.
I thought it was neat how my coworkers handled customers, especially the frequent visitors, who often liked to chit chat. Whenever it was slower, I would secretly observe them. While wiping down displays, I would eavesdrop on their conversations with these customers. I wanted to know how they made customers laugh and felt so happy about patronizing our store. I was intrigued.
I wanted to be more like them, just so that I could be a better employee. Surely the store owner would want his customers happy. I copied my co-workers, without letting them know. I practiced what they said, their tones, and their gestures in my mind, just so I could use them when an opportunity came. It was no small task. If I were to copy something "Jill" said, I would have to make sure "Jill" wasn't there when I repeated it. Having studied from 5 or 6 co-workers, it was a lot of work to keep track, but I enjoyed it. I was part of a team.