Updated: Mar 6
It can be hard to see past the seven tickets hanging over your station in a dinner rush. The recipe validation that needs to be done by the end of the day. The final draft of the article that was due yesterday. Life is busy, food is hectic and we are all trying to get ahead in this beautiful yet crazy industry.
There is an inherent feeling of being stuck that comes with working within the food world. I am fortunate enough to talk to many people about their time in the industry and what comes up often is the idea of what is next in their career path. One only needs to look at the past two years to notice how many workers within industry wanted a change and needed a reason to mix it up.
The reason for making a change in a food career can be drawn from many different aspects. It could be the need for better pay, better schedules, a better opportunity to further your career or even the possibility of getting out of a bad situation. Whatever the reason may be, there will come a time when you need to make a change in your job.
A trend I have noticed is that a lot of times we lean into what we know and only look for work within that realm or within what we think we are worth. It can be a strength to double down on the abilities we already possess, but this same mindset can also limit us to the opportunities available around us.
We work in an industry that has been structured in a way to leverage the hyper focus of its workers on certain tasks. Watching a line cook during the Saturday night dinner rush is observing this idea in its purest form. One person working amongst a team to achieve their final goal: putting great food to the pass. It is this hyper focus that has allowed some of the most successful of our industry to perform at a consistently high level. It allows others to manage multiple projects at once in order to further their own development and success in life.
My own personal career, while in the beginning stages of it, has been focused on broadening myself beyond just cooking. I joined the industry as a dishwasher/sandwich assembler at Wendy’s (I’d like to think I was one of the fastest in my store haha!). Cooking has always been the main focus for me and it is my passion for cooking and more so eating food that has kept me curious about this world. The passion of talking to and sharing the stories of the people in food came from this love of eating.
But somewhere along the path I realized that I enjoy learning and progressing myself by taking on new challenges. I believe many of you are the same way. Yet it felt very limited in regards to the options I had due to my background and the work I sought out.
I did go to culinary school and achieve a four year degree, yet have worked with others in and out of restaurants that do not have one or may have a degree in a completely separate industry. And as I have done the job search more than once I find that it is more so how you are able to connect experiences and relevant skills in order to promote yourself in a professional manner.
Foodservice workers tend to undersell themselves in this way. We are taught to be humble and keep our heads down and focus on the task at hand. This is great for a job but when it comes time to move forward and reach for our own success it is limiting. We seem to think we can only cook. Or only serve. Or only bartend. The truth is we hold much more value in our skills than we recognize.
I have a love/hate with the idea that the restaurant industry is an industry full of misfits or those not "ok" with a regular job. I feel this sense of belonging deeply within myself, yet I do think it can lead to delegitimizing the often tangible and hard won skills restaurant workers hold and can utilize for other positions if they so choose. So when we see ourselves as a broken collective only meant to put food in a window it creates a box that we put ourselves in.
The want to do more than cook does not even mean a career change. The amount of people often share with me they want to write professionally yet feel their words are insignificant due to being “just a cook” is astounding. The fact that foodservice people can overcome the lifestyle and odds of professional cooking yet believe they cannot put words to paper or voice on a podcast astounds me.
If you do anything for yourself this year, be sure to sit down and write out what your skills are. Seriously, go grab a pen and paper. Or type it into your Notes app. I’ll wait….
Type out your skill set not just in a food lens, but in a way that would qualify you for any role. Project management, organization, multi-tasking, training, procurement, scheduling, people management. The list can go on for quite some time. Review this list and figure out what you find exciting. Note what you are really good at and what you want to improve. Then, focus on looking at jobs with skills required that match your list.
We are often qualified for a lot more than we think and this industry offers so much opportunity. Apply to jobs that interest you, even if you do not meet all the qualifications. Ask for feedback in interviews and just see what a job like that requires of you. Figure out what it is you want and just work on building your resume and interviewing for those roles. You will have a fundamental understanding of what it is that is needed for a move if you decide to take one.
I know that it can be tough to make the change. I personally had to leave a restaurant job during Covid and got into recipe development and manufacturing. I had little experience in this realm yet I was able to leverage my other skill sets in order to achieve what I needed. Same goes for the podcast, freelance writing and running a social media brand.
I am inspired by those who do. By those who go for what they want even if it is probably inconceivable at first. I find the biggest roadblock isn’t a rejection or a “no”. Rather, it is the action to first try. I also realize that most challenges are hard because the action to just start is a big ask in itself. Believe in yourself and let others tell you no. Have the confidence that will succeed until it does not work out. Putting yourself in a box only holds you back and keeps you from the work you are meant to do. Hold value in your hard won skills and demand what you are worth.