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May 5, 2011 03:56 PM

Chowhounds Have you worked in the food industry? Good or Bad -

I had quit school and feeling really lousy about my prospects - took a part time job as a counter clerk in a butcher shop Granville Island..(Vancouver) .1980 - a customer handed me a $20.00 tip and said "if you want to work in a shop like the very least go back to school and be the butcher - what are you doing?"

I took a break and worked in a wine store helping with wine/scotch tasting events. Those same "suits" that treated me with respect at the law firm - treated me as if I had "deaf,dumb, useless" stamped on my forehead.

Some of the best advice ever was from a chef... "you have to know the difference between Professional and Personal / Friendly and Familiar ... to give good service"

I've a great respect for those who work in the food service industry.. I treat people very well because of my experiences..

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  1. "Food industry" is sort of a broad, amorphous term.

    That said, I have worked extensively in the restaurant industry -- from small mom-and-pop places to large chain type stores.

    The only thing I've learned from my experiences is that it is a tough tough way to make a living. Hours are long, work is generally tedious, and the atmosphere is more "slave labor" than "labor of love".

    I enjoy cooking -- cooking at my leisure, to be exact.

    Knowing how arduous it is, I couldn't cook for a living and actually enjoy it.

    Because of that, I have much much respect for those that do cook for a living, and even more respect and admiration for those who have made a success of themselves doing so.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Owning your own restaurant is a completely difference experience from being a worker. My FIL, back when he owned three restaurants, cut back to "part time" meaning he only worked 6 days a week, starting between 10am and 12 pm until 10 pm. Eye opening for me. And, I know restaurants owners who love cooking and ended up selling their restaurants so they could go back to cooking. If you can afford leisurely cooking, that's optimal to them.

      I worked in it long enough to know people can be incredibly rude and I wanted no part of it.

      1. re: chowser

        I worked in my parents' and other restaurants for a number of years, and when I get the notion of starting a retail food business of my own, I remind myself how grueling the hours, how exasperating the regulatory issues, and how very different large scale cooking is to feeding a family or even a small dinner party's worth of guests.

        Doesn't take long for that notion to take a long hike...

    2. Yes, I worked in the food industry, more years ago than I'd like to believe. In college, I worked for a pizza restaurant, both behind the oven and delivery. I waited tables at a Catskill Mountains resort holidays and summers. My first job after college was as the purchasing manager for a large wholesale bakery (thus my moniker). I later was employed in and then owned a catering business.

      That said, I appreciate hard work by those in the food industry, BUT I know that it is possible to do things the correct way and efficiently, so I have little tolerance for bad service and poor management.

      In my day, each of these establishments was closed on Mondays (except the hotel), so I was assured a day off every week, I left the food industry for a retail operation that was open 7 days and nights, so I have little sympathy for those who complain about food industry hours.

      Now in my late 50s, it's law and no nights, weekends or holidays

      1 Reply
      1. re: bagelman01

        I like what you said about the little tolerance for bad service and poor management bagelman. I've been a short order cook and a waitress, a hostess and a cashier and done a little bit of bartending. I learned that I liked being the dishwasher better than any of those jobs. I think it's easy to get burned out dealing with the public. Plus I wasn't very good at any of those jobs.
        The upside for me was that I got a lot of insights into the inner workings of a restaurant. For example some of my friends fail to notice when our server is trying to wait on five different tables at once. They tend to grow impatient while I'm impressed at how well she or he is juggling all those demands.
        The other side of the coin is the little tolerance for bad service and poor management. I'm dealing with this right now and it's making me cringe. My friend fell in love with a small cafe and was spending oodles of time and money there. Usually there is only the owner and one employee there. The employee is doing her level best to drive my friend and his business away by being jarringly unfriendly. For example the other day while my friend was enjoying a nice raw platter she walked up to him, drawing near, and then frowned at him in an almost exaggerated way. It was as if she resented him sitting there in the cafe eating. I guess if all the customers go away she will have less work.
        The owner is a nice man but kind of in his own little world and misses a lot. For example my friend and I had registered in advance to watch a film at the cafe on cancer and diet. There was a table between us and the screen and there was a couple sitting there talking fairly loudly. The owner came over to them soon after and I thought he was going to nicely ask them to let us watch the film. Doh! Turns out it was the owner's daughter and boyfriend and the owner joined in the conversation so I couldn't hear at all. I asked my friend loudly if he could hear, he was standing and straining to listen. I couldn't take it any more and muttered some excuse and sat out in the car until the film was over, almost an hour and a half later. The next day the owner asked my friend if I liked the film. Made me want to bang my head against the wall. My friend started out loving the place and wanting to eat there as much as possible. Now he is not eager to return.
        Most everyone in my neck of the woods gets to be a customer but working in the industry does help you see a lot more. For good or bad.

      2. 20 years. Cook, Sous, KM, Busboy, Dishwasher, Waiter. You name it, except bartender.

        Lots of good times. At 50 years old, I don't think I could work 12 - 14 hours a day in a kitchen anymore. Loved it at the time though.

        2 Replies
        1. re: chileheadmike

          Yes, any food job descriptions I've read have said, "Must be able to lift 50 lbs easily" or something to that effect.

          1. re: chileheadmike

            Ditto: from menu consulting to Ex. Chef all the way to dishwasher in the back; Waiting tables and managing in the front. Although I still work in the food industry, I don't think I have the physical capacity to expedite or run a line anymore, but I love food and it has been a business and a vocation that served up a very good living. It made me a much better customer. I'd go so far as to say it all made me a better, quicker-thinking and more creative individual. It was definitely a great outlet: I could give vent at work because of the craziness of the industry, but I didn't bring the stress home with me. Loved it all.

          2. Ages 18-19, I was an assistant manager at a Hardees.I was kind of a transfer from my hometown Hardees, having worked there part time since 15. It was a nightmare dealing with inconsistent staff, an owner who (it turned out) was laundering money through the place, a manager who was a drunk, and the customer base was mostly college kids.

            I aged more in those 2 years than I have in the 15 since, I think. But, I was making enough money for me at the time. Being independent at that age is worth 60+ hours a week! And the owner was generous with bonuses and easy to get along with.

            In the end, it was stressful and working fast food is in no way fufilling. The only decent memory I have is going in early on Sunday morning and making omelets for those that bothered to show up.

            I got married the next year and my husband landed a great job right out of graduation. I was so exhausted from the whole exprience that I just stopped working altogether for quite a while, haha!

            1. Yes - everything from bartender to bus, dishwasher, server, manager, owner, prep., catering, marketing, sales....

              I had a lifetime of experience, a ton of energy, a boatload of confidence, and actual financial backing. Here's what I learned -

              That no matter how much you do for an owner - how much you think you know. No matter how much day to day responsibility you have - no matter that your numbers are continuously good, reviews are good, the kitchen is happy and costs are contained.

              It ALL changes when your name is on the door. When you are signing the checks. Backbreaking does not begin to describe it. Stressful is an understatement. There were nights I was so bone tired, I'd fall asleep in the car waiting for it to warm up. Exhausting - Just Exhausting. Mentally, physically, emotionally. There were so many times I'd have cheerfully traded it all for a nice, safe, manager's job with a real paycheck! To have just one owner depending on me, instead of fifty employees.

              Then one day, in the midst of chaos, it happened. We were slammed. The phones were going crazy. The servers were weeded. The kitchen had tickets to the floor. There was an accident in the parking lot. Someone was yelling at me because her credit card was declined. And it hit me - I had never been happier in my life. I could do this. I was born to do this. And really - who needs sleep anyway?

              I learned that experience doesn't count until you buy it with your own money.

              2 Replies