If you’ve seen celebrity chefs on TV, you might be excused for thinking that careers in the kitchen are all about swearing a lot, using irritating phrases like “lovely jubbly”, describing how to make an apple crumble like you are writing a Mills and Boon novel, chasing after pigs in your very own back garden/farm, or prancing around in an extremely flamboyant way, shouting “red tomatoes” like your life depends on it.
Furthermore, if you’ve seen Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, you might think that working at a restaurant in a front of house role is all about being terribly disorganised and obnoxious. If you’ve seen The Simpsons, you might also think that the only people who work in fast food establishments are clowns or teenagers with squeaky voices.
All these perceptions are wrong, wrong and wrong. Careers in restaurants, eateries and catering can be exciting and incredibly important.
What does restaurant work and catering involve?
Everybody needs to eat, everybody likes to eat and everybody especially loves to eat when food is being made for them by someone else. No, we’re not here to talk about your mum’s home cooking: we’re here to talk about careers in restaurants, eateries and catering organisations.
Your career options in this industry are vast. Your future entirely depends on what kind of organisation you want to work for. You could work for a Michelin-starred restaurant, a fast-food joint like ‘Micky Deez’, a popular restaurant chain, a local bistro, or a catering agency that provides services for events, conferences and public institutions.
Your career prospects also hinge on which kind of job you want to take. Do you want to become a chef, or work as part of the kitchen staff? Do you want to interact with the customers and wait on tables? Or do you even want to get involved with the management side of things?
The main thing to remember about careers in restaurants, eateries and catering is that they’re not going to be your average nine to five job. It’s highly likely that you will be working in the evenings and at weekends.
What jobs can I do in a restaurant?
Let’s start in the kitchen, because without chefs and the kitchen staff there would be no food to serve in the restaurant. The kitchen staff structure really depends on the kind of establishment you are going to work in. The level of training and niche skills you require may also vary between establishments.
However, most establishments will usually have a head chef (a.k.a. chef de cuisine). This person is the big cheese of the kitchen. They will devise the menu, manage the rest of the kitchen staff, oversee all the cooking and preparation activity and generally make sure that each plate of food is of the best possible quality.
The head chef may be supported by a sous chef. This person is the head chef’s deputy. They will carry out specialist cooking tasks and generally help to oversee the work of other assistant chefs and the quality of final dishes.
A busy kitchen may sometimes also employ a series of station chefs (a.k.a. chef de partie). These guys look after one particular area of the cooking, e.g. a sauté chef, a vegetable chef, a grill chef, or a pastry chef. Station chefs may be supported by a junior person working as a commis. These people are trainees that may have just finished culinary training, and as such are given basic preparations tasks.
If you want to become a chef, you will normally have to go through two years in catering college, do a series of work placements and then train on-the-job as a commis for a number of years.
Chefs are also supported by a series of kitchen assistants (a.k.a. kitchen porters), who do rudimentary tasks such as peeling vegetables, washing salad, cleaning and washing dishes. This can be a great way to get a bit of experience of working in a busy kitchen, understand the atmosphere, and learn some basic skills.
The front of house staff are equally as important as the kitchen staff. Customer experience is central to the success of a restaurant and diners can’t usually go and get the food from the kitchen themselves (it’s usually frowned upon actually!). You might pursue a career as a waiter, preparing tables, taking orders, making recommendations and distributing food and drinks. You might even be trained in specialist waiting skills, such as ‘silver service’.
Working as a waiter may lead you to become a head waiter (a.k.a. maître d’hôtel), and or eventually even a restaurant manager. Some exclusive restaurants even hire people as sommeliers (a.k.a. wine waiters). These fine gentlemen and women are wine experts that recommend wine and serve it in an especially professional manner.
Restaurant managers are responsible for making sure all restaurant operations run smoothly, stay profitable and provide excellent customer service. They might be directly man-managing staff, greeting customers, managing staff rotas, recruiting and training staff, leading promotional initiatives and ensuring that the business complies with health, hygiene and safety regulations.
You might even be able to develop your career as a regional manager of a restaurant chain. These roles are far more strategic and focused on business development, marketing, training and selecting what food and drinks feature across every branch’s menu.
What about catering?
Careers in catering are all about providing food services at different venues for a range of different events and organisations. Catering companies provide a full food service for their clients. They might have a permanent agreement in place and provide the organisation with foodservices on a daily basis, e.g. at a school or hospital.
Alternatively, they might provide services on a contract basis for one-off events, such as weddings or business conferences. Catering companies employ the whole range of restaurant staff, such as chefs and waiters, but they will also need to employ catering managers.
This lot plan, arrange and manage each catering contract. They are responsible for hiring and training staff, negotiating with clients, bidding for contracts and sorting out the financial side of things. Catering managers are also in charge of ensuring compliance with health, hygiene and safety standards.
Catering teams work in a variety of venues and kitchens, and therefore they will need to be flexible in their approach to challenging different catering situations.
Fast-food is big business. Most companies have a huge chain of eateries across the UK and across the globe. It’s not all about McDonalds and Burger King though: a range of different eating establishments can be considered as fast-food, from burrito shops to sushi bars.
Consequently, a lot of career opportunities are available all over the place. Most people begin their career as a ‘crew member’ and will most likely have three main responsibilities: customer service, food preparation, and cleanliness and hygiene. Working in fast-food is all about efficiency.
Customers need to be served quickly and food needs to be prepared promptly using a range of specialist equipment and tools. Therefore, fast food crew members will receive continuous training and evaluation.
Crew members may eventually be promoted to a fast food restaurant manager, who has responsibility for team management and the financial success of their individual establishment. A fast food restaurant manager makes sure customer service, hygiene, and the quality of food are all of an excellent standard.
Careers in this sector are some of the best in terms of progression. While it may take a few years of hard work to make your way up from the bottom rungs of the ladder, there can be a pretty serious payoff in terms of money, responsibility and seniority. Sound tasty? Is this a mouth-watering prospect? Then maybe this is the career path for you!