Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: USA, Oklahoma
Lots of good comments, both good and bad, about the industry.
I'll add a couple of things that I've experienced that haven't already been said.
First, it really depends on what type of kitchen you get hired into. Most folks think a regular sit-down restaurant is the only kitchen that cooks. Not so. You also have cafeteria/buffet places, where you cook large quantities, hold it hot, take it out as needed, or cook a dish that serves X number of people, and take it out as needed. Institutional cafeterias, like schools, where you prep food, hold it hot, and send it out. None, if any, variations to the food. High-dollar places with lots of fancy ingredients, complex presentations, snooty concierge, etc. Low-cost places, like diners, with short-order cooks that don't prep "fancy" food, but turn out tasty, time-honored meals. Major hotels that have a huge kitchen, bigger than most houses, which turns out food for 2 - 3 restaurants, the pool, room service, etc. That kind of kitchen never closes, so get ready for third-shift cooking for the 2 am last-call rush.
I happen to work in a country club. Most of our money comes in from catering parties, like weddings, and such. The line, for the a la carte menu, runs a food cost anywhere from 50 - 60%, which in a normal restaurant, is unheard of. Not only that, but we're a lot SLOWER paced than normal restaurants. We know that we're going to do X amount of business in a month, with most of the business coming towards the end of the member's "billing period", in which they realize they need to use up their "minimum" from their food billing. The last weekend of the month is always busier than the start of the month. Since it's primarily a golf club, we also have to work around the golf schedule, tourneys, the Pro Shop blowing the siren in inclement weather, etc. You can go from completely dead, no tickets for a couple hours, to a window full of orders, scrambling to cook a bunch of food because they all got rang in at the same time, and your working around is cluttered up with the stuff you were prepping for tomorrow's party.
County club cooking is a little different from most restaurants. Since we run a higher food cost than most places, we can, and are expected, to serve more of the "haute cuisine" type fancy foods, while we have to balance that with the fact that the bulk of the membership are older folks, set in their ways, who grew up eating country cooking, and don't want all that fancy stuff anyway.
Not only that, but because of the way that country clubs are organized, most members are what we call "resident stockholders", and actually own a piece of the club. As a result, what they say, goes. The only way we can actually tell them "no" on a request is if we're out-of-stock on that item.
There is also the "ego-tripping" aspect. The membership all knows each other, are rather competitive, and like to one-up each other. One of the members, years ago, liked his dinner salad made a certain way. It became rather popular, and the Chef put that salad on the menu with the member's name on it. Well, guess what? The member's wife became so insanely jealous that she made her husband, who was president of the board at that time, tell the Chef to put a sandwich on the menu with her name on it. Guess what? Only two people ever ordered it, this lady, and one of her close friends. Half the time, they ordered a different sandwich anyway.
One of the other folks mentioned about "kissing goodbye to weekends and holidays". This is absolutely true. Also, expect to give up your nights, as well. We work when most folks are off from work. I made peace with that aspect of the industry years ago, but, it does create a bit of strife in the family. The only holidays I get to spend with my family are Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, 4th of July (our busiest day of the year, 1,000 people usually), Monday holidays like Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc., we have to work. Normally, we're closed on Monday's, but we have a Bank President on the board, and he likes to play golf and eat dinner on any given excuse of a holiday that closes his bank.
You don't get to talk to the folks that eat your food much, unless they call you our to the table (usually reserved for Chef's). I get to talk to the members every now and then, as I'm one of the cooks that can work action stations for parties (saute, carving, omelettes, etc.), as well as a relief cook for the Halfway House on the golf course.
I'm not complaining about what I do. I love to cook. I take pride in what I produce. I know that folks like what I cook, from what feedback I do get, both from employees and members. I know my Chef appreciates me. He asks for my input on specials and new menu ideas. I got a sandwich put on the menu last Spring, and it's still there, and selling nice and steadily. I've had some specials put on the menu, with good results. My Chef knows he can ask me to make something, out-of-the-blue, and usually on short notice, and I can produce what he wants.
IMHO, like many other people, if you want to get into this industry, do so because you love to cook for other people, not because of the "celebrity chef" thing.
Peace, Love, and Vegetable Rights!
Eat Meat and Save the Plants!