Say what you will about the craziness of kitchen life, the relentless hours that drive people away from the business, the somewhat unorthodox behavior of some who wear the white jacket and tie on an apron; the stress, heat, humidity, cuts and burns, swollen feet and back cramps; and the anxiety that comes from not knowing what each day or night will bring – it’s still an exciting place to work.
A great deal has changed over the past ten years or so, yet many of these conditions remain. It is what pushes some away, and at the same time what pulls others in. We cook, we create, we work till we can’t work any more, we put a smile on customer’s faces and fill their stomachs, we inspire some and make others wonder which swamp we rose from – we are cooks and as such, we are different. Over the past ten years the make up and fortitude of many young people entering restaurants has also changed. There is, a different attitude towards the work, and in some cases a slide away from the passionate approach that other generations have exhibited towards the trade. I get it, we all get it – yet, and the loss of a portion of the old mentality is a bit disheartening.
One of the great aspects of working in a restaurant was the team drive, the desire to never let your teammates down. Whatever it took, we would grin and bear it for the betterment of the team. It is this all for one, and one for all attitude that converted many a young dishwasher into a career cook and chef. It is this attitude that built many of the greatest restaurants in the world – cooks were “all in”. Many chefs lament those days, they frequently complain about those individuals who choose not to give their life to the apron and the stove. Lamenting makes us feel a little better for the moment and makes each of us feel like we might have been special in our day, but it doesn’t help the situation.
There are many things that we would like to improve, many facets of the business that we would like to bring back to the “good old days”, and many words of advice that we would like to share. These words of advice will likely fall on deaf ears, unless they are realistic and based on some level of fairness and understanding. So, I went through my long list of things that would be great to turn from lament to refresh and decided to prioritize them based on what is realistic. Maybe you can find them helpful as you search for kitchen employees that will not disappoint.
Here you go:
A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR YOUNG COOKS AND THE CHEFS WHO HIRE THEM:
- KEEP THE PROMISE: If you apply for a job, and have an appointment to interview – SHOW UP! Be there, be on time and put your best foot forward. If you don’t want the job, then call ahead, thank the chef for his or her time, and cancel well before your scheduled time – don’t waste others time that is allotted to hearing your story.
- START DEPENDABLE – STAY DEPENDABLE: Once you are employed make sure that you are at work, ready to go, full of energy, smile on your face, uniform in order, and 15 minutes early. It’s not too much to ask.
- JUST DO YOUR JOB: This is the simplest request, and one that truly sums up expectations and the way to win friends and influence people – just do your job. Listen, learn, question, reflect, store the information, practice, and perform – it’s that easy.
- WHEN YOU ARE AT WORK – BE THERE: Put you phone down, take the ear buds out, stop the idle chatter that has no relevance to your work, put aside your desire to smoke a cigarette every 45 minutes, and give the job your undivided attention. It may not be as much as you want, but you are getting paid to work – show some respect and be a little thankful for the opportunity that a job provides. We may be experiencing full employment in the U.S. right now, but guaranteed – it will not always be that way. Build your personal brand as a dependable, respectful, focused employee. This will carry you a long way.
- KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW AND FIND THE ANSWERS: You really don’t know that much – don’t kid yourself. Maybe you have previous experience in other restaurants, or you might have a degree from a culinary college; maybe your family grew up in restaurants, or maybe you did work in that busy restaurant last summer in-between school semesters – but, guess what – you don’t know all that much. Once you accept this you can set a course towards building your skill set, becoming more competent, and raising your level of confidence that can be backed up.
- BE CLEAN, WORK CLEAN: This is the first rule of thumb. Hey, when you show up to work – shave (gentlemen), comb your hair, take a shower, use deodorant, trim your nails, polish your shoes, make sure your uniform is clean and pressed, and show the world that you care. It’s not that much to ask. Your workstation is just as important when it comes to cleanliness. Work clean, be organized, handle everything with sanitation in mind – this is your responsibility!
- DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME: Mistakes are a way of life, but we all know that those mistakes can NEVER wind up on a plate en route to a guest. When we rush and cut corners because we are busy – we violate the trust that customers invest in and relinquish our pride at the same time. If you are too busy to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over?
- SMILE AND AT LEAST ACT LIKE YOU WANT TO BE THERE: You are responsible for your attitude and your daily experience of life. Your anger is contagious, but so is your smile. When you take control of a positive environment than others will follow suit. Push aside the disappointment, the anger, the frustration, the bad mood, and the small aches and pains that we all suffer from and just smile. Trust me, you will immediately feel better.
- BE RESPECTFUL: Respect that is given is respect that will be received. Respect the ingredients you work with, the tools that make the work easier, the space that is at your disposal, the people that you work for and with, the quality of each person’s work, the vendors who knock on the back door, and each and every customer who spends money for the opportunity to try the food that you placed your signature on.
- TREAT THE EQUIPMENT WITH RESPECT: You didn’t pay for that $1,200 Robot Coupe – but the restaurant did so that you had the right equipment for the job. You didn’t pay the repair service to fix the door hinge on that oven for the 4th time this year, but the restaurant did. You didn’t buy the china and glassware that are the canvas that you paint on, and you didn’t buy those sauté pans that you carelessly fling into the pot sink – but someone else did. Take care of each piece of equipment as if the funds to buy them came from your wallet. Show some respect!
- TREAT YOUR CO-WORKERS WITH RESPECT: No one says that you need to be best friends with everyone you work with, but at the very least respect them for their individuality. In a kitchen there is absolutely no room for bias, for bullying, for hate, for disrespect, or for any type of demeaning behavior. It may have existed in the past but it CANNOT exist today. Learn to respect others!
- DON’T EVER “NO SHOW”: This is the Cardinal sin in restaurants. Things do come up, occasionally you might be sick enough not to work, but NEVER, EVER, EVER let your teammates down by simply not showing enough respect to call in advance. Your absence puts everyone else in jeopardy. DON’T DO IT!
- TAKE A LITTLE PRIDE IN YOUR WORK – IT IS A REFLECTION ON YOU, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR NAME, THE RESTAURANT, YOUR CO-WORKERS, AND THE CHEF. That’s right – it’s not just you whose reputation is harmed by shoddy work – it is everyone who lives in your independent universe. Don’t let yourself down, but don’t tarnish your family name, that of your friends, coworkers, chef, and restaurant brand. Yes, I really mean it.
- KEEP YOUR KNIVES SHARP: Job two when you walk into work. First wash your hands, make sure your uniform is sharp, and say hello to everyone you work with – then put that edge on your knives. These are your most important tools.
- WORK HARD AND DON’T COMPLAIN: Yep, working in the kitchen is hard, its backbreaking at times, its hot, its long, and its even sometimes thankless. Everyone knows this so don’t add to the fire by moaning about how hard it is on you. As has been commonly said: “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC