The challenges of recruiting in the culinary industry have been a hot topic over the years and something that I have presented on at industry conferences. If you have ever attended a lecture on this topic you have likely heard theories about the cost of culinary school vs. the low wages of cooks or the declining supply of a younger generation with strong work ethic. Although these may be valid reasons for our challenges, we have been discussing them for the better part of a decade and have seen no real change for the better. The cover photo for this article is one of many photos posted on social media platforms that depict one of the more unappealing "perks" that many of us have endured.
Now I am not bringing this up to lecture my readers on whether it is right or wrong to post a photo like this. In fact, I believe this particular photo was captioned by the person who posted it with the intention to ask restaurant patrons for a certain level of appreciation for what a typical kitchen staff sometimes goes through to ensure a great experience for its diners. Nothing wrong with that. What is alarming to me when I see these posts are the comments that viewers, many of which are professional chefs, leave in the feed under them. Comments like, "some of the best meals I have ever eaten were over a trash can," or "It took a long time for me to get used to eating at a table like a normal person after I left the industry." Even the less specific comments like #truth or "that's what we do!" can be an equal detriment.
So why is this a problem? Consider a recent high school graduate who is trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Maybe it's someone who grew up cooking with a close family member and has developed an interest in exploring a culinary career path. They are on the fence, but they begin watching some prime time cooking shows and start following some professional chefs on social media to learn more about their prospective career choice. They see a photo like this and begin reading the comments below. These comments now serve as marketing for our industry. Do you think you would ever see this photo and those comments in a brochure for culinary school?
Look, I know that those of us that have been in the industry for 20+ years have had these experiences and I admit, it's fun to reminisce and tell "war stories" about when we were coming up. I just think we need to consider the context in which we share these stories and realize the impact that it has on our ability to sell our craft as a viable and fruitful option for career seekers. And, if you're someone who believes that the #cheflife is not possible without these kinds of situations, well, that's a whole other problem.