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Advice for jobs outside the restaurant industry

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Hello all, I'm a culinary student currently finishing up the course. I have to say, I loved every bit of it and still have the same level of passion to cook, the only thing bothering me is where I'm going to work in the future. I worked in a restaurant kitchen last summer making sandwiches, salads, and lots of prep work.
To be honest, I flat out HATED it. I was working 55-60 hours week with no overtime, is that a regular occurrence in restaurant kitchens (side note: almost everyone in the kitchen was an illegal)? When I told them I would like to be compensated for overtime they simply started cutting me at 40 hrs a week.
Another thing I didn't enjoy was the "rush" of everything. Cooking to me works as a creative outlet. Working in a restaurant just made me feel like a robot on a factory line pumping out items.
My schedule was also not flexible, asking for a day off was like asking to get fired. I felt like I had no life that summer. I don't want to live like that for years to come. I love cooking, but the restaurant sorted seemed to bring me down more than up. It didn't seem healthy to me to let work encompass my life so much, towards the end of the 4 months of working there I felt somewhat depressed. I wasn't able to give much time to other passions in my life or hang out with friends and family.
I'm lost,I don't know what to do. I feel like this is the only thing I want to do In life. I don't want any other job except cooking, but it seems most jobs cooking are in restaurants.

Anyone here have any personal experience working in other places BESIDE restaurants? I was thinking somewhere along the lines of Catering Companies, Hotel or maybe even a private hospital?
I'd appreciate any advice from anyone who's worked in these settings. Please explain to me what the hours are like and more importantly, the working environment.
post #2 of 14

     Unfortunately for you, all food service environments have elements you won't like. Cooking is creative but mostly in the planning. School is a great environment for learning but not always representative of an actual job, as you have recently discovered. All food service outlets will be pressure driven and a bit "robotic".  In hotels, catering companies and high end three star restaurants there are lots of boring, repetitive tasks that someone needs to do. You will always feel pressure to "rush" or complete your work in a fast, efficient manner.  As a recent graduate, you will be the one doing those tasks. 

     Sit and think for a while about why that might be. In any establishment of any kind, people are expecting to eat. They are expecting to eat at a certain time. The time may be pre set, as in a catering event, or sudden and unexpected, as when people arrive unannounced at a restaurant. The food needs to be prepared accordingly and food doesn't last forever. The more people to be fed in any situation and the more creative the menu, the more preparative work is needed and the greater number of people are involved. For things to work out successfully, there needs to be organization and planning and accordingly, dependability on the part of those involved.  This is also true in any job of any kind. 

     You have expressed displeasure with the very basic nature of food service work. Cooking can certainly be a creative outlet but to expect that to be the driving force of daily work is a bit naive and uninformed. A real food service outlet of any kind bears no resemblance to a cooking show on TV. No matter where you work in the industry you will be encountering the very things you say you did not enjoy. If you don't find pleasure in those things, or in the environment where they occur, then you should find another occupation. 

     You might look into food sales, management or some other hospitality related occupations and save the creative cooking for your family and friends.  

post #3 of 14

Hospitals are the most boring places in the world to work. With all your comments I firmly believe you ought to get out of this business because long hours hard work is the nature of the beast, no matter where or what position held.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...


Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

post #4 of 14
Thread Starter 
I have to say though I'm still very interested in a catering company although I've never met anyone who works at one or know anything about what a normal day working for a catering company is like.
At the restaurant I worked at I was involved with a lot of catering set ups. We had a big catering menu and did a lot of different parties ,Helping make very large platters for dinner parties and such, it was my favorite part of the job. Yes, we had to work fast but at the same time, it felt way more pleasing to be working on caterings.

