6 Career Lessons Learned in the Restaurant Business

The restaurant industry employs 13.5 million people in the United States. This equates to 10 percent of the nation's workforce. Whether you consider your restaurant job a lifelong passion or simply a way to make ends meet, a role in this dynamic industry can teach you valuable lessons like these.


1. Words can Never Hurt You

Chef in kitchen

Image via Flickr by Bill Abbott


Unless you've worked in the restaurant industry, you might be under the misconception that restaurants are full of good natured people. There are the diners, who are surely keen to soak up the experience of being waited on hand and foot, and the hosts and wait staff who are never seen without a smile on their faces.


However, in truth the people you'll encounter in the restaurant trade can be pretty terrible. While some diners are appreciative there are many that are just plain hangry, the deadly combination of hungry and angry that wait staff fear. They've had such a bad day that they can't face standing in their own kitchen, so they're bringing their misery into your working environment. And then there are the chefs who have such exacting standards that they can reduce a humble busboy to tears with a cutting remark.


That's a pretty bleak picture, but it describes many of the encounters that restaurant employees will regularly face. However, every diner that makes you feel insignificant and every chef that makes you feel incompetent will simply make you stronger. Soon the insults and complaining will simply wash over you and you'll be able to focus on the job at hand.

This is a valuable lesson to learn because people in most workplaces will encounter unpleasant customers and colleagues from time to time. Your tenure working for a restaurant will give you the thick skin you need to deal with any problem calmly before moving on.

 

2. Together a Team Can Do Amazing Things


Working in a restaurant teaches you to appreciate the value of team work. Every employee is a cog in the machine, from the servers manning tables to the chef creating culinary masterpieces. If one cog doesn't work as well as it should, the whole operation suffers. As a restaurant employee, there are probably many days you weren't quite sure you'd survive. Perhaps it was the time your restaurant catered a lavish wedding, or the Mother's Day that was booked solid from opening to close. These occasions are exhausting, but they drive the lesson home. On your own, you'd never have satisfied all the diners. But together, a team can do amazing things.


Some roles are in other industries are more autonomous than others, but it's rare for workers to operate completely independently. Recalling those busy nights in the restaurant will help you consider the input of others and support your colleagues to create something great.

 

3. Stress is Inevitable, but it Can Be Managed


Those busy shifts will inevitably get you hot under the collar. The shift work and overtime hours that are an inevitable part of restaurant work also makes stress levels rise. And then there are those fiery customers and colleagues mentioned earlier. All these ingredients could lead to a meltdown, but as a restaurant employee, you discover ways to cope.


Perhaps you take up running or meditation. Singing loudly in the car or taking the mic on karaoke night might work for you. Whatever it is, as a restaurant employee you learn to manage stress. It's unlikely you'll work in such a high-pressure environment again, but when the going gets tough you'll know you can cope.

 

4. Creativity Can Bring Great Rewards


The culinary world has moved well beyond meat and three vegetables. It's an area of constant innovation, where the bravest chefs aren't afraid to play with established flavor combinations and incorporate new ingredients into their dishes. Sophisticated palettes will come from miles around to sample a dish that's like nothing that they've ever seen before.


Whether you're working in the kitchen or bringing meals to the table, it's impossible not to be impressed by the creativity you see. You'll discover that the dishes which are outside the box often earn the biggest compliments. This will teach you that no matter what sector you find yourself in, daring to be different can help you stand out and bring great rewards to your organization.

 

5. The Value of Preparation Should Never Be Underestimated


Any goodrestaurant kitchen knows the importance of mise en place, a French term which translates to "putting in place." This is the work that begins long before the diners arrive. Chickens are portioned, meats are marinated, and vegetables are peeled and chopped. It seems like menial work. The food looks far less glamorous than it will when it's put in front of restaurant patrons. But these processes are essential for a smooth service.


That practice of spending time preparing for the work ahead holds restaurant employees in good stead. If they move out of the industry into the business sectors, they'll remember to write an outline before a report and to plan a presentation before standing up in front of their clients or colleagues. They won't see the early effort as time wasted, as some of their peers might. Instead they know that even though the preparation isn't glamorous, it's essential for smooth delivery.

 

6. Education and Background Don't Determine Success


The restaurant industry is full of privileged men and women who've graduated from culinary institutes. They might have an encyclopedic knowledge of knife handling and sauce making, but that doesn't mean they'll rise to the top of the restaurant food chain. Technical knowledge and pedigree won't beat out instinct and hard work.


The restaurant industry is a great leveler. It teaches you not to feel entitled to success, and what you need to do to taste it. That lesson can be applied not just across the restaurant sector, but the workforce as a whole.  


The lessons you'll learn working in the restaurant industry will serve you well in the future, whether you intend to stay in this dynamic sector or take on another career.


Contributed to jobs.net by Courtney Rudd



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