Are there still careers to be built as a Chef and Bartender? Or just another dying lost art... by co-host David Mau
At Fat drunk and happy we strive to give our listeners a real taste (pun intended) of what it like to work in the realm of food and beverage. All the ups and down, pinnacles and pitfalls along with some straight up dirt on what really goes on behind the curtain. What the public sees is one thing, no matter how many times you’ve seen “Waiting” or “Chef”. The real story is quite a bit different in more ways than your friends here can count and its our mission to pull back the veneer to reveal the good, bad and the ugly.
Last week we chimed in about how to land your dream restaurant gig in The Biz, a first timers guide to the things to both seek and shun when hitting the bricks for your first foray into the restaurant world. But this week, let’s back that out just a little. Before you start making decisions on the what and where of employment in this world we have (for whatever reason) chosen to make our own let’s pose the question of whether you should even consider such a radical, life altering course.
Us here at Fat Drunk And Happy do believe one thing when it comes to this element of the equation. Everyone....EVERYONE....should work at a restaurant in some capacity during their lives just to understand what it’s like on the other end. It’ll also teach you a lot about humility, the human condition and exactly what you are made of when the shit hits the proverbial fan. Anyone can work retail for a bit while they figure things out or make copies at your parents buddies office. But there’s not much to learn in those situations aside from numbing yourself to the daily grind you will face when “real life” comes calling. It’s akin to compulsory military service. It probably really sucks at the time and doesn’t make any seeming sense but at least be fed, learn how to shoot an assault rifle and basically fend for yourself. The restaurant world is a similar trial by fire.
Don’t get us wrong, life in The Biz can be lighthearted too! Like working weird hours and feel you’re what could classically be termed a “free spirit”? Then it’s a pretty good place to land although it can be unpredictable, which doesn’t sit well with many personality types. But those people eventually gravitate towards the more traditional 9-5 anyway. But the restaurant industry is a great way to define your character and motives. Most people that stick around the bar, kitchen or front of house long term find it suits who they are deep down inside and figure it’s better than being chained to a desk somewhere - which can seem like a death sentence. Shhhhhhhh.....that’s because it is.
Your foray into The Biz can teach you a lot about resilience too. Like when that epic first rush working the line on a Saturday night is over for all but a second and your kitchen printer starts spewing out tickets like a Kinko’s copy machine on meth. That’s a great moment to reach way down inside yourself and see if what you THINK you have is what you REALLY have, believe us. It’s a bit more complex than character-building, it’s more like digging your way out of a prisoner of war camp only to have your tunnel collapse mere yards from the barbed wire. It will break you at the moment, then make you when you realize the only way forward is to grab that shovel and start digging again.
For sure The Biz is an epic way to have a good time. The energy is generally youthful and people rarely go out hell-bent on having a lousy experience - except in Santa Monica. So the environs of your employment tend to have quite a bit more levity than your standard gig. Everyone is there is to party, which can also have its pitfalls, but while you’re in the midst of it there is a certain charm to what’s going on around you. If you can tolerate people, stress and chaos that is.
But this part of the equation has its pitfalls too and us here at Fat Drunk And Happy would be not in true service as your Obi-Wan Kenobis of the F&B realm if we didn’t warn you. It’s fine to work in the industry because you want to, that’s admirable and a great space to be in. But it sucks to do it because you HAVE to. So if you decide to make this your life, least for a little bit, always be doing something else. Go to college, find a cool side-hustle, learn some random wacky skill that makes you happy, write a book, build your own brand.
Whatever. Anything. Literally anything.
It’s kind of like that first bong rip of the morning. Thats’s always the best one and you can spend the rest of your day chasing it. Same thing in The Biz. You can hold on to the frivolity of your early experiences until they are long past and you have aged out with no backup plan. That’s just the worst. So always have something in your back pocket just in case. You don’t want to work at some really cool mom and pop place forever and have them close up along with your prospects for a real future. We’ve seen it happen, believe us.
Our verdict on this? Well, “nothing ventured nothing gained” as they say and it will teach you lot about life outside your immediate skill set. There’s also plenty of room to advance your career if you decide this is for you. Management can be tough but you’re still around people and, although the hours suck, it’s a solid way to go if your waters are charted that direction. I.e. when you don’t feel like carrying plates, working the broiler or pouring drinks anymore. Just keep yours eyes open and eyes up while you’re doing it.
- David Mau
Here at Fat Drunk And Happy we enjoy sharing our wealth of insider information via our food podcast, some of it good and some of it the gritty truth. So we are gonna tip you off on how to find your dream job in the Food and Beverage industry but also, more importantly, how to get one they love. Ahhh, that’s the tricky part. Anyone can get a job making sandwiches at Subway, but is that really your aspiration? Restaurant life can be tough but why make it tougher.