I realized I probaby sounded a little whiny, but really all I'm asking is : what are other jobs like out there besides working in a restaurant kitchen. Leaving the business is just not an option for me, I want To go through with this .
Edited by DurbanPoison - 6/12/14 at 8:39am
post #5 of 14

You might find it a bit hard. I staged at a restaurant that did a lot of catering as well as fine dining, and it was equally as hectic. Besides, even if you just prep food and don't work the line, efficiency and speed is required. Who wants to hire someone that takes forever to julianne a bell pepper when you've got two hotel pans filled with them, and two more with onions waiting for brunoise? Also, sometimes the repetitive nature is worse than working the line, since you make/ assemble 150 of the same dish - unless it's buffet style. Catering also requires food preparation in a timely manner so you'll never really get away from that "rush of service." I'm certainly the least experienced of this group, for sure-  so take that with a grain of salt.  


I've seen and heard of restaurants that are very meticulous and methodical in their food preparation and service, but those are mostly 2 and 3 star michelin restaurants where everybody wants to work precisely for that reason. Or you could open your own place with only 20 tables and turn them over twice in one night, but that won't be profitable. How about a food truck?


If you do some digging, you might find work peripherally related to food preparation. Food research, equipment testing, etc. Like Food sales and management suggested by chefwriter. Freelancing for food magazines and blogs. . . ?

post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 
Food trucks sound awesome. My mom and grandmother were cooks in the home country of Costa Rica. They had enough clientele to work out of the home kitchen doing catering services. (Cost of living is low too) Ideally, that's something I would love to do , except for a company rather than my own kitchen.
I know I won't find a job that doesn't require some sort of hustle
post #7 of 14
I hate to say it, but you probably should have had that restaurant job before you went to school.
No overtime seems to be an east coast thing. If it happened to me out here in the PNW i wouldn't hesitate to call L&I, not that I would expect them to do anything. Having said that, hourly workers out here tend to work 35- 40 hours, so a lot of cooks will have two jobs.
Caterers and hotels, if they are busy, will have you working more hours than restaurants will- in the season. Different companies, of course have different policies, but all those big parties need staff. Since kitchen work doesn't really pay that well, thats part of the attraction(as long as you get paid for it). Hospitals and retirement homes are two other options, as are schools(some colleges have differentkitchens for fraternaties or whatnot- i don't really know the ins and out), and corporate dining contract work. A couple of friends of mine work in that line of work; the chief attraction seems to be stability.
That said, there is no time when kitchen work should be done slowly, or innefficiently. And, of course, chef type management in any of these settings still means a 50+ hour week. And you are not going to get to be very creative anywhere until you are at the upper end of wherever you go. Especially not in catering, where the menus are decided far ahead of time.
In answer to your direct question, I was doing pick up work at a catering company near my house. The core guys would come in at 8or 9 in the morning and work till midnight. Other people would come in throughout the day but no one would go home. In the winter, they might not work at all for weeks, or come in and work one lunch and thats it. In the summer they work all the time. The food was pretty good, but that doesn't mean the work wasn't endlessly repetitive- 350 bundles of blanched vegetables tied with a piece of leek, anyone? The chef or one of his top guys did platters and display work.
post #8 of 14

Being a recent graduate you are going to be most likely put it in prep and work your way up. Almost everyone starts out at prep when they have little experience. Prep usually is very repetitive unless you find a restaurant that changes their menus up every few weeks (usually the popular ones that everyone wants to work in, similar to what was said above). I'm sorry to say, but I hardly have time to do what I love to do while outside of work. I sacrifice spending time with my son to spend long hours in kitchens and I hardly feel enough energy or have enough time to brew beer and cook food at home which is what really makes me happy. I still love this business, and know I belong in it. I highly respect schools that require students to spend six months in a restaurant before attending school. Most people don't know what it is really like. You could be a food writer, I've heard of people at my culinary school getting offers for working in test kitchen for food magazines. You could get into agriculture. You could work in the front of the house which is still crazy hectic. Your not normally going to find a 9-5 job in this business. It can be done, but not common. 

post #9 of 14

I was in the exact same predicament. Here are the options I found:


As stated before: Hospitals, Jails, Retirement Homes, Schools, Corporate/Office building kitchens


Country Club(Where I'm currently at) they usually have more than enough staff for the work load, flexible hours, 40 hours a week + paid overtime if you want it, many have rotating menus, etc. My current schedule with my country club has me working 40 hours a week, weekends off, and not having to come into work until 3:00PM 3 days out of the week. The only downside is that these jobs are usually seasonal as no one goes golfing in the North East winters.


