Working In The Industry

What’s it like working in the restaurant industry. It takes a special determined person to be able to handle the pressure. The restaurant industry can be challenging, but also rewarding. Whether if you’re working in fast food, casual, or fine dining. There are many types of restaurants to choose from when it comes to the type of cuisine served. You could consider American, Latin, Asian, Italian, and French and so on. Depending on where you live. You may have an abundance of a certain nationality that might monopolize a certain area.  Each establishment has its own soul or style of cooking. Being employed in a restaurant is no different than any other profession. Each restaurant has their own set of rules and philosophies.  You can choose to either like your restaurant job, or dislike it. Some choose the industry because they need a job or they love the profession. The restaurant business is one of the places where an individual doesn’t have to have any experience to begin. It’s easy to be trained as a dishwasher, hostess, or pantry worker. Sometimes little experience is needed to fill a cook’s position. That is depending on the demand and the type of establishment. Then again having many years of know how will better your chances of getting that higher paid position.

                    It is claimed that 1 out of 3 Americans first job was working in a restaurant during some point of their life time. Learning important skills such as teamwork, multi-tasking, customer service and time management skills. This was when they were students in high school or college. Achieving skills that may have lead them to higher positions such as being a knowledgeable bartender, chef, or general manager.  It is mostly hourly employees from different backgrounds that are working the irregular schedules. They would include teenagers saving up for school, or even parents trying to make ends meet. There are many positions and opportunities for all educational backgrounds. Some communities relying on the support of neighborhood restaurants. There is always room to grow in the restaurant business.  Many of the salaried employees were once hourly employees that had advanced to managers positions.  A majority of your owners started in an entry-level position. During the 9/11 era of 2001 many Americans were rescued from the financial crisis by being hired by restaurant employers. Many executives and managers from other industries had to make a sacrifice and fill many positions. They became waiters or an employee at a fast food establishment or a coffee shop.

                     Working in the restaurant industry you must have a thick skin so to speak. You have to deal with demanding customers, dictating front of house managers, and chefs that scream at their line cooks. The media has glamorized the restaurant industry. Culinary schools have added a media communication class to the curriculum. Causing many students to think they can be the next celebrity chef.  If you choose to be in this demanding part of the world. There must be a level of passion to succeed. Securing a school loan can be costly. You must ask yourself if you will be able to pay off the loan. Consider it will be easier for a high school student to responsibly take care of their obligation. If you are a middle age person trying to enroll. You must weigh out your options. Can you attend a well-known culinary campus or a community college.   If you are going to invest your time and money towards the education. You must dedicate yourself to the high end restaurants. Staying away from establishments that will abuse you.  The ones offering low wages and limited hours. Don’t confuse that statement with not putting in your time and effort. You can also consider your education being strictly hands on experience. Many chefs today will tell you there is no need to attend high tuition schools. The call is yours. If you’re a high school student wanting a career in the industry. Then the option to go to school is possible. Community colleges and the private sector has more affordable options. Make sure you check the credibility of the school. Staying clear of the store front so called culinary schools. 

Having the option of being able to be hired without experience is sometimes easier than expected. If you show a true passion for the position an employer may give you that opportunity. Sometimes offering a position in another department with the intent of teaching you the necessary skills you are seeking. Take for example being the morning prep for the dinner service team or the line cooks.

 This is where you will learn the knife skills that all cooks should know. Learning the etiquette of the kitchen. Understanding what the term 86 means. Remembering to say “behind you sharp, or hot” when you have a knife in your hand or a hot pot. You will learn that the option of having a break is not a luxury. You won’t have the 9 to 5 office hours. Sometimes not having the ability to spend your weekends with friends and family.  Be prepared to work most legal holidays. Maybe your only means of communication with your partner is a quick text because you are working 10 hour shifts and standing on your feet for long periods at a time. When you do get promoted to the line get used to hearing expo making demands. For example servers claiming that their customers are complaining that the food is taking too long. This is where you will live and learn the term in the weeds. If you continue to put in the hard work learning sauté, fry, grill, cold foods, pastries, and inventory control. You will earn the supervisor, kitchen manager, sous chef, chef de cuisine, chef de partie or executive chef position. You will then have a whole new set of responsibilities and experiences.

