The restaurant industry can be a great way to create a life for yourself. At the same time, it can be a complete trap, sucking us in and leaving us for dead, if we aren’t careful. For any of us that have been around long enough, it’s no surprise that this industry has earned the bad rap that it has. If you’re contemplating opening your own restaurant and are looking to be swayed one way or the other, the best thing you can do is go ask a current restaurant owner who will probably say, “don’t waste your money!”.
If I had to guess, 8 out of 10 restaurant owners, would give you this answer. But why? Well, because it is hard. It’s demanding. There are so many moving parts, and there are more challenges in this industry than in any other industry I’ve come across. Unfortunately, if this is a reality for an overwhelming majority of owners, you can sure as hell bet your bottom dollar that this stress carries over to their employees.
So, what I’m talking about here is for all of us in the industry — dishwashers, managers, bartenders, butchers, waiters, cooks, server assistants, chefs, and the list goes on. There are 10 pieces of advice I’m sharing with you that I think can help all of us — things that we need to start practicing, honoring and holding ourselves accountable for.
Yeah, I probably sound like the old guy here, but for most of these 10 ideas outlined below — if someone would have given them to me a dozen years ago or more, I could have saved a lot of time, money, brain cells, hard feelings and plenty of other negative things that kept me from achieving my true potential — especially in the early years. If I had a redo for my career, there’s plenty I’d choose to do differently. Hell, I probably would have begged fo Anthony Bourdain to publish Kitchen Confidential a few years earlier and I’d have made a pact with myself to do the opposite of everything he details in the book.
So, if you read this with your heart and head open, at least somewhat, I think there’s a thing or two you can learn and apply to your own life. My advice for creating a healthy life you’re proud of while working in the restaurant industry, regardless of the work you do — here ya go. And, once you’re done, pass it on to someone in your life.
10 Things to Keeping the Restaurant Industry From Ruining Your Life:
- Be Intentional and Set Goals for Yourself — a lot of us get into this industry because we need a job. It can be a pretty stellar to make an income — whether you’re 18 or 58 — however, I think a lot of us get into it at a young age because we need a summer job, or some way to pay the bills instead of going to college, or while attending college. Most of us keep finding ourselves being pulled back into restaurants even if we promise ourselves — never again! Why? Well, we need a job, right? This is fine, but one question to ask is — why am I working here? We all should have goals that we set out to achieve in life — those goals are the “mountains” we’re continuously climbing. The question to ask yourself is,
“Does this job help me get closer to my goals, the “mountain” or do I now find myself further away?”
No one can answer that question for yourself but you. I encourage to at least start asking it. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices, sometimes we have to take jobs we don’t want to, because they’ll create better opportunities for us in the future. So, I guess what I’m saying is — it’s not just about making a paycheck — it can be a lot more, a stepping stone to future places in your career — you just have to be intentional about it.
2. Focus on Yourself — it’s easy to get frustrated with fellow employees who aren’t pulling their weight — they show up late, clock out early, don’t clean their station properly, they aren’t attentive with guests — it can be any number of things. We can’t control them. The only thing we can control is ourselves. Additionally, challenges are always popping up in the restaurant industry — the power goes out on a Friday night, the printer runs out of paper in the middle of the rush and tickets are missing, customers complain about things we don’t think they should be complaining about. Again, all of this is beyond our control. So, focus on what you can control — which is the energy you’re putting into the work, and the way in which you manage the relationships around you. There are endless opportunities to make excuses for falling short of your goals in your career — the minute you own the shortcomings and focus on what you could have done differently — that’s when things will start to shift for you. The thing about excuses is that they keep us from learning from the past and they don’t do anything to create a better future moving forward.
