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Career Change


DWT
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I'm a very late 30-something who is considering getting training to work in the restaurant/hospitality industry. Here's a snapshot of my background:

I have an undergraduate degree in theater and a masters degree in arts management. For the last 15 years or so I have worked in management postions for several arts and arts-related organizations (theater, music, museums, etc). My experience includes working in operations at a museum where I oversaw an events program (around 150 events a year) that included catered functions and performances. I enjoyed the work, but the organization was very disfuctional and the pay was terrible.

For the past five years I've been working in a deskbound job for a small creative services company. It's a great organization, but I've hit a wall. I'm bored. And I don't want to go back to the non-profit arts world.

Over the last 10-12 years, I've developed a strong interest and passion for food. I really enjoy food and food culture. I'm also intrigued by the hotel/resort industry. I've been thinking about building on my experience and education and "transitioning" to the hospitality industry. To facilitate the transition, I've been considering enrolling in a Hospitality/Restaurant Management Program (like the California Culinary Academy). I'm not looking to "start over" and become a chef, but rather hone and redirect my management experience and get some contacts in the industry. I want to be in an industry that's more dynamic, and where there's opportunity for someone with my background. Maybe even work abroad for a year or two.

OK. That's the story. Am I crazy? I've been impressed with the thoughtful exchanges on this site and would greatly appreciate any feedback. Thanks.

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I say put your head down, prepare to ride the tilt-a-whirl full blast for ten days straight, look around after you've seen the path of destruction you created then make a decision on the wisdom of your choice. If you feel some strange passion to continue on...do it and don't look back.

The restaurant industry will let you know if you're ready for it. Trust me.

(Go ahead and detract me now, it matters not.)

Edited by Chef/Writer Spencer (log)
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The restaurant industry will let you know if you're ready for it.  Trust me. 

How long or little time do you think one needs to know if they have the right stuff to make it in this industry??

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It boils down to two simple elements............

drive and desire

You either have it or you dont. It cant be taught be even by the greatest of chefs.

Edited by inventolux (log)

Future Food - our new television show airing 3/30 @ 9pm cst:

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tv/future-food/

Hope you enjoy the show! Homaro Cantu

Chef/Owner of Moto Restaurant

www