Well, we have done an excellent job of raising the respect for cooks and chefs in America. I can still remember when I was first starting to cook how people would ask me what I am really going to do with my life – certainly not be a cook! Now, whenever I mention to a new acquaintance that I have spent my career as a chef and culinary educator, they perk up and get excited! Thanks to everyone for doing such a great job with culinary public relations. Thanks to cookbook authors, thanks to the Food Network, thanks to culinary schools, thanks to home kitchen designers, thanks to thousands of great restaurants all over the country. Job well done.
Now, as I have previously stated, in the long run it is all about service. Great food and interest in cooking brings customers in initially, but it is real service that keeps them coming back. Great food sets the stage for profitable restaurants, but it is really the art of up-selling that puts more pennies on the bottom line. Chefs can hide behind those swinging doors, but the server must face that guest day in and day out. Where are the books on restaurant service, where is the tribute to great service on the Food Network, where is the public relations that should surround this difficult, yet potentially rewarding career choice. Yes, I did say career choice even though today that is rarely the case.
Strike up a conversation with a cook and they will likely talk about their dream of becoming a chef and opening their own restaurant some day. Strike up a conversation with most servers and they will talk about any long-term career choice except the restaurant business. I have seen many frustrated college graduates who are waiting tables simply because there is nothing available in their career choice. How frustrating is that? Invest the time, energy and money in a college degree only to wind up in a service position. Of course, this weight on their shoulders oftentimes shows up when they interact with guests or those in the back of the house who are there by choice.
Why is it that people look down on service positions? This is not the case in other countries where many choose this career track early on. Service is a noble job, one that can make or break the experience of a guest.
If a server is content and focused he/she can make very good living as a professional waiter. Chances are they would be hard put to find a more lucrative career. So, it is time for us to begin to develop pride in service. One approach is to invest in educating our service staff. Build on their wine knowledge, teach them about food, invest in their continuing education, involve them in decision making, build that relationship with the kitchen crew so that there is a level of mutual respect.
Maybe it’s time for culinary schools to develop degree programs for professional servers to include sommelier training, some cooking skills, psychology, acting classes, languages, classes in culture and cuisine, etc.. After all, it is all about service.
Waiters of the world – what are your thoughts?