3. Appreciate the Other Jobs & People Around You — the better you can understand the people with whom you work and the other responsibilities in your organization, the better you’ll understand the way the company works as a whole. It’s easy to get frustrated with the kitchen when they’re dragging tickets on a Friday night and Table 20 just asked for their meals again — for the third time. It’s a lot harder, if we’re that server, to put ourselves in the shoes of those cooks who are doing their best to get the food out in the least comfortable room in the building. When we’re more understanding of the circumstances (both in and out of work) of the people around us, we are able to appreciate their jobs a lot more and more importantly, them as people, as well. It’s not okay to be late 3 days in a row; perhaps there’s a server or cook guilty of that in your company right now, but if you pay attention to these people, chances are some context into their situation will float to the top — maybe they aren’t just lazy. Maybe something bigger is going on in their life beyond the walls at work that you can be empathetic towards. You can only get to this place, though, if you seek to appreciate them as fellow workers and as human beings that are doing the best they can — just like you and me. I’m a big believer into giving the benefit of the doubt. At the end of the day, if you take time to appreciate the people around you, I guarantee you’ll become a better person because of it, and as a result you’ll have far less baggage to carry around with you every day. And you know what? They’ll come to appreciate you as well. It just works that way.
4. You are the Average of the 5 People With Whom You Spend the Most Time — this is a quote from Jim Rohn and a very basic way of explaining what he meant by it would be this — if you want to be a millionaire, go find a bunch of millionaires and learn from them. I’m not suggesting becoming a millionaire is the goal, it’s just an example of what Rohn was speaking of that is very tangible. If you set goals for yourself, a good way to go about achieving those goals is to see other people who have been in your shoes previously, and tracking how they’ve been able to create the success that you’re looking to create. If you want to be a great chef — find a great chef to work with. If you want to be a great bartender — who’s the best mixologist in town that you can learn from? What did they do in their career to get to that point? All too often in this industry, and I’m speaking for myself as well, we settle for the people with whom we’re working as the 5 ones with whom we spend the most time. Ask Yourself, how can I elevate that 5? Now, we live in a world where proximity isn’t even an issue — find a great YouTube page or podcast that shares experiences and thoughts that align with your vision and mission — that’s a good place to start.
5. Don’t Just Settle For a Paycheck — every day you walk into work you have an opportunity. You have an opportunity to learn and grow and get better at your craft, your job and to move your career forward. Don’t just settle for a paycheck — I firmly believe that employers carry the burden and responsibility of providing their employees the best opportunity to succeed, and you should be looking for these opportunities daily as you go into work. If you work for a company that doesn’t push you — where you’re not growing and moving closer to the goals you want to achieve in your life you need to do a few things — you need to have a talk with your boss and explain that you don’t feel you’re growing the way you’d like to be in your current role with the company and that you’d like some more responsibility (I didn’t say a raise, just more responsibility). If you’re boss won’t give you more responsibility or opportunity to grow, it’s time to find someone else to work for.
6. Go Home After Work and Save Your Money — as a waiter in college, I was a complete dumbass. In fact, I got so good at playing that role, that I got an even better job waiting tables at a prestigious restaurant in Atlanta where I’d easily walk out with 200–300 bucks a night. I can’t recall a shift at the restaurant that wasn’t followed with a few drinks and shots with the crew at the bar next door. We got to know the bartenders pretty well — they took good care of us and as a result we took good care of them. Nights ended with me leaving the bar either blurry or blacked out and with substantially less money than what I had when I walked in. Just to think how much I could have saved working all of those shifts. My advice to you? I know it’s hard, especially when you’re young and want to have fun (which there is a time and place for) — start a savings account, especially if you’re FOH and walk out with tips every night. Stop by the bank on the way home. Unfortunately, a lot of restaurants don’t offer benefits, unless you’re in the corporate world — so start putting money aside towards your future, towards health insurance — just don’t blow all your cash on the cold-as-ice Jager machine next door.
7. Keep in touch with non-industry related friends — it’s really easy to get caught up in the industry and the people that are in it — after all, we have a lot in common with each other. At the same time, the rest of the world and people around us live “normal lives”. They don’t just fraternize with folks in their industry. We like to claim that no one else gets us — the hours, the stress, the urge to have some drinks upon getting off of work. Meanwhile, our friends and loved ones clock out at 5 or 6PM — this is before most night restaurants are really even cranking. Thus, we aren’t getting off until 10 or 11 or later. Obviously, this is part of what comes with the territory, but I think we need to go out of our way to spend time with these “normalized” citizens. We need to continue to nurture and grow the other important relationships in our lives, because let’s face it — otherwise, we just end up working with and hanging out with industry people, which aren’t always the most healthy and well-adjusted of individuals. I think it’s really easy to get caught up in the industry as a lifestyle, which can be okay, but the non-industry people in our lives help can provide us with a sense of normalcy, which most of us could benefit from a lot more than from a shot of Rumplemintze at clock-out time.
