The hours are long and I bet you’re burning the candle at both ends. If the work is taking a toll on you physically, not to mention mentally, and your bank account doesn’t seem to reflect either, I can promise you two things.
You’re not alone. And, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Now, there are all sorts of reasons that have led us to this time and place in the industry where the average line cook can’t even make a livable wage – we’re starting to tackle some of these reasons, so out in some vaguely-foreseeable future there just might be an end in sight. Unfortunately, that doesn’t pay your electric bill, your car payment, child support or student loans.
As the new year approaches, I encourage you to take a big step back and objectively read through this article, but I assure you, the ideas in the following paragraphs – they have merit and the proof is right in front of your very eyes – the person hacking away at this keyboard. Looking at things objectively means having an open mind to a different truth than one you had previously presupposed in your mind. If nothing else, realizing that what you’re doing isn’t working – the energy, passion, time and sacrifices you put into your work – they don’t correlate to what you’re getting in return. In the financial world, you’d call this your Return on Investment. Money certainly isn’t everything, but speaking from experience as someone who owned a restaurant while also working full-time on the side, I spent nearly five years behind on every single bill – so I had stress coming at me from all sorts of angles – sound familiar?
What I’m saying is, I get it. Now let’s do something about it.
Looking at a list all of the best restaurants in the world – a question worth mulling over as it relates is, why them? What makes them the best in the world? The easy answer is, “well, they have a really bad ass chef, so of course they’re going to crush it!“. But, Chef Thomas Keller wasn’t the same icon we know him as today, when his first restaurant, Rakel closed in NYC amidst the collapse of the stock market in the 80s. David Chang, who now has a restaurant/media empire spanning the globe, he didn’t even start to become the David Chang we know and love today until 7 or 8 years ago. In fact, out of culinary school, he couldn’t even get a job in the kitchen at Tom Colicchio’s Craft Steakhouse – he had to settle as a reservationist. There is a long list of chefs we’ve all come to love and respect who’ve turned their careers into something really magnificent, and that list is growing every day.
What have these elite chefs done to elevate their brands, thus separating themselves from the masses?
They’ve done a number of things, least of which being that they’re incredibly talented and have work extremely hard to get to where they are – so do a lot of other chefs, too, though. It really boils down to the fact that they chose to stand for something – these successful individuals have a clear point of view and much of the work they do is remarkable. What does the word remarkable mean? It’s something that’s worth making a remark about. Why do you think I’ve been able to create awareness around my work and my mission? Because I had something to say, I chose to stand up and say it, and I say it in a way that a huge amount of people in the industry can relate.
Where is your place is in the industry? Is it a certain type of cuisine? A commitment to a cause like Ben’s Friends or No Kid Hungry? A company culture specialist? Whatever that is – is it clear to the outside world that this is synonymous with you? If you have a real passion for sustainable seafood, find somewhere to work that is aligned with that mission of yours. Then, when you’re making your sales pitch for why they NEED to hire you – it makes their decision a lot easier – let’s hire the gal who believes what we believe – and you know what – if you are, at the same time competent – you WILL make more money as a result.
TRUTH: If you’re convinced you’ve already done this, but still find yourself fighting for your fair share of the “kitchen wealth” as a commodity cook in the industry, one of two things is going on: you’re either a crappy salesperson and need to understand that marketing yourself is an integral part of the “game” we’re all playing OR you’re lying to yourself. If you still don’t agree, shoot email me – email@example.com – there’s a disconnect somewhere and we need to figure out what that is.
Some industry folks are chatting over beers at the local watering hole – your name comes up in conversation – what would they be saying about you? What makes you, you? Is it easy for the outside world to connect the dots and make sense of it? If you don’t have a very clear understanding of this, it’s time to saddle up and do some soul searching – figure out what is important to you in the industry – and tying yourself to that important piece in a way that you’re the “sober kitchen chef”, or you’re the “zero food waste kitchen” gal, or fill in the blank – if you decide to do this it will be one of the most rewarding and exciting moments of your career – a new path forward. Now you’re no longer just cooking but are instead, cooking and leading kitchens with a certain end goal in mind. If you start doing this today, you’ll start building equity in this industry and that’s something you’ll take with you for the rest of your career – with the opportunity to continually build upon the body of work of your career.