1- Be open to possibilities - If you wake up every morning with the “everything is stupid and nothing’s ever going to work out” attitude, guess what? I guarantee that’s the way it’s gonna go down. There are two reasons for this; One-you are setting yourself up for failure before your little foot-o-mobiles ever hit the floor and; Two-nobody likes being around that kind of energy except people of the same mindset. And people with that mindset generally don’t get much accomplished. Be positive, good energy begets good energy and it’s an attractive quality for a potential employer. Smile. Be nice. Everything’s easier that way.
2- Don’t make phone calls - You know who calls restaurants looking for a job? Unemployed spoiled brat kids still living at home who are trying to get their parents off their back about not working. That’s who. And you don’t want potential employers to assume you are that person. Nothing irritates a restaurant manager more than getting the “Are you guys hiring?’ phone call. I actually just slam the phone down when I get them; maybe they’ll take the hint. Calling a restaurant looking for work is worse for you than NOT calling a restaurant looking for work. What are they supposed to say? “Sure we are! Thanks for calling during our lunch rush! Why don’t you come down here so I can slap you?” It is, however, okay to call for a follow-up on an application or interview during appropriate hours. So when is that? Well, it’s not an exact science but here’s some pointers. If it’s a regular breakfast-lunch-dinner joint your best bet is to catch someone of importance just after the lunch rush. Calling before lunch or during breakfast hours is probably not the best idea, managers are usually making sure the shop is getting set for the day or handling one of the endless minor crisis that haunt the industry. Unless instructed to do so NEVER call after 5pm. Both front and back of house are probably getting rolling for the evening and you don’t want to be a disruption. Most of all BE NICE ON THE PHONE! I have made decisions on whether to hire someone or not just on how they spoke with via a phone call. Phrases like “Hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time’ or “If you’re too busy to talk I’ll call later” go a long way here.
3- Ask your friends - A lot of small restaurants and Chefs tend to hire within their “family” sort to speak, in other words hiring friends of current employed via word of mouth. Personally, I would never hire someone unless I knew him or her either directly or through a friend. You can teach anyone to work in a restaurant, but you can’t teach integrity. People either have it or they don’t.
4- Hit the bricks - I thought it was bullshit when my father told me looking for a job was like having a job. I was wrong. If you are currently unemployed you should be looking/thinking/thinking about looking 8hrs a day. Put down the bong, you’ll do just fine.
5- Handling Online Apps - Online applications are great for an intro but should always be followed up by a visit and resume in person. Also, I don’t know why or when people started putting headshots on their resume but, unless you’re a stripper, don’t do it.
6- Observe and Orient - There is a bit of arcane knowledge called the OODA loop, conceived by a fighter pilot named John Boyd and currently used by special forces and gung-ho corporate types. OODA stands for “Observe-Orient-Decide-Act’, I’ll spare you the details but if you ever want to read about it it’s quite fascinating. The most important part of finding your dream restaurant job is evaluating your situation (observing) and pointing (orienting) yourself in the right direction. Where do YOU like to hang out? If you have friends in the industry where do THEY work? I guarantee you will be way happier working with people you know at a place you like being anyway. Do you really want to work at the corner deli where everyone looks strung-out and miserable? Probably not. Do you want to work at the place where they have a great product/brand and everyone looks stoked? Probably. Remember!!!!! Shitty restaurants are owned by shitty people, run by shitty managers, and employ shitty crew. Avoid them at all costs.
7- Look professional but approachable - The restaurant business varies widely in levels of service, but one thing is true-restaurant people tend to be a bit more casual than the 9-5 cubicle dwellers. Unless you are trying for a corporate-level management position try and take it easy.
Gentlemen - Generally speaking a nice, casual button-up shirt is fine. Stay away from black, everyone wants to meet Johnny Cash but nobody wants to hire him. Nice jeans might be okay depending on the shop, but I’d find some hip pants. How you wear your hair at Coachella and how you wear your hair at work are two different things, keep it utilitarian. SHAVE DAMMIT! You can look edgy after you get the job. No Axe body spray. Ever. It’s offensive. Same thing as the ladies, extra resume, leave the cell phone in the car.
Ladies - Hair-up is always nice; most shops are going to require it anyway if you are working the floor. Dresses are overkill, however a nice casual skirt is okay. Leave your purse in the car, you look way more professional and together if you’re not lugging around your junk drawer. Throttle back on the makeup, keep it natural. Have glasses? Wear ‘em! Leave your cel phone in the car. MAKE SURE you have a plain file folder with two extra copies of your resume. So that’s our own two cents from the team here at Fat Drunk And Happy. Our best advice is to go other and get ‘em! And there is no substitute for momentum in the restaurant world, always be moving whether in the kitchen, behind the bar or in your job hunt.