Miller Klitsner buttoned up his collared shirt and strolled three minutes down the block to a local doughnut shop. He’d grown up eating Donut Alley’s treats, including his favorite apple fritters – an apple-infused doughnut the size of a hand, deep-fried and glazed.
Klitsner, then a senior in high school, walked into the Marin County, California, restaurant hoping for a job that would give him money and free desserts. Despite Klitsner’s preparations, the owner didn’t interview him, but told him to begin making coffee immediately.
After moving to Westwood, the current second-year Design | Media Arts student swapped out his high school job to begin working at a start-up company as a designer and consultant in his first year at UCLA.
Students like Klitsner turn to the demanding food industry as a source of income while studying in school. They struggle to balance minimum wage jobs with promising career-geared internships, which are often unpaid.
However, Chris Howell of the UCLA Career Center said service industry jobs can still be beneficial to students’ long-term career goals.
Laura Berman, a second-year Design | Media Arts student, joined the staff at her local Panera Bread during high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She now works for The Glendon Bar & Kitchen in Westwood to pay for part of her out-of-state tuition.
As a hostess and server, Berman spends evenings setting up tables and chairs, tidying menus, seating customers and keeping the restaurant clean.
“It gets a little overwhelming but for the most part it’s not that bad,” Berman said. “If it was my choice, I wouldn’t (work).”
Even so, her position delivers memorable moments. Gerald Butler, who acted in “300,” and Craig Robinson, who acted in “The Office,” dined at The Glendon Bar & Kitchen, she said. Since the restaurant has low light like a club, Robinson began checking people’s IDs as a joke, pretending to be a bouncer.
She also enjoys her co-workers and believes she was fortunate to have understanding bosses at both restaurants. However, Berman said she dislikes the food industry as a whole because customers can be picky and “hangry,” or hungry and angry.
Ultimately hoping to pursue a career in graphic design, Berman decided to gain experience that would act as a stepping stone to a future occupation.
Aside from her restaurant work, she designs graphics for a financial company as an unpaid intern and was hired to photograph events for the Design | Media Arts department. Berman was also accepted Tuesday as an unpaid design intern with Los Angeles Magazine.
“(I’m) definitely excited to pursue jobs that relate to school rather than just keep working with food, but for now it’s fine,” Berman said. “Part of it’s out of necessity; you do what you gotta do, I guess.”
Lia Sepanek, a second-year molecular, cell, and developmental biology student, has traded her apron for hands-on career experience since coming to UCLA.
During the summer before college, Sepanek worked at Marine Street Cafe in Manhattan Beach, California, trying her hand in the restaurant business. Her primary responsibility was tending to the coffee and bagel counter, but the latte machine once exploded on her, spraying steamed milk.
One of her fondest memories was waiting for a cook to bring her cheesy bread to nibble. Because the ends of the bread weren’t served to customers, the cook sprinkled cheese on the rolls before placing them in the oven and sharing the gooey snacks with the staff.
Though Sepanek said her cafe position gave her confidence and valuable customer service skills, she no longer works in the food industry.
Since she hopes to practice medicine, Sepanek volunteers in an endocrinology lab to study whether the deletion of a certain gene causes obesity and diabetes. Sepanek said students need to balance minimum wage jobs with unpaid jobs that nevertheless fulfill their professional passions.
Howell, the industry relations manager of international and experiential opportunities at the UCLA Career Center, said students are concerned that jobs in the service industry might not offer the skill-building that potential employers want to see.
He believes opportunities exist within the food service industry. Students can ask to shadow corporate employees on the marketing or accounting teams, for example, to build connections relevant to their career paths.
He added that some employers are switching from unpaid to paid internships after realizing it widens the pool of potential, passionate applicants who cannot afford to work for free. He is hopeful that internships can be predominately paid in the next two years.
Students in service jobs, Howell said, are not disadvantaged when it comes to applying for other jobs because they can emphasize their responsibilities like co-worker training, food safety and cash management that can transfer to a completely different industry.
Students said a big highlight of their service jobs was developing relationships with co-workers and interacting with regular customers.
“You meet people you’d never otherwise meet in a context you’d never be in with them otherwise,” Klitsner said. “That’s what I liked about the doughnut shop. They were people I’d bought doughnuts from all the time.”