Once you get clear on your thing and then decide to move forward with it, you will make career decisions based on this mission you’re now choosing to sign up for. This is where you start to stand out from the crowd. I don’t care if you’re 19 and in culinary school or if you’ve been working the line for a dozen years. You will not be successful in this profession without finding that unique piece that makes you, you.
Why should someone look at your resume over someone else’s in that thick stack of papers on the executive chef’s desk? Why should someone come to your restaurant instead of the equally new restaurant down the street that has a more convenient parking situation? Why should you get promoted instead of the other super talented line cook working the station next to you?
This is what makes Apple, Apple vs. Dell or Hewlett Packard – the commodity versions of Windows computers that are essentially irreplacable. Apple stands for something, and people that love Apple – they LOVE Apple. In plenty of ways Apple products are inferior to those of their competitors, but that’s largely irrelevant; when every other computer company decided to float down the mainstream towards the average consumer in the industry, Apple, instead, decided to straddle the edges, to prioritize the user experience and maximize design. Thus, if you’re in the market for a computer and those things are important to you, if I were to guess – you’d be in the market for an Apple, not just a computer, right?
Nothing’s wrong with those more mainstream companies caterng to the masses. Well, maybe one thing: they are average, they aren’t exciting, and not different enough to where consumers will pay more for their products over a cheaper alternative. That’s to say, if I can get two similar computers that are priced $20 different from each other – why wouldn’t I buy the cheaper one, because they’re essentially the same and neither company has given me evidence to the contrary.
Meanwhile, people that buy Apple – they buy Apples. They would never buy a Gateway because it’s on sale for $200 cheaper – they have given their customers a reason to pay more – and they are more than willing to. actual If you want an Apple, you’re in the market for an Apple, not just a computer.
So, the question is, tying things back to your career, how can you get that employer to hire you because of the value and perspective you bring, vs. hiring someone else that’s just cheap and can do an okay job? When you’re lumped with the masses, when you fit in with everyone else around you, there is absolutely no way to differentiate yourself on value – and value is what will get you paid more.
This is why standing for something matters. How can you be the Apple or the Nike or the Whole Foods of the specific area of the culinary world that you wish to occupy? If you can’t become that individual, you have zero room to complain. If you were in charge of hiring and two individuals looked virtually identical on paper and how efficient they were (assuming everything else equal) – which one would you hire? A smart financial move would be to take the one that costs you less for what seems to the same amount of work.
To sum up this entire idea:
DON’T WORRY ABOUT BEING BETTER – AT EVERY LEVEL THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A BETTER. THINK ABOUT HOW YOU CAN BE DIFFERENT AND BE THE BEST DIFFERENT YOU CAN BE. THE SAD TRUTH IS IF YOU’RE TIRED OF BEING TREATED LIKE A COMMODITY GOOD IN THE KITCHEN AND IN THIS INDUSTRY – YOU NEED TO STOP ACTING LIKE ONE.
IF YOU WANNA BE AN ANOMALY, YOU NEED TO START ACTING LIKE ONE – AND THAT STARTS TODAY.
So, in a year, when you reflect back at how 2019 panned out for you; was it a jumping off point for the rest of your career, with new found clarity and a commitment to how you can bring remarkability to the industry? Or did you just spend another 365 days drifting through life – barely able to keep the collection calls at bay? If what you’ve been doing thus far hasn’t been serving you, it’s time to try something new and you owe to yourself and the people you care about. It’s like the old saying,
When is the best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago.
Second best day? Today.
NOW… Go get a copy of Crush Your Career.
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My one goal? Make positive change in the industry with you.