If you are a waiter trying to learn the business get used to customers of all sorts. Some think they are the only ones in the restaurant. For the most part there are good customers. To be a server today is more than writing down their request. You must memorize the menu from the front to the back. Being knowledgeable with wines, beers, and spirits. You must be a sales artist to up sale.  Achieving the best of a 15-20% tip. Being a waiter or waitress you must have leadership qualities. You will experience multiple tables being sat at the same time. You can’t be an introvert in the restaurant business. If you are afraid of public speaking working the front of the house is not the best option. Sometimes your establishment may have food runners to assist you with delivering your food. If not get used to balancing a large tray with multiple prepared plates.  A lot of restaurants today use touch screen computers called Point Of Sales Systems or POS system. This takes a little mental know how after being trained. You input the necessary information and it is directed to the proper food station.  If working in the kitchen or at the bar get used to hearing a continuous printing sound during busy hours. You will sometimes think that busy rush will never end.

If you are a host or hostess you will be the first point of contact with the customer. Always having a warm and welcoming smile. Knowing the seating chart as if you were playing a game of chess. You will sometimes be accused of having your favorite servers. As a host you must know your serving staff. Understanding who are the weak ones or the stronger ones. Who can handle multiple customers? Having the skills to manage angry customers because their reservations were not documented or they feel they should not have to wait for a table.

Considering a career as a bartender is a totally different world in itself. You must be able to remember recipes off the top of your head. There will be times that you can’t refer to your bar reference guide.  Remembering who is who when it comes to bar customers and serving the servers for their customers. It can be a nerve racking moment for even the well trained mixologist. You must be able to deal with all types of personalities under the influence. Never taking anything personal. As a bartender you must have inventory controls to manage your stock. Most states require you to be certified with ABC certification. Knowing when and how to i.d. a customer. Not following the proper protocols may cause you some serious penalties with having to pay serious fines and maybe some probation. This also goes for the servers that don’t properly check identification for under age consumption.

Local law enforcement and agencies will conduct undercover investigations to see if establishments are complying.

Many general managers and floor supervisors started off as wait staff and worked themselves up the ranks. They gained knowledge of each department. Sometimes taking on many accounting roles and operational responsibilities. They make themselves present on the floor. Ensuring that all customers are happy and handling concerns of customers. For the most part the managers allow the executive chefs to control the operations of the kitchens, but have some authority for the simple fact of knowing what’s going on in the back of the house. Sometimes general managers can be owner/operators. Simply meaning they either own the entire operation, or has an investment in the business. Managers and executive chefs must stay on top of labor cost. Meaning that they must have enough business generated at the present, weekly, and monthly. Making sure they aren’t paying more for labor and having a little return on customers. There is a very complex formula that should be followed to operate a successful restaurant. There is an investment towards inventory, labor, and food. The profits are distributed to the proper departments whether its vendors, employees, and utilities. If any of the financials of each department are not up to par and no one is paying attention to this formula. There will be a huge costly misfortune causing negative earnings. It is essential that a manager must understand the importance of operating procedures. This costly mistake causes many restaurants to go out of business.

Are you still interested or considering working in the restaurant business? Some of you may have experienced the pros and cons of the industry already and can relate. As with any career choice there’s many benefits and downfalls.  Are all chefs and managers screamers, of course not? Working in a restaurant can be rewarding. Sometimes the front of the house separates themselves from the back of the house. Then again you may end up in an establishment where everyone considers each as a good friend or family member. You create bonds that last for a long time.  A successful business is built on passion. When you entire staff has the same goal as the other. You will find quality in service.  If you choose to only consider the restaurant business as a job you will definitely gain less interest.  A career in the restaurant industry will be a memorable experience

- W.C.Paulk.