Chefs: should you work at a restaurant or hotel?
As you get started on your culinary career, what do you need to know about working in a hotel versus a restaurant? There are some definitive differences in your path, depending on which you choose… and you need to choose somewhat early on in building your career.
Here are some of the pros and cons of each setting that should give you an idea of which type of environment suits you best: the pace, schedule, kitchen size and equipment, options for advancement, travel and variety of service all factor into your decision.
Hotel Setting: The major focus of a hotel is lodging. While there are celebrity chefs and restaurants at resorts and casinos that enhance the hotel’s brand, many of the larger hotel chains are corporations that don’t rely on their kitchens to make their profits.
Those kitchens are usually well-equipped and staffed and can offer more stable shifts, many more job opportunities and plenty of options to advance (and transfer to multiple locations). Because of the size of their operations, they often run the full gamut of positions from classic cook, sous chef, executive sous to executive chef. And executive chefs rarely cook. They manage the process and large staffs of people who carry out a wide variety of duties, knowledge of which takes a long time to gain.
Food and beverage departments also serve a variety of functions as well as dining room service. There’s room service, banquets, conferences, catering events and seasonal or weekend buffets. Because larger hotels tend to be more corporate, they are also more structured. That can mean more predictable scheduling that seems more like a “regular” job. Hotel restaurants may also be more financially stable and run by professional management, offer benefit packages and retirement plans.
Hotels seem to hire mostly from culinary programs and train their employees to move up through their ranks. Because of the nature of hotels and their corporate structures, most chefs who opt to work for hotels seem to stay with them. Moving from a hotel environment to a stand-alone restaurant is like mixing apples and oranges. The skills and division of labor are quite different.
Restaurant Setting: Working in a stand-alone restaurant offers an exciting (some would say “crazy”) pace with lots of creativity and variety in your responsibilities. If you love the rush you will likely embrace the high level of craftsmanship, but you’ll also work evenings, holidays and weekends and work overtime most days.
You’ll often be cooking ten or twenty different dishes, ordered and sent at different times in varying combinations, modified for the diner’s tastes. You’ll meet some crazy characters in the kitchen and everyone is as busy as you are at the same time. It’s hectic, but it can be exhilarating for those who thrive on the challenge.
Many restaurants are living on the edge of financial stability a lot of the time, which can add additional excitement to the list. However, there is often more social equity in a restaurant. There are fewer employees and there isn’t such a definite division of labor for each task. Another plus, the owner is working on his own property and has a personal stake in its success.
In a restaurant, the chef is always looking for ways to create new dishes and compete with other restaurants to draw guests. You have to (or get to) think outside the box and explore a lot of regional fare as well as authentic recipes to add to your culinary mastery.
Ultimately, the question really boils down to what fulfills you. Do you thrive on the creativity and the excitement? Or are you more likely to feel comfortable with the stability of a regular shift and a pre-determined path to management? The hotel will offer formal training and have plenty of staff and equipment, while the restaurant offers more opportunity to explore different cuisines and the chance to wear a lot of “different hats” each day. Once you decide, you’ll likely stay on that path for your entire culinary career.