8. Disconnect — in the same way that we need to spend time with non-industry workers to remind us of the outside world, I think we need to do the exact same thing as it relates to our lives as a whole. When you get off of work, get off of work! Spend time with your family and friends! Do things that are important to you, the things that are good for your soul — this is essential. As long as we’re plugged into work, we’ll always have at least a part of us on the clock — which I think can be really healthy. There was a 3 or 4 year stretch in my own career, where work was all I thought about and all I did — it was an obsession. I’d get off of work and I’d be thinking of what specials we could be running for the following day and what I needed to do in the morning when I got back to work. This was almost the end of me — it became a dark period in my life and ended up, ironically, causing me to temporarily fall out of love with the work that I was doing in the kitchen. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
9. Take Care of Yourself —I’m surprising no one in saying that, as a whole, those of us in the restaurant industry don’t take the best care of ourselves. There are the obvious ways — drinking too much, cigarette smoking, and various different types of drug use. We need to fix that shit — aside from drink socially, all three of those vices can and will ruin your life — they will catch up to you. The most important thing you have on this earth isn’t your family, your bank account, your creativity or anything else related to work — it’s your health. Physical health and also mental health. Take care of yourself or nothing else on this list matters. Ask yourself what’s more important — having a good time by doing x, y, or z with your buddies from work, or taking care of myself for the longevity of my career, and more importantly — my family? Do you need to make a change in your life? Some advice for you — stop putting it off.
10. Don’t Lose Sight of What’s Most Important in Life — at the end of the day your career is just that, your career — yes, you and I both happen to spend a great deal of time at work, doing work and thinking about work, but without a doubt — family comes first. If you’re family or home life is going to hell — fix that shit. There’s the old adage — happy wife, happy life — and it’s the truth. Because when you’re paying attention to the people in your life that mean the most to you, they are able to support you more in your mission to do great things in this industry. A few years back, I was having a conversation with my buddy Darryl Diptee who’s a life coach. Things weren’t going well in my relationship, and I tried explaining to him why exactly it wasn’t going well, but I couldn’t, because I didn’t understand. Here I was busting my ass to try to create this amazing life for my beautiful girlfriend. After a few minutes of rambling, he cut me off.
“Chris, so you have a customer that comes in and looks over the menu and instantly knows what they want — the salmon dish, it looks great, right!? Well, what would happen if you said, no, “I think you should have the Filet Mignon, because I think that’s a better dish and I think you’ll like it more?”
The customer will most likely be confused, frustrated and probably pissed — I didn’t want this — I wanted the Salmon damnit!
Well, Chris — the same thing is in your relationship — you’re trying to show her love the way you see love — and yes, the way a guy understands love by sacrificing and work hard makes a lot of sense to us, but just like the customer wants the salmon dish, so does your partner — you need to give her the love she wants and needs that will make her feel safe — not the love you think she wants or needs.”
Once I started doing this, our relationship changed, and soon, as I started paying more attention to her and her needs, something funny happened (that Darryl said would) — she started supporting me unlike ever before.
At the end of the day — your partner, your kids, your friends, the pieces of life that make it worthwhile, in addition to doing the work you love — those are the things that matter. It’s a balancing act — sometimes you’ll slip too far in the wrong direction — just know that you can always get back on track. It takes work. The bottom line is this — if you have someone in your life that you want to spend the rest of your life with — make sure they know that every single day — not in a way that makes sense to you, but rather in a way that makes sense to them. Then, you’ll have your biggest fan — for life.
If you take these ten ideas and truly hold them close to your heart and hold yourself accountable, I have no doubt that you will not only make a living doing something you love in a wonderful industry, but you’ll be happy and proud in doing so, as a result.
Now, who can you share this with that could really benefit from it? I thought you could, that’s why I wrote it — now I need you to pass it on down the line.
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