I always try to see things through other people’s eyes and not just my own. There are always multiple sides to every issue, and numerous factors that sway a person’s perspective one-way or the other. When it comes to work – there are some who view it as a necessary chore to earn a paycheck, while others may view the same work as an opportunity and something to look forward to. I accept that and know that the reasons for different perspectives are many and, in most cases, personal. Be that as it may, I can only truly speak for myself – I will always have my opinions and they may differ from yours. That’s OK, to each his or her own.
My intent is always to present my opinions, as my opinions and never assume that they are or should be yours. If my thoughts and perspective strike a chord and help anyone with the task before them, that’s great, and if not – well, it is only my opinion. I am entitled to mine as those perspectives have evolved over decades of work in the food industry with many fantastic people who come from a multitude of backgrounds, and who bring all sorts of issues and challenges with them. My opinions are rooted in experiences working alongside all of these people. You have your opinions based, I am sure, on your own experiences – it’s all good. So – here are some of my perspectives when it comes to the restaurant business. They are based on five decades of observation and interaction. Take it for what it’s worth:
- Working hard is exhausting, but invigorating. Hard work is one of the factors in life that builds character and respect for others.
- Whatever goal I set for myself can be achieved in the food business if I set my mind to it and make the commitment to do what it takes to get there.
- Not everyone is cut out to work in the restaurant business. Those who only work for a paycheck are not likely to find a fulfilling career with food.
- Talent is hollow unless the person is willing to apply that talent to his or her work.
- If you want respect – show respect. This applies to all who hold a position of higher authority, those who have entry-level positions, those who sell you ingredients and deliver them, and those customers who patronize the restaurant where you work.
- Yes is a word that will pave the way for your success – no can get in the way.
- If you don’t know – discover how. Take responsibility for your own skill development and base of knowledge.
- The minute you think that you are better than someone else, you diminish your own value.
- When in a position of authority, know that you must be firm, but empathetic at the same time. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength.
- Speak less, listen more. Granted this is hard to do, but what you learn in the process is valuable.
- Respect the ingredients that you work with in the kitchen. Every carrot, potato, fish, chicken, 109 rib, pork loin, bag of flour, and bottle of wine represents the hard work, passion, and talent of a farmer, rancher, miller, fisherman, or wine maker. They deserve your respect for the ingredients that they share.
- Your vendors exist because you buy their goods. Respect them, but make them work for you.
- Honesty and integrity are the basic raw materials of leadership.
- Celebrate your team – recognize them and pat them on the back when they do something exceptional. Let everyone know how much you appreciate his or her talents and work ethic.
- When your team members screw up – let them know what they did, how it impacts others, and how they can avoid making the same mistake again. Make sure they realize that it is their action that you are upset with, not necessarily the person that they are.
- Set the example – always. If you want your staff to be punctual, then be the example of punctuality. If you want your cooks to sweat the details in cooking and food presentation, then be that example whenever you hold a knife, a pan, or a plate ready for the pass. If you want your staff to treat others with respect, then always be that example through your actions.
- Your reputation, your brand, is of utmost importance to your career. Don’t let others sway you away from the kind of cook, chef, employee that you set out to be. Stay the course.
- Know that what you do as a cook is important – this is work that truly impacts people’s lives. Be a proud cook.
- Take pride in the chef’s uniform. This is not a silly detail. The uniform represents a proud history of exceptionally committed professionals who made it possible for the restaurant industry to be such an important part of people’s lives. When you wear that uniform you are paying respect to them. Make sure that uniform is complete, clean, pressed, and worn in the same manner as a policeman, fireman, soldier, postal carrier, doctor, or nurse wears his or hers.
- Restaurants need to collectively re-think how they approach their financial operations. Low profit, low wages, minimal benefits, cash flow challenges, and the need for a large labor pool to meet the needs of the operation paint a very bleak picture of the future.
- Small, personal, service oriented, regional purveyors are better positioned to be a vendor/partner for restaurants, but they are unable to compete with the convenience and pricing of the big box purveyors. Restaurants need to think beyond convenience and price if they are to be part of a business community.
- If the restaurant industry fails to address its employer image and change then they will find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain good employees. The ball is in their court.
- Restaurants and restaurant chefs have an obligation to consider the impact they have on consumer health and wellbeing. With 50% of the average American family food dollar spent in restaurants – we need to accept that part of America’s health falls on our shoulders.
- If culinary schools are not effective in meeting the needs of the restaurant industry then the restaurant industry must partner with schools to fix the challenge. This is the best resource for restaurant staffing, but only if they are successful in attracting sufficient student numbers and creating kitchen ready graduates.
- The restaurant industry suddenly has an image problem. From the days between 1980 and 2000 – we were the exciting career choice. The thought of becoming a chef or restaurateur drove tens of thousands of students to culinary classrooms as they had visions of commanding a kitchen or owning their own operation. Since that time, the reality of what it takes, the challenges of difficult work conditions, the failure rate of restaurants, the payback of student loans, and low wages has reversed the trend of opportunity to a trickle of what it once was. Now restaurants are unable to attract enough employees regardless of their skill set. This is the greatest problem facing the restaurant industry today and it cannot be overlooked. This is a call to arms – organizations like the National Restaurant Association and the American Culinary Federation must lead a concerted effort to turn this situation around.
This is an industry that has been very good to me. I took opportunities when they came my way, I made the effort to improve my skills and base of knowledge, to make the right connections and build my network of opportunity, and to push myself to reach for those goals that I had. I truly believe that anyone could do the same. Luck has very little to do with it – success is a choice, opportunity only exists when you look for it, and in a business that continues to grow and evolve – those who want it can have it. That is my opinion.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC