Food is having its moment. People are so obsessed with it, they’re holding it up in the air and calling it art. There was a time not so long ago when working in a restaurant was considered blue-collar. But thanks to the burgeoning popularity of the food scene, restaurant jobs are becoming more respected, and even coveted. Since I graduated from college, I’ve been a host, a server, and most recently a bartender, and I never could have predicted how much I’d learn both on the floor and off of it.
1. The best part of working in restaurants is the people.
You’ll meet wild, funny, hardworking people you may have never crossed paths with otherwise. Your bartender is studying to get his MFA in poetry, and your sous chef is raising his babies in the Bronx, and when the doors open, you’re all working toward the same goal: to give your guests an unforgettable experience. There’s a particular kind of closeness between coworkers in a restaurant. You only know tidbits about each other’s lives, but every night you’re swept up in the order of things together, and you form a bond unlike any other job.
2. You’ll work with customers from various backgrounds too.
I’ve convinced reluctant guys from Staten Island that our meatballs are the best they’ll ever have. I’ve read the entire menu aloud to an old-aged couple doused in diamonds and cologne. It’s a special skill learning how to make everyone happy, and the better you get at it, the more money you make.
3. Because restaurant jobs are instantly gratifying, they teach you how to be a workhorse.
If you’re not performing to the best of your ability, the repercussions are immediate. As a server, you learn to deal gently with an impossibly picky guest to ensure you get the tip you deserve. As a chef, every dish that goes out is an opportunity for a rave review. My executive chef enforces the concept of “Work for yourself.” If for no other reason, do your job well so that you are successful. This is a lesson I’ll carry with me throughout my entire life as an employed person. When you keep “work for yourself” in mind, a mindless task or a difficult coworker can’t get in your way.
4. When you work in a restaurant, even if you don’t try to, you end up absorbing tons of food and drink knowledge.
My first hosting job was at a ramen spot in Chicago, and now when I go out for sushi I know which sake and Japanese beer I like. And because of the gig I have now, I know why I prefer a Pinot Noir over a Merlot. You start to be able to determine whether a dish needs more acid or cream. You acquire a taste for funk and brine. You may not bring these skills to your next job, but these are the things that add flavor to your life.
5. There’s an idea around service that it’s like a performance.
The lights go on, the guests come in, and the show begins. Every step is for the pleasure of the customer and when they’ve all gone home, you take off your uniform, and you’re the regular you again. Because of this quality, being in the kitchen feels like being backstage. That’s where you’ll find the chef yelling at the line cooks, or you’ll get a talking-to from your manager, or you’ll find people drinking beers at the end of their shift. The polarity between the front of the house and the back of the house contributes to a feeling of wildness in a restaurant. One minute you’re giving a guest a taste of the Sancerre Rouge, and the next you’re joking around with a dishwasher in the back.
6. The feeling of working in a restaurant is the feeling of being alive.
You’ll probably sleep with a coworker (or two), you’ll definitely have nights you don’t remember, and you’ll meet people who are so passionate they scare you. There is such thing as staying too long in a restaurant job, but everyone should get at least a taste while they’re young.