5 Things I Learned Working at an Ice Cream Shop

published Jul 15, 2017
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

This month we’re looking back on all the strange and wonderful food jobs people have held during the summer. Whether it’s a job at a local scoop shop, a grocery store, or the concession stand at a baseball field, the skills and memories you gather in those short, hot months usually turn out to be invaluable. Here’s Lisa Freedman on the life lessons she learned from working at an ice cream store.

For a teenager, working in an ice cream shop is better than being a kid in a candy store. I should know: I worked at a popular soft-serve joint in my hometown for a few years. It was a lot of fun. It also — surprisingly — taught me some valuable lessons about real life and adulting.

Here’s what I learned working at an ice cream shop during my high school summers.

1. Mistakes aren’t the worst thing in the world.

The place I worked at in South Jersey would get busy. So busy, four of us could be twisting ice cream cones non-stop and there would still be a line out the door. Sometimes, things would get a little hectic and I’d mess up an order. “Oh, you wanted rainbow sprinkles and not cookie crunch?”

As long as it wasn’t happening with every other order, it was fine. I’d stash the mistake in the freezer (we had a whole section just for mistakes!) and remake the treat. Then at the end of the night, my coworkers and I would count our tips — and eat our weight in Oopsie Sundaes. I never purposefully messed up … but maybe I should have.

2. Practice really does make perfect.

The hardest thing to make on our “menu” was the large cone with chocolate dip. It was 10 or 12 swirls of ice cream, which I then had to turn upside down (!!!) and dunk into a vat of hot, liquid chocolate. The goal was to coat all of the ice cream with chocolate and get the whole thing right-side up again before the ice cream melted out of its cone. It. Was. Impossible.

I could do the smaller-sized twists easily without any issues. But the large size, man, I just could not do it! I tried many times, only to end up with a mess of melting ice cream floating in that vat of chocolate. This not only held up my order, but it held up my coworkers, as they couldn’t dip their cones until I fished my stuff out there. With enough failures under my belt, I started just asking someone else to do it for me. If things were slow and an order came in, I’d offer to do it. As much as possible, I’d practice. And practice. And practice. Eventually I could do it — even better than some of my fellow coworkers.

3. Be nice to everyone.

This was my first time working for tips and I learned very quickly that, the nicer I was, the more likely I was to get a tip. (We had some of those communal tip jars sitting out by the windows where people would order.) Of course, I already knew it was important to be nice to people. And I know that you don’t always get money in exchange for niceties! It was just helpful to see the direct correlation. People like it when you are nice to them!

4. Sometimes you have to work — even when you just don’t wanna!

The thing about a summer job is that it happens during the summer. Not all of my friends worked, so they’d be hanging out while I had to go to work. I’d have serious FOMO (even back in the ’90s, before FOMO was a defined thing!) and hated the idea of missing out on some group fun. And sometimes, I just wanted to relax outside and do nothing. But alas, that is not what real life is about. I had years of experience and, even though I still feel the same way sometimes as an adult, I’m at least used to it!

5. Ice cream is the best way to celebrate or commiserate.

All sorts of people would step up to my window for all sorts of reasons. I’d see couples on dates, parents with little kids, friends looking to kill some time, people with dogs, and more. And people could come in for all sorts of reasons — usually just because they wanted a cool treat, but sometimes because they were celebrating something. People would come in and happily order a cone to celebrate a graduation, a new job, an anniversary, or any other joyous occasion. And sometimes, people would come for a sundae to drown their sorrows. Maybe they lost their job or broke up with their SO? It didn’t matter what happened, ice cream could help.

Did you ever work at an ice cream shop? What did you learn while you were there?