10 life lessons I learned working at restaurants

June 27th 2017

I made Tona’s garlic edamame recipe because I was craving them like crazy, and this is my favorite way to eat edamame, I got nostalgic and I was thinking about all the things I've learned working in restaurants, so I compiled a list, wanna hear it? If not click on the highlighted word “recipe” above to get Chef Tony’s method for edamame bliss or if you are up for it, read on…..
I was raised in the kitchen, if we weren’t at our family restaurant we were eating at the local Chinese restaurant my mother was a waitress at before I was born, or visiting my Greek relatives at their respective tavernas (my parents met working at my Uncle Speros supper/dance club). I sat dutifully on the cutting board and watched my mother grill cook, dad tend bar, and siblings doing prep. I could use a deep fryer to make my own french fries and pour a proper keg beer, with help from standing on a milk crate, by the time I was four. I made my first steak dinner at home (mom was working at the restaurant) when I was nine. I was taking to go orders and hostessing at 11, waitressed at 12, prep and dishes by 13 and was working in other restaurants besides the family’s by 15. I feel that although these statements are legit from a lifetime of experience they are alas….opinions….so take out of it what you like:
10. Making stock is a good analogy for life….fill it with good quality, simple things, take it low and slow, pay attention to the details, skim it of impurities and the fat, often, don’t rush it and you will have a great thing.
9. Cooks are rockstars….well because 50% of them are usually musicians(may differ in your area, but very true in Portland), and those who aren’t can school any music aficionado with their music expertise. A good playlist can make a bad day great. Never underestimate the power of music.
8. Chef/industry experience owners are the BEST owners. The worst places i’ve worked are places where the person running the joint never worked in the industry...the pay is lousy….the owners think you are low class for the career you’ve chosen. These types abuse the art, the morale is low, they are never in the establishment, they have the worst Christmas parties, they fire people by group email, and they usually skip on quality and blame the staff when customers are unhappy with the product. Don’t dedicate your life to the pursuit of cash over something you are actually passionate about everyone suffers in the process.
7. Cooks are tough, no bullshit accepted…. if you wear make-up it will run off your face while you sweat over a steaming pot, your hair extensions will be set ablaze when you light the pilot light, and don’t even get me started about fake nails and bacteria! Your expensive shoes will suffer the wrath of garbage juice leaking from the bag, or a dropped sauce bowl will stain your fancy pants if you wear em. Be prepared to look your worst in the climax of the rush, this job is not for the faint of heart, the precious, or the high maintenance this shit is real, and I realized I respect people the most in heat of the battle. Unkind words will be exchanged, blood, sweat, and tears…...you must have a thick skin! Then you have to clean the whole mess up together and drink a beer. In short….don’t put on airs.
6. Clean kitchens are the best kitchens. The product is only as good as the effort you put in, a clean kitchen nets better food, and the best places I have worked have the best health inspection track records. Note: perceived fanciness and pricey are not necessarily indicators of quality or cleanliness. Expensive doesn’t equal quality, effort does.
5. You gotta have a sense of humor, and usually a macabre one. Appreciate folks while they are around and get their points of view even if you don’t agree. Some folks are huge mentors and teach you many things in a very short period of time, and sometimes you never see them again, people come and go, lessons stay with you….as do good dirty jokes. Not everyone will like you….and that’s ok. Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can, keep an open mind to be the best version of you.
4. The customer is not always right, they are in fact usually wrong, but they do pay the bills, so smile through the annoyance, do your best to make them happy. Make others feel welcome even if they are annoying or maybe just uninformed. But remember you can’t please everyone all the time. Take nothing personally.
3. Stay hydrated…yeah…and make sure you have coffee.
2. Respect whoever does the damn dishes! It's an under appreciated gig and it may be one of the most important! No plates….no food.
1. At the moment you want to quit the most, is usually the time you are growing and becoming better. Don’t give up.