The big story in both local and national restaurant news has been the ever-worrisome shortage of professional cooks. Part of the conventional wisdom within this news is that fewer young people are entering the business because it's a shitty job, so why would you? I myself have been guilty of perpetuating this wisdom from time to time.
But now I am going to take this wisdom, snap a kitchen towel at its ass, and tell it to get the hell out of here.
10 reasons why you should most definitely enter the restaurant business, as soon as possible:
1. There is joy in labor
Believe it or not, work is actually enjoyable. It is exhilarating, satisfying, and delightfully exhausting. You know a good way to guarantee not enjoying a day off? Having too many of them in a row. Too much of a good thing sucks. Having an entire Monday off after an 80-hour work week? There is nothing sweeter than that, people. You don't know leisure. You haven't lived until you've kicked up your feet after that. For reals.
Physical labor is demanding, yes. It also beats eight hours in a chair feeling your ass cheeks spread into the squish of Wonder Bread. It drastically cuts down on the hours you'll need to log at the gym. You'll get in your 10,000 steps, easy peasy, in a simple eight-hour shift.
The only reason I have any work ethic at all is thanks to the soft skills learned in the food business. I have restaurant kitchens to thank for why I can do this job (the food industry, by proxy).
2. Working with your hands is a craft
Working with your hands exercises different parts of your brain than staring at a computer all day, and there is an elegant brand of satisfaction to walking into a set of raw materials and turing them into something altogether different, beautiful, and delicious. You can stand back and say: "I made that!" Achievement doesn't begin to describe.
3. You make people happy with your job
You're not walking into a bank, a hospital, or an insurance agency every day. You're walking into an atmosphere where people are celebrating, where they are relaxing, where they are experiencing some of life's greatest pleasures, and you have a hand in that pleasure. When a diner pops his head into the kitchen to say: "Thank you. That was the best meal I had in a year!" even better. And, no early mornings. You hate the sound of an alarm clock? Worst case scenario, you gotta be up by noon.
4. Every shift ends with a free drink (or two). If you work in a restaurant that doesn't provide this industry-wide courtesy, you should quit right away.
5. There's nobody more fun to be around than restaurant people
I never truly laughed until I worked in my first restaurant. Cooks know irreverence like nobody else. I think Anthony Bourdain has pretty extensively covered this subject, but I met my first chef/boss as he was hanging a sausage out of his fly and pretending to hump the oblivious Sysco purveyor from behind. Juvenile? Yes. Funny as shit? Yes.
We work hard, yes. We play hard too. Kitchens don't run on political correctness, and you don't want them to. It's more fun that way.
6. There's a steady stream of hotties for the taking. Your bed will never get empty. ('Nuf said.)
7. Your co-workers become your family
As you marry and age and drop kids, you'll argue that you'd rather be spending time with your actual family, but if you're young, this chosen family thing is a perk not to be overlooked. Your restaurant family is more fun, better looking, and can drink your real family under the table. Plus, if you wind up marrying one of those work hotties, then bonus. You'll both wind up understanding each other's crazy schedules, and you'll have so much more in common than the unholy union of an accountant and a lawyer.
8. You're not gonna get rich, but you weren't going to get rich anyway
How many rich people do you actually know? Really and truly? I can count on one hand the number of rich people I know, and I wouldn't do their jobs for all the tea in China. Most of those jobs are soul-sucking, immoral, or just as detrimental to your work/life balance as the food industry, and they're way less awesome, too. Will you make $12 an hour for quite a while until you get good? Yes. But if you get really, really good, there are restaurants and catering operations that can pay up to the $20 an hour level for their very best sous chefs, and more if you become a chef. No great windfall, but you can make a living. And it's an honest living at that.
9. Obamacare means you can finally get health insurance. Thanks, Mr. President!
10. There are only a few professions left in the world that you can learn on an apprenticeship and cooking is one of them
There is simply no need to buy an expensive culinary education these days, especially when chefs are as desperate for good help as they are. Knock on any kitchen door that you wish to work at, and if that chef can't use you, he'll give you a list of a half dozen that can. When this happens, go to work. Do exactly what the chef tells you to do, and keep your mouth shut for at least six months. Show up early, leave late, and be Johnny-on-the-spot with the broom and the mop. Memorize these words: "Yes, chef!"
Eventually, strangely, you'll look up one day realize you've developed an ability. You're a professional at something. And you'll be a member of a special tribe of people who know in their bones that this ain't for everyone, and that's exactly what makes it so cool.