The humming of the hood in the kitchen before service starts. Pre-shift meetings, Family meals and shift drinks. Chatter of the wait staff talking through specials with each other — readying themselves for the first two-top of the night. Sizzling, hotter-than-hell saute pans. Convection ovens breathing hot air and hearing behind for what might be the last time of the night. Clanking silverware, plates, pans, and glasses — along with the swooshing of the dish machine cleaning another load of much-needed plates that are running low on the kitchen line. The seemingly choreographed moves of a well-run kitchen, bar or service staff never ceases to amaze, as the printer shows no signs of slowing down. The energy of the organized chaos of a full dining room on a Friday night — it’s a rush unlike any other.
These are the things that keep us — industry workers — up at night. They become a part of who we are over the days, weeks, months, and years of choosing to spend one’s work life in the realm of hospitality. Our relationship with them and the industry is often one of love. Sometimes it’s hate. Its happiness and frustration, and it’s excitement and fatigue. Its highs and its lows.
The words spoken within the walls of a restaurant anywhere in the world could be English — Or Spanish, or French or fill in the blank— but the true language of the hospitality industry is universal.
The language is one of camaraderie and “I’ve got your back, man,”, because we are indeed, all in this together. The language is hard work, sweat and, “we need to get it right” at whatever the cost. The language is creativity and “pushing the boundaries”. The language is defined by sacrificing for our guests, “sure, no problem”. The language is teamwork, “here we go again — another double on my day off”. Most importantly, the language is of pride and respect.
As we find ourselves in unchartered, murky waters, let’s not forget the experiences of our own lives which have brought us here, to this very moment.
I started as a prep cook — then got a job as a waiter and another job in the kitchen. Then, twelve restaurants later — I got to open my own place.
The early months were crickets — product went bad, rent checks bounced and staff morale was suspect at best. Then, what seemed like overnight — a line showed up at the door. As I’m sure you, every day I poured my blood and sweat and tears into this living, breathing thing called a restaurant.
I could never forget the hard work and sacrifice it took getting to that point — it’s a big part of what made me.
My path isn’t your’s, but I know for most of us — it’s long and winding with plenty of detours, potholes, speed traps, and asshole drivers that’ll show up along the way. That’s life for anyone — especially those in our industry. It’s a hard fricking business — and if you don’t think it’s hard, then you’re probably the manager sitting in the office for the duration of service who complains at night’s end about how the staff takes too long to close up.
If you’ve ever worked a double — dare I say hungover. Gotten your ass kicked on the omelette station at brunch. Been elbow deep in the weeds behind the bar that customers are piercing you with evil glares. Gotten stiffed by a table right before being triple sat. Ever thought mid-shift, “is this ever going to end”, or gotten called in on your day off. Well, then guess what…
You’re still here choosing to walk through those restaurant doors every day — hopefully, because the work means something to you. But, you’ve only gotten here because of what you’ve been faced with and overcome.
So, when I ask the question,
“What will save the restaurant industry?”
To me it’s quite clear — it’s not the government or the banks or even a couple of weeks worth of adapting one’s business in order to stay afloat — these things are all great and will be essential for many businesses — but they aren’t enough. It’s you. It’s me. It’s the people you spend more time with than your family. It’s the ones with whom you’ve slogged through the trenches and gone to battle with. These are the people we’re relying on to save the industry.
This group of people — as a whole — know adversity and punches to the gut more than anyone — and they show up to do generous work every day in spite of it.
My hope is that on the other side of this pandemic is a stronger, more resilient group of cooks, servers, bartenders, dishwashers, chefs, managers, and owners.
On the other side of this unthinkable tragedy that no business deserved, which has affected all of us in different ways — there will be a hospitality industry and it’s up to you and me to make it stronger than ever.
God knows the industry needs us.
It’ll be a long, uphill battle for many. Before losing a brave battle to cancer, my mom used to say,
“When the going seems all uphill — just think of the view from the top.”
Who knows what the hell that view is going to look like, and who knows how high we’ll have to climb— it’s going be grueling — but the hard is part of what let’s you know that it’s worth it.
IF THERE’S ANYTHING I KNOW FOR SURE, IT’S THIS:
If anyone is up for the task of saving an entire industry, it’s a cohort of proud, hard-working, passionate, and loyal people who have one important thing in common — they’ve chosen to spend their lives giving to others. That’s what the hospitality industry is all about.
It’s up to us to save it — one meal, one shift, and one day at a time.
If you’re looking to be more innovative in this uncertain time and can’t seem to find any good resources — shoot me an email — I’m happy to talk through some ideas with you — Chris@chrishillonline.com