You can get into the restaurant industry without a high school diploma, college degree, or culinary degree. That being said, it is one of the hardest career paths anyone can take. Early mornings, late nights, stressful breakfast, lunch, and dinner rushes as well as constant physical and mental demand of its employees. The restaurant industry is not for the weak of heart, but just like anything that’s difficult, the environment teaches many life lessons that are interchangeable with many professions. My experience in the restaurant industry taught me to crush it in any arena on day one.
Set The Tone.
My first experience in the restaurant industry was in a catering hall as a dishwasher. I had no idea what was in store for me over the next nine years of my life. Our head chef gave me the best piece of advice the first day I started as a dishwasher which I took with me every step of the way and gave me an advantage going forward in the company.
On my first shift, after we had finished serving dinner, all of the trays of food came back into the kitchen to be discarded. The staff started making themselves plates of the soon-to-be discarded food. Myself, having less than six hours on the job, did not join in.
Our head chef took notice and pulled me aside and said “Kid, it’s your first day, your actions today set the precedent for what you’re going to do every day you walk through these doors, either make yourself a plate or you won’t eat the whole time you work here.” I went and made myself a plate, and just by doing that I felt more relaxed like I was already part of the crew. This allowed me to focus on excelling in my job because I set the tone, I was part of the team now and had a goal to help that team.
I spent one-month scraping charred remnants of fine cuisine off hotel pans and china plates, mopping floors, polishing steel chafers, and cleaning bathrooms. The banquet manager noticed I was excelling as part of the team and promoted me to be a banquet server where I was serving family-style, buffet, and plated meals. In this role I was catering to the needs of our guests, clearing tables, and resetting the venue for the next function. I had to learn on the spot, as our training consisted of a “birth by fire” method where you either sank or swam, there was no in-between.
That role as a server was probably one of my least favorite roles in the company because of how long I would spend in the same catering hall. I was fortunate this was only the second role I had stepped into in the restaurant business though because I learned the most valuable lessons working there.
Organization is The Key To Success.
There were some mornings we would come in at 7 AM and we would have to work three five-hour functions with an hour-and-a-half in between each function given for us to clean up the last party set up for the incoming party.
90 minutes to clean up a party of 150 drinks, plates, napkins, chairs, and silverware as well as cleaning and resetting again for another 100 guests takes extreme organization and delegation of tasks. There was always a lull towards the end of each party where the guests were taking their time getting ready to leave, finishing up the conversations and coffees, and really didn’t need any assistance- if they did they would ask the bartender.
During this time we prepped everything, made all the silverware roll-ups, got glass racks on wheels, and had new table settings and chair covers on a pushcart ready to roll as soon as the last guest left. As soon as they left we would rush onto the floor each with our own designated task, one person would grab all the dirty linen, one person would clear all the glasses, one would be clearing silverware and plate and someone would be sweeping and mopping.
Once everything was cleared we would take all our already prepped set-ups and again, with each worker assigned a specific task, set the linen, line up glasses and plates, set the table decorations, etc. We were able to set up parties for sometimes over 300 people in under 90 minutes because of the organization.
Set up Tomorrow, Today.
Like I said, there were plenty of times we had to work late in this business. Sometimes a function that was supposed to be over at 11 PM had some lingering guests at the party bar and we couldn’t just kick them out — that’s bad hospitality, and bad for business.
Taking 90 minutes to set up for the next day’s event would probably let everyone be able to clock out around 12:30 AM and go home (not too bad in the restaurant world!) but that would be if every guest left at 11 PM.
When guests stayed late, we were given an option by our banquet manager, “You can set it up now, or come in early and set it up in the morning” and believe me we tried both methods. Every time we said we’d do it tomorrow, we would come in early and something would go wrong and take time from setting the venue and we would be rushing the finishing touches as the guests were parking their cars. This stress never seemed to happen when we stayed late and set ourselves up for the next day. Sure problems would arise in the morning but we wouldn’t be focused on setting an entire catering hall while dealing with those issues because we had set ourselves up for success the night before.
These are the three pinochle lessons I took away from the catering job and use in everything I do. I set the tone when I get into a class or start working on a project, I do something I know is going to help me succeed, first! I cannot start a project without having all my ducks in a row, all my tools lined up and a specific task list to check off and track my progress. As well as setting myself up the day before is one of the best feelings when you get into work the next day and what was on your to-do list for the day has already been done!