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Work ethic is one of those concepts that has been frequently thrown around when discussing the foundations for individual and group success. There are likely as many books written on the topic as there are styles of management but that does not stop others (including myself) from promoting the importance of this basic premise: “a strong work ethic is paramount to professional and personal success”.

The question at hand is whether or not people are genetically inclined towards work ethic – is it part of their DNA, or can work ethic be taught? Is a strong work ethic environmental, cultural, a result of strong family values, built through a progressive educational system or representative of something that is encouraged by others whom an individual respects?

Work ethic is certainly apparent in many fields from construction to engineering, from the medical profession to Wall Street and from the farm to the household. The focus of this article is to point out the need for and the definition of a strong work ethic in food establishments. One of my favorite quotes relates to work ethic and states: “the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.” To this end, the dictionary defines work ethic as: “a belief in the moral benefit and importance of work and its inherent ability to strengthen character.” This, of course, goes beyond the benefits of dedication to a given profession, it promotes work ethic as being an essential part of a person’s character. Does this mean that the opposite of work ethic is being lazy and shiftless? Is a lack of work ethic a character flaw that permeates every aspect of a person’s life? Does a lazy person, considering this definition, lack worth and/or character? Actually, Bill Gates was quoted as saying that he would always hire a lazy person for they would spend their time finding the easiest way to accomplish a task. In any respect, work ethic is harder to define than one would think.

There are a handful of characteristics of a strong work ethic that I feel are important to seek out in food service employees. These characteristics are, by far, more important than the specific skills required of a position. I would go so far as to say that these are the attributes that should be sought from any staff member, should be the focus of the search process and the interview and should, to a large degree, be what an employee is evaluated on.

Amelia Adams identified five components of work ethic in a Small Business article for Demand Media: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/5-factors-demonstrate-strong-work-ethic-15976.html. Each of these certainly applies to any industry (Integrity, Responsibility, Quality, Discipline and Teamwork) – including foodservice, but I would add a few more specifics: a member of your food team should have an unwavering commitment to Service, a true appreciation for the Source of the Raw Materials that they use and a desire to Constantly Improve their Skills.

Back to the question at hand – is a person born with a strong work ethic or is this part of character development that comes from the environment that a person is exposed to? Work ethic is, for all intents and purposes, a behavior not a condition. Behaviors can be molded through the example and action of others. Our work ethic will help our children and our staff members establish a standard in their own performance. Chefs are teachers and as such need to set the example for others in the kitchen to follow.

Here is the reality check: if a person wants to pursue a career in food operations he or she must understand that the commitment is unique. Yes, other careers do require a strong work ethic, but foodservice is unusual in that the requirement for work typically exceed what one would normally expect. It is what it is and will not likely change. Here is why: we work so that other people can play. This is our charge, this is what is required and is the nature of hospitality. Holidays are busy days in restaurants – there is no getting around it. Dinner happens after 5 p.m. when others are done for the day – this is the time when we gear up for a long night. Weekends are not for foodservice staff – in fact our weekends are typically Monday and Tuesday, if at all. Accept it – this is what we are about. Food positions are not for the weak at heart. No matter what some might promote as a need to change, this is the reality of work in hospitality. Now, all that being said, those who can make that adjustment will share in the lifestyle of a unique, very special group of people who are hard-working and fun loving – people who are committed to service and do enjoy making others happy. Those who do not fit will move on to something else, those who stay are the heart and soul of the service business and the nurturers of others enjoyment. Work ethic in foodservice must include an understanding and acceptance of this.

Hire work ethic, be upfront with those who apply, enjoy the company of those who are willing to commit and celebrate the dedication that they have to the enjoyment of others.

Strong work ethic is the price of admission in food service.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training