By now you’ve discovered how damn challenging this industry can be. The food order rolls in off the truck two hours late, leaving you with what feels like not enough time to get the prep done. The most seasoned cook is out with the flu tonight, so you’re down one man. Four top reservations show up late and turn into five and six tops, throwing a wrench into things mid-shift. Waitresses mis-ring orders, neglect to include important modifiers and stack tickets, flooding the kitchen with handfuls of tickets at a time -they are in the weeds, too. Since they are in the weeds and falling further behind by the minute, readied plates with already long ticket times are nearing death, as they sit under the heat lamp. Food runners are nowhere to be found.
At some point, though, a handful of hours after those first tickets came chirping in through the printer, a light begins to appear at the end of the tunnel; maybe you’ll make it through to the end of this shift after all. You’ll do it tonight and maybe again tomorrow and again a few days from now – luckily you’re still young and luckily you don’t know any better…

But, what if you could know better? What if in your early days you were graced with the insights and reckonings that most of us don’t ever realize until it’s way too late, once we’ve grown up a bit and matured?

Well, here ya go.  

  1. Show up on time. On time means ten minutes before your shift starts. 
  2. If you are going to be late, call and speak with a manager – tell them what time you’ll be there by. You better be there by said time – you never want to be late twice.
  3. Concentrate on the little things – your knife cuts, your measurements, your techniques – the little things become your foundation for the little things.
  4. You have two ears in one mouth for a reason. The moment you think you have all the answers is when you need to find something else to do. You’ll never have all of the answers – none of us will – we’re running a race that doesn’t have a finish line.
  5. Be open to feedback. Don’t take it personally, because it’s not personal. Feedback is a gift, so I suggest you start treating it that way.
  6. Ask for help before it’s too late. Once it’s too late, we’re all screwed and you can’t help but bring the whole ship down with you.
  7. Be there person that sees someone in need of help and volunteers to do just that before waiting for too long. Chances are, they’re just as stubborn as you.
  8. Treat everyone with respect – the dishwasher, the service staff, and the customers  – you wouldn’t have a job if these roles didn’t exist.
  9. Try things that might not work – step out of your comfort zone – that’s the only way to grow and to get better at anything – doing something you’ve never done before.
  10. You learn a lot more about yourself and the relationships you have with the people around you on a bad night versus a good night. Don’t waste an opportunity to learn something from the bad nights – they are opportunities to grow and to get better – individually and as a team.
  11. If you work hard, treat people right and are a somewhat decent cook, you’ll have plenty of opportunities. Imagine your career goals are at the top of a distant mountain. As you hike through the foothills, make sure every decision you make is moving you closer to that mountain.
  12. The value of an opportunity has nothing to do with money. Experience as much as you can while you’re young and burdened with too many responsibilities. Experiences and opportunities are kind of like compound interest. What you acquire and learn today grows exponentially over time. If you can afford to, choose experience over dollars, at least for now.
  13. Stock your station. Take the trash out. Leave it cleaner than it was when you arrived. 
  14. The more prepared you are for the rush, the easier time you’ll have getting through it with your sanity intact. It’ll still be stressful, but imagine the horror it could be if you weren’t prepared? Could be a whole hell of a lot worse.
  15. Start preparing now for your rise up the kitchen ranks. If you want to be a chef it’s important to realize the skill set that gets you to chef are completely different than what it takes to be a chef. The former is focused on the craft. The later is focused on leading a team of people who are focused on the craft.
  16. Ask questions, be curious, learn everything you can and write it down in a journal that’s always with you. This will prove to your boss just how committed you are to the industry.
  17. Take care of yourself physically (in a non-kitchen environment), like working out. Eat right.
  18. Your mental health is more important than the binge drinking and unsavory shit that can go down at the end of the night. Stay focused on what you want to accomplish and you’ll need all the energy you have to make it happen.
  19. When you get overwhelmed and a stack of tickets is staring you in the eyes, take a deep breath, slow down and remind yourself that you can only do one thing at a time.
  20. Continually remind your comrades in the kitchen how much you appreciate them – on a busy Friday or Saturday night – they’re all you have.
  21. Creating a successful career in the kitchen takes a tremendous amount of discipline – this is why your boss probably gives you a hard time. If you want to be successful, discipline is one of the most effective tools that’ll help you get there.
  22. Invest in the people around you. It’s a lot more fun to work with someone that you actually care about; it builds rapport, makes work more meaningful and such connections might come in pretty handy down the road.
  23. If you want to make it happen, you can. You really can, however, know that the biggest thing standing in the way of you and where you want to be is you.
  24. Be responsible with the money you make. Create a plan for saving – then investing – don’t let the day you need it sneak up on you.
  25. A good boss will be thrilled to see you move on in your career, as long as you’re moving on and up – that’s what they’ve been preparing you for. When this time comes, talk with your boss and put your notice in. This industry is too small to burn any bridges.
  26. Make friends outside of the industry and spend plenty of time with them – it’s a good way to disconnect from work in the rare moments that you’re not working. Start a hobby for the exact same reason.
  27. A career in this industry is a marathon, not a sprint. The greatest number of runners who don’t make it the entire 26 miles do so on mile 19 – they get tired. Well, everyone gets tired, too. The difference? The ones that keep going find somewhere to put the tired. You will need to do the same because there will be plenty of tired at many points in your career – reminding yourself of a purpose, a drive and a goal you’re striving towards is the best way I know to tackle such problems.
  28. When you find yourself getting stressed out a co-worker, do your best to see the best in them – we all come from different backgrounds, with different genes and experiences – the combination of these three things shapes all of us and the way we interact in the world in entirely different ways.
  29. Just because the people around you aren’t giving 100% doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. The way someone else approaches their work should have no bearing on how you approach yours. Bring everything you can every day.
  30. Take time off work. If at all possible get two scheduled days off in a row – you need those days consecutively. On the first day you should rest. On the second day, you should be doing adult things like paying bills, going to the post office and calling your mother to see if she needs anything.
  31. Plenty of individuals have been incredibly successful in this industry – why not you? At the end of the day you might have a steep hill to climb with more obstacles than some of your peers, but guess what – that doesn’t matter. Success doesn’t care where you start and no one can get you there except for yourself. No one’s coming to save you – it’s on you, which is a really good thing – it means it’s in your control.
  32. Yes, cooking is your job and perhaps what you want to make your career, but at the end of the day – it’s just that – cooking. Don’t lose sight of what is truly important in this world, then do your best to prioritize your life accordingly.

Now, Go Cook Your Ass Off,

WHAT WOULD YOU ADD TO THIS LIST? LEAVE ME A COMMENT BELOW.

P.S. I’D APPRECIATE IF YOU’D PASS THIS ON TO THE COOKS IN YOUR LIFE.

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