The Pros and Cons of a Foodservice Career

So maybe you're thinking about a career in foodservice or possibly you know someone who wants to be in the business. I've heard and seen that many times, even spoke the words myself once or twice. Without a teaspoon of regert I can say I'm glad I did. A career in foodservice can be a rewarding, uplifting and fun way to spend the better part of a life. It can also be extremely difficult, exhausting, frusrating and downright destructive. In this hub we will explore the foodservice industry, some of its many facets and hopefully give you a better understanding of what its all about.

Foodservice = Food and Service...That's where it really starts. I find many people in this business, the truly successful ones, have a passion for both and a knack for hospitality. They are motivated by helping, serving or making someone else feel welcome. Little did they know that there would be so many intangibles and choices available. In this business you have the opportunity to take on many roles in many different environments. From the corner diner and the 5 star resort to the local hospital and university, you'll find (for the most part) dedicated, driven people who's fires are stoked by a sense of service. Those that get caught up in it as a first job or by simply by default often become lifelong participants. So before you get started ask yourself these three questions. How you answer may help lead you in a new direction.

  1. Am I a good communicator?
  2. Do I enjoy being part of a team?
  3. Do I genuinely enjoy serving people?

The Restaurant Brief..

By far the most recognizable and easily associated segment of this industry is the restaurant. Whether it be a single independent operator, fast food giant or nationwide casual chain the challenges are similar and the drawbacks are many. Long hours in the kitchen, grumpy guests in the dining room, weekends and holidays are certainly the norm. Did you ever notice the harried look on your server's face when you take Mom out to dinner on Mother's Day? Yup, that's part of the deal. While it has certainly gotten better in the last 2 decades with employers actually realizing that good help is hard to find, there is still the sense that employment in this field is just a grind. And yet, many people excel in the business and love the benefits that go along with it. Most simply enjoy the adrenaline rush. Somewhere along the line we realize that for all the fun and fulfillment, this all has to be managed to some sort of an acceptable end. Not only must a profit be made but people need to be hired, trained, held accountable and so on. Add the very fact that if handled improperly, food can easily make someone or a group of people quite sick, possibly resulting in legal action.Liquor liablity for many, poor economies, shifting demographics, crazy late nights, pressure packed conditions are all factors when you step into this way of life. Who would want be involved in that, never mind manage it?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos024.htm#outlook, part of the United States Department of Labor, supplies the following information about foodservice managers

"Food service managers held about 350,000 jobs in 2006. The majority of managers are salaried, but 45 percent are self-employed as owners of independent restaurants or other small food service establishments. Thirty-eight percent of all salaried jobs for food service managers are in full-service restaurants or limited-service eating places, such as fast-food restaurants and cafeterias. Other salaried jobs are in special food services—an industry that includes food service contractors who supply food services at institutional, governmental, commercial, or industrial locations, and educational services, primarily in elementary and secondary schools. A smaller number of salaried jobs are in hotels; amusement, gambling, and recreation industries; nursing care facilities; and hospitals. Jobs are located throughout the country, with large cities and resort areas providing more opportunities for full-service dining positions." This in itself is a great source of information and gives more about related jobs from entry level to top executive, at least in an ideal world where everyone comes to work, equipment doesn't break down and suppliers never run out of your stuff... Oh the joy of it all!

Chef to Joe Salesman from ABC Food Distributors : " Hey Joe, I didn't get my fresh tuna or the Wisconsin cheddar, wasn't on the truck"

Joe: "Sorry Chef, it's Friday, can ya' get by without it until Monday?"

Chef:" No Joe, its Friday for me too and I'll do 70 % of my weekly business in the next 72 hours, at least 40 of which I'll be right here not selling the tuna and thinking of ways I can replace you. Get me my stuff or you're out the door like last weeks old fryer grease!" GRRR... It can happen, believe me.

So Why Would You?

The people can be great, the esprit d'corps can be uplifting and the simple circumstances of it all presents opportunities for some of the funniest situations and people you'll ever encounter. Maybe it makes you happy to serve people, the money can be good to above average and you like being able to interact with customers. There is a great deal of opportunity for self ownership as well as good, solid mid to large organizations to work for in every facet from independent restaurants to corporate contracts, hotels, schools. cruise lines and resorts. Not only the positions you would expect, but also many behind the scenes roles in sales, marketing, public relations, legal and human resources to name just a few. There is nothing easy about it, but it can have lifelong rewards. One Caution: If you find yourself saying "I've always wanted to run (own) a restaurant, it looks like so much fun. After all, I cook for friends all the time, how hard can it be?" Stop right there and find something else to do. Of course, if you have lots and lots of money and time, then by all means, go for it. In fact, call me and we can talk.

Most of all, do some homework. Like anything else, have a good idea of what you are getting into. Thirty or so years ago, someone told me people will always have to eat and chefs can go anywhere and find good work. Hmmm...I obviously like to eat, I like to grow stuff and there's lots of jobs in the newspaper. That was about the same time the brand new "Computers" course was being offered at a small town high school, something the teacher said "If you're not good in math, you won't do well in this course" and the only Mac we knew of was the one that had Big in front of it. That pretty much sealed the deal for me.

Here are some links that you might find useful:

Comments 3 comments

Melonie Wright 2 years ago

I know that this is an old post, but I have a question for you.

Now, I'm a sophomore in high school and I'm seriously considering a career in the food industry. Specifically speaking, being a Restaurant Consultant with a bachelors degree. I acknowledge how incredibly hard it is to make it in the food industry, but I believe that it is something I could not only enjoy, but excel at. Then again, I'm only a sophomore; something could change and I could be considering a different career choice (to the relief of my parents -_-) by the time I'm a senior.

Now, I live in a pretty small town where the only time I can cook is in my house for other people and my family. There's no restaurants close enough for me to really get some decent experience and because of this, I was wondering if you knew of anything I could do at this point to help myself. I don't want to be a Sous chef, or an owner of a restaurant. I want to be the person they call in to design the restaurant, help create the menu, help train/pick workers, test food, cut costs, etc...; to not only be involved with the food, but being able to help the restaurant succeed.

Comments? Thank you very much :)


Chef Dave 2 years ago

Hi Melonie-

Your career goal is admirable- it's the type of thing many folks who spend years in the business gravitate to. The key here is "years in the business". If there is a vo-tech program in your high school- culinary or pastry arts- I would recommend that. If not, and there is no opportunity to work near by, then be a sponge- absorb everything you can from external media, books, family etc. Generally speaking, in order to be a consultant you need extensive real world experience in addition to some formal education. Spend some time on line searching for consulting agencies and see what they do then tailor your future education decisions along these lines.


Melonie Wright 2 years ago

Thank you :)

Considering schooling, what school do you think would be suitable for primarily focusing on the management side of the arts? I've been doing some research, but I'm trying to ask for opinions as well. Anything would be greatly appreciated.

Do you think a gateway program with food-science would be worth taking? Any other specifics you'd recommend? Books? Specific chefs? Advice is completely welcome :)

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