Restaurant and food careers are growing in number by the day, and for a simple reason. We all have to eat. Unless you’re a supermodel, and you have misgivings about this whole eating thing. Or, if you’re a jockey and you have to watch your weight before you ride in the Kentucky Derby. But the rest of us have to eat, and if the rest of us have to eat, then someone has to make all that eating possible.
The cooks, the chefs, the pastry chefs, the bakers, the food service managers, and the sommeliers. Don’t forget those in the food manufacturing industry. All these people, and many more working in restaurant and food careers, have a big job filling all those hungry mouths.
No wonder career opportunities in the restaurant and food industries are expanding like a well-fed stomach after Thanksgiving dinner. We’re talking about a seriously big industry, and one that continues to grow as it recovers from the Global Financial Crisis, and feeds a growing population.
The National Restaurant Association predicts that about 700 billion dollars will be spent in American restaurants this year alone! Some of their other statistics and figures relating to restaurant and food careers are just as mouth-watering and eye-popping:
– There are one million restaurant locations in the United States.
– The restaurant industry enjoys a 47% share of the food dollar.
– The restaurant workforce makes up 10% of the overall American workforce.
– Currently, 14 million people work in restaurants, with 1.7 million new restaurant jobs by 2025.
These staggering statistics lead us to one very delicious conclusion – There are jobs galore in the restaurant and food industry! Tailoring your education towards restaurant and food careers can really pay off in the long run.
Get Formal About Food
The sort of study you do depends what field you want to specialise in. Restaurant and food careers have a tradition of beginning at entry-level, without a college degree or other qualification behind them. This was particularly true of family restaurants, where generation after generation would take over the running of the business, having learnt their stuff by observing their elders. And many jobs in restaurants and the food industry have usually been low-skill roles, where a modicum of training has been required.
For all that, it is a smart move, if you’re really serious about a career in the restaurant or food industry, to obtain a formal qualification. A degree from a college, culinary school or technical institute is increasingly sought after by employers these days, and many of them actually recruit direct from these institutions. This is hardly surprising as employers in all fields like to take on applicants that are ‘job ready’ and require little training in the workplace. Time is money in any industry, and time spent training under-educated employees is a cost many restaurants won’t pay.
There are several other reasons why formal qualifications are in demand. One of them has to do with fussy consumers, who are getting fussier by the day. Let’s see how this applies to you if you wish to become a chef, for example.
Satisfying the Fussiest Diners
Tastes are changing. Diners are becoming more discerning. Blame celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey, Anthony Bourdain, Rachael Ray and Mario Batali. All of their books and television shows are devoured by a hungry public, who are absorbing everything they are being told by these rock star chefs. And the newly-informed public is taking this knowledge with them to restaurants, and demanding to taste food of a similar quality to that being cooked by their culinary heroes. Steak and fries will no longer cut the mustard. It needs to be deconstructed. With a red wine jus! And pea foam!!
Meeting these demands takes a masterful technique in the kitchen. Executive chefs in high end restaurants have these skills, but not the time to pass them on. The best way to match your skills with consumer expectations is to learn them in a college or culinary institution. You’ll be given the time and attention you need to master the demands of modern cuisine, while also being given the opportunity to do some in-restaurant training.
A Taste For Business
Not all restaurant and food careers are based in the kitchen. Opportunities exist for more business-minded types, including the role of food service manager. A food service manager takes charge of a restaurant in its entirety, making sure things run smoothly from the kitchen to the dining room, and all points in between. Staff have to be directed and motivated, diners have to be kept happy, and the books have to be balanced. To do all that takes interpersonal skills and business know-how, with many restaurants now insisting that the business know-how be taught at the highest possible level. In an increasingly crowded market, where new restaurants open every day, it’s those establishments that can take care of business, as well as their customers, that survive. Yet another reason to take a more formal approach to educating yourself in readiness for a restaurant or food career.
Working In A Growing Industry
Not many industries can say they’re growing but the restaurant and food industries can make that claim, and they’ve been able to say that for the last six years. Things don’t look like slowing down either, so restaurant and food careers are good options for job seekers. Not all positions offer salaries as tasty as the food being served, with wait staff notorious for being paid very low rates. Of course, many of our waiters and waitresses see their restaurant work as a way to fund their studies, or to see them through until they get their lucky break on Broadway. (If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a New York waiter say “I’m actually an actor”, then I could afford to order the lobster every night.)
For hospitality graduates who see a career in the restaurant or food industry as more than a stepping stone to stardom, then salaries are a little more appealing, as these figures from Payscale.com demonstrate:
– Executive Chef, median annual salary of $58, 745
– Food Service Director, median annual salary of $53, 561
– General Manager, Restaurant, median annual salary of $48, 042
– Restaurant Manager, median annual salary of $41, 538
– Sous Chef, median annual salary of $37, 969
– Kitchen Manager, median annual salary of $37, 301
Of course, there will always be fluctuations, and many establishments will pay well above the odds for superstars in crucial positions. One great executive chef can make a restaurant the hottest dining spot in town, and they’ll be paid accordingly to stay. It’s a well-known fact that many diners show loyalty to a chef, rather than the restaurant itself. When a chef leaves, the diners follow.
