How to Survive in the Hospitality Industry
By Colin Lawson
Regardless of your position, there are some basic rules that you have to follow in order to avoid being eaten alive in this industry. In general, food people march to the beat of a different drum than your average lawyer, doctor or business guru and tend to be a bit clannish. Once you're accepted into the fold, however, you'll make friends that will be loyal forever. Following are some tips to help the newbies out there learn how to survive in the hospitality industry.
Observe the Pecking Order
Every food establishment has a pecking order. It starts at the top with the best working people that have been there forever. At the bottom of the pecking order are those who have, through excess pride or idiocy, managed to keep themselves out of the inner circle. Food people are some of the kindest, most welcoming people on the planet, but we are also intolerant of arrogance and people that don't want to play well with others. On your first day, observe the pecking order. Figure out who's who and who's not. Until you have a feel for the pecking order, maintain neutrality and keep your mouth shut.
Respect Has to be Earned
No matter how much experience or education you have, you are still the newbie. Arrogance will get you nothing but scorn because in this industry, it's actions not words that prove your value. If you're doing your job, you don't have time to stand around telling people how good you are. Work hard, listen to what people tell you, and be a good team player. Don't be an ass-kisser or a gossip monger. Everybody who's anybody hates it and both behaviors are counterproductive. Finally, in order to earn respect, don't be a doormat. Stand up for yourself if you need to but make sure that you have a leg to stand on first. You need to be able to take constructive criticism but you don't have to take disrespect.
Assume That Everything You Say is Public Knowledge
Why? Because it is. In the food business, there is no such thing as a secret. If you choose only one piece of advice to follow in order to survive in the hospitality industry, then this should be it. If you say something about a coworker, it's a guarantee that it's going to get back to them so don't say anything privately that you don't have the nerve to say straight out, with the person looking you in the eye. The same thing goes for personal information. If there's something about yourself that you don't want everybody to know, don't tell anybody. This bit of wisdom will save you a truckload of heartache down the road if you take heed.
Make Nice With the Chef
If there's one person in the entire establishment that you want to play well with, it's the chef. He (or she, just to remain politically correct!) is the person who can make or break you. He makes your food; both for your guests and your own! Never walk on his line without permission; it's his sacrosanct space and it's extremely disrespectful to cross the line without asking.
If you have a food problem, handle it delicately by simply stating the problem. There's never a need to be insulting. He may look like a sumo wrestler with a meat cleaver, but he's actually probably more like a s'more; crunchy on the outside, but a marshmallow on the inside. A good chef loves every plate that he sends out and is extremely sensitive about it. He works hard and cares about what he does, so be respectful because he most likely has a long memory.
Respect the Property of Others
The number one rule that will keep you out of trouble forever when it comes to personal property is this; if it's not yours, don't touch it. Because a hospitality crew is a family, stealing is an unforgivable sin. It goes beyond simple loss of property; it's a breach of trust. People work very hard for what little they have and many folks are supporting entire families on the tips or frequently meager salaries that they make. Once you're part of the team, your coworkers will give you the shirt off their backs if you need it more than they do, but don't even think about stealing from them. Much more than your job will be at stake.
By following these few simple rules, your transition into the world of food will be much easier. It's actually very simple. Be a good person, be a good worker, and be a good friend, in that order. Life in this business can be rewarding both personally and financially if you go about it the right way from the beginning. Now that you know how to survive in the hospitality industry, go forth and prosper!
About the Author
COLIN LAWSON is the Founder & CEO of the International Caterer's Guild, he has decades of catering and business related experience. The International Caterer's Guild (also known as tICG) is the number one online resource for anyone involved in the catering industry no matter what his or her position in the business and no matter what his or her location in the world.
It is a place to find the answers to questions to help you in your business or career, to network and meet others who can help you. It is a superb place to meet new professional associates that can even become personal friends. No matter how long you have worked in this profession tICG is a great place to learn more about your chosen career.
It is completely free to join the International Caterer's Guild at Associate level.
The International Caterer's Guild - http://www.caterersguild.org