1. Being able to decide if the restaurant is a good or bad workplace can take time. Start by looking at little things, do they follow proper sanitation guidelines? Does the kitchen have quick turnover? Do the workers seem stressed when chef is around?1) Signs of bad work places? Signs of a good workplace?
2) Would culinary school be beneficial?
3) At any point does the pay get better or start to get benefits?
I'm most intimidated by the idea of burning out. Never having a weekend off and 60 hr work weeks. Or never making it and being 40 and making $12/hr.
Have you every worked at a place with some weekends off? Or vacation time? Made a menu? What kind of places pay well? I don't really care about making a ton of money, I just want to be stable. I'm pretty low maintenance. Pay my bills and have a little extra, is that achievable?
4) How do you deal with stress? When you're in the weeds how do you stay calm.. do you destress after work?
As for as making a career, I would say that a good workplace would be any kitchen that works mostly from scratch, and has an executive chef/sous chef as opposed to just a kitchen manager. Working in a kitchen with a sous and chef will allow for potential growth into either of those positions.
2. Culinary school can be beneficial, but it is usually expensive. I attended culinary school and I am glad because it gave me a lot of kitchen confidence, but I was not challenged at all and I know that I could have eventually learned everything while working at various jobs. If you don't go to culinary school, make sure you READ BOOKS, magazines, etc. Some chefs/kitchens will greatly appreciate a worker who has attended culinary school, but if you can cook fast, clean, and consistently, most chefs wont care.
3. Pay depends a LOT on the establishment. Most places won't offer benefits unless you are under salary (AKA sous chef, chef). Hotels and resorts may be an exception. Generally speaking, hotels and resorts is where the "big money" is at.. sick days, vacation days, breaks...
4. During rush I wipe down my cutting board between EVERY item that I make. It doesn't take more than 2 seconds and it allows me to catch my breath. I was once told "your cutting board looks like the inside of your head". If my space is clean, I can think clean.