Another crucial role is that of a food service manager. A good one is worth their weight in gold if they can keep the kitchen buzzing, and the dining room humming, and don’t those cash registers ringing. A good food service manager can expect to be handsomely rewarded for achieving all those things, because all those things help to keep a restaurant in business.
Or how about the sommelier, otherwise known as a wine steward? A sommelier is responsible for creating a magical wine list, usually in conjunction with the executive chef, and for advising diners on wine and food matches that will leave them spellbound. When food is perfectly paired with a great wine, a meal in a restaurant is elevated to a dining experience bordering on the celestial. This is something that diners will never forget, and keep them returning for more, which is why an experienced sommelier with an ultra-discerning palate can expect to earn a very, very good living at a high end dining establishment.
The point is, there’s a big difference in earning power for the good, and the very good. The restaurant and food industry rewards talent, and passion, and hard work, and people with a flair for what they do. Not everyone has a natural flair, but hard work and a willingness to learn from those around you can take your career, and earning potential, to somewhere very special.
A Side Dish of Benefits
It’s not all about the money for many pursuing restaurant and food careers. Not that there’s anyone in the industry who will work for nothing out of the goodness of their hearts. But there are certain aspects of the job, whatever it might be, that make up for a slightly smaller pay packet.
Job security is one of them. Restaurants open, and restaurants close, so this security is a little unconventional, but with the continued growth in the entire industry, there is always employment elsewhere for the right person. Call it mobile job security if you like.
This industry growth has another side benefit, and that’s opportunities for advancement. With so many jobs in the restaurant and food industries, it’s obvious that not all the openings will be at entry-level; there are always openings at more senior levels, certainly more than in other industries where staff turnover is lower.
The chance to travel is another benefit linked to the sheer number of openings, with listings being advertised everywhere. An executive chef, with a rock star reputation, can be in demand all over the world. Not only are they tempted to move to exotic locations, but they are often given the opportunity to create a menu in their own image as well – something any chef with half an ego would love to do.
Spoiled by Nearly Unlimited Choices
Restaurant and food careers are so wide ranging that there are some jobs that take a back seat to the more ‘famous’ roles, such as executive chef. But, if you’re willing to branch out and specialize in a lesser known role, you can find yourself being in demand too, thanks to a shortage of people working in your field.
For example, a banquet manager plans parties, banquets, conventions and other special events, either in restaurants, hotels or hired venues. Banquets are big money spinners, and a banquet manager who can make such an event run smoothly, and attract return business, is a huge asset.
Human resources managers might not be the first thing you think of when considering restaurant and food careers, but they are very highly regarded, and highly paid, if they consistently recruit outstanding talent, and keep all employees motivated and happy. After all, a happy workplace is a productive workplace.
One final example of a more obscure role within the industry is an expediter, the main communication link between all the food production areas in a restaurant kitchen. The expediter ensures everyone is aware of what orders need to be prepared next, and when they’re to be prepared, so that servers can get meals to a dining room table in good time. In a busy kitchen, it is vital that communication is clear and concise. The expediter who makes this happen is worth their weight in gold.
These three examples just show that restaurant and food careers span all sorts of skill sets and personality types, thanks to the sheer number of roles available. Whether you have a passion for food, or a passion for figures, there is a role you can fill. If you prefer talking to cooking, there’s a role for you too. And, if you think wine is more important than food, then when can you start?
Demanding Diners and Other Things
It’s not all champagne and caviar. Restaurant and food careers do present challenges. When a diner says their steak was rare-medium, rather than medium-rare, and they want another one, but this time make it cooked well done, then you have to grin and bear it. In a service industry, where the ‘customer is always right’, it can be difficult to keep your equilibrium and good humor, but consider it a skill and try to become very good at it. Those that do usually go far in the industry.
Sometimes the diners are a piece of cake, and it’s your colleagues who are the ones proving to be a little difficult. The industry operates under a high pressure setting a lot of the time, and this can be fun if you like the intensity and exhilaration of a fast-moving workplace. But sometimes, this pressure causes cracks in the composure of even the most laid back person, and angry words can be exchanged. If you have the temperament to handle this pressure, and the ambition to get the qualifications you need to take you to the top, then the opportunities to succeed are there.
In the time it has taken you to read this article, lots more job listings in the restaurant and food industries have been posted. This time tomorrow, there will be more openings. This time next week, there will be even more. Many more. If you choose to pursue restaurant and food careers, you’ve made a great choice. Depending on where you are, and the role you aspire too, you can even pick and choose to a certain degree, given the sheer number of jobs. But remember, the best jobs tend to go to the most qualified applicants these days. Good luck…and bon appetit.