I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants. Some places for a day, some for several years. The heading on my résumé for my employment history has always said Relevant Experience. This way I can keep less-than-attractive stints off without being a fibber, since the ones I chose to include always seemed to be the ones that had some relevance to my cooking career. As it turns out, I may have been a fibber all along.
Recently I posted some work history thoughts in the About section of this blog, with a link from my Facebook page. A friend left a comment asking “what about Xx Xxxxxx?” I know he was kidding me because he knew as I did that the place was run ass-backwards, and I was only there for a few months before they closed. In fact, I learned I was out of a job when it was announced on Table Hopping that they were closed for good while I was on vacation. So, the relevancy of this job was that I learned something about how not to treat people.
I started thinking about some of the not-so-great places I’ve worked and what value there was in passing through those spots. I’ll just tell you what I’ve learned from some of them.
I was once hired by the owner of a newly renovated pub that told me he wanted to be upscale and do interesting food. The word gastro-pub was tossed around and the money offered was great so I took the job. As an added bonus, it gave me an opportunity to work within walking distance from my house instead of the 40 minute commute I was making. One of my tasks, I was told, was to rewrite the menu, but that was not the case. He refused to change the Cheesecake Factory-length menu, citing for each item that there’s a particular customer that comes in for that item. Don’t accept a job in a kitchen that has a tremendously long menu. I was also assured that the dump of a kitchen was next to be fixed up now that the public areas were completed. It never happened. I learned from that experience that I need some documentation of what’s been promised in an interview. As Judge Judy says, “get it in writing.”
I was the opening chef for a new place and the name was stupid, and that right there could have been the total learning experience. Don’t work at a place with a stupid name. The owner had zero restaurant experience and made it clear that he would pay well for professional people to help him. My girlfriend (now wife) was hired to establish the wine program and hire and manage the front-of-the-house staff. While getting the wine list together it is customary to have wine reps come in with samples. Jenn and I participated in tastings, but the owner declined because he didn’t like wine. Don’t trust any restaurant person that doesn’t drink wine. This place turned into a nightmare. At one point the owner decided all items in the kitchen will be made fresh every day. I asked “so you would like us to prep the entire menu every day?” Do not go to work for people who have no restaurant experience. (I had a relapse not too long ago).
Just as employers look for applicants that have not had too many jobs in a given amount of time, applicants should also be wary of places that have a revolving door on the kitchen. So, do not go to work for a place with high turnover of staff. Do your homework.
The first full-time kitchen job I got when I decided I would cook for a living was at a red-sauce Italian joint. The owner would drive his truck to produce wholesalers and pick cases of tomatoes or lettuce that were being discarded because they were rotting and bring them into the kitchen to be salvaged and used for dinner service. I learned that it is not ok to cook garbage.
These are just a few of the things I have learned over the years working for the wrong people, just as I’m sure I’ve taught a few owners about hiring the wrong person. But, because of both good and bad experience, I’m convinced I have a solid grip on this business. I look forward to many more years of positive experience in this world, as I now have a good understanding of what not to do.