Another thing you can look at is getting a Nutrition degree. The jobs in this area of the industry are extremely well paying, usually 9-5 jobs, and have great benefits. Its a combination of cooking and the medical field, which you must be interested in. And there is a lot more logical thinking needed. But it is always an option that most people don't think of




post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thank you I highly appreciate your response. Somedays in the kitchen, I feel like this is the only way for me. But there are so many things in life I wish to accomplish that working in a restaurant sort of gets in the way.
Edited by DurbanPoison - 7/26/14 at 6:09pm
post #11 of 14

ive heard the pay rate in hospitals is a lot higher, for positions like prep, etc. like $10-13 an hour. or is that complete bull. ive considered looking into hospital kitchens as a new job, but dont really know much about what they even do food wise. 

post #12 of 14
Thread Starter 
I've heard the same thing, that pay is better outside restaurant jobs. But I also hear it's pretty much a trade off. Either work at a restaurant and cook many different things, always busy, and crazy hours. Or work somewhere like a hospital kitchen which can get boring, but provides better hours and possible better pay? I don't know. That was my main question when making this thread.
post #13 of 14
I graduated culinary school 4 years ago and my experience in the kitchen ranged from line cooking for fine dining, qsr, corporate companies like compass, and hospitals. All these jobs when you start off pay pretty low except for cooking at a hospital which payed 13/hr. that is for entry level cooks. Once you gain experience you make more. The hardest part of cooking at any one place is you always sacrifice something. If you cook at a restaurant you don't have a great schedule, but you learn from a good chef hopefully and it makes you a stronger cook. I ahospital you work mostly mon thru fri even as an executive chef which I was until last week, but it's boring. I have found I miss the creativity of cooking in a real restaurant compared to cooking for a hospital where it's just a daily routine. However I loved having my weekends and better pay. My advice is to learn as much as you can wherever you choose to go. Take what you learn and continue working hard. The more you work the more sense of what direction you want to take will take form. Cooking is a hard business. As for me I am still trying to figure out where I want to be in this field by next year. Good luck
post #14 of 14

I dunno, I just dunno...


Look, durban poison, I've got no beef with you, and I don't mean to single you out, nor is it my place to ream you out, but.....


Your post is a classic shining example of why it should be MANDATORY for Culinary Schools to only accept students with a minimum of 1 year experience PRIOR to taking the course.


O.K. yeah, so you don't like working the line, fair enough.  But don't think that other kitchens don't have their share of stress.


Catering companies.... Just because you do prep work doesn't mean that if Fred or Barney beside you works faster than you, that you still will have a job next week.  Time is cash, time is money, and if the Chef has a heart s/he will give a few days to get up to speed. Days.   But if you can't work fast and efficient, you're history.  And don't think that pumping out 200 covers within 35 minutes doesn't entail stress, or packing, transporting, setting up, and serving a buffet or banquet for 400 at a remote location doesn't have it's fair share of stress either.


Hospitals and senior's homes...  Yes, they do have 9-5 shifts, albeit 7 days a week.  But just because you might like the job doesn't mean you'll automatically get it, or if you do get it, that you will work a 40 hr week.  Most of these places are unionized.  Unionized is a term that you will come to learn more about in the coming years if you stay within the hospitality industry.  In all my years, I have never seen a unionized shop that doesn't function on Seniority.  Seniority is another term that you will come to understand as well.  But suffice it to say, that if you do land a job in a unionized kitchen, it will be part time untill you have seniority enough to apply for a full time position.  When I had my catering business, most of my cooks worked p/t at the unionized places, most of them on-call or swing shifts covering the reg's holidays or medical leaves.  Most had been doing this for years, and many working at multiple unionized kitchens, always looking, searching, waiting and waiting for a chance to get that regular full time mon-fri 9 - 5 shift. But in the meantime, they have rent to pay and bills to pay.


This is the hospitality industry. 


It won't change for you.  Will you change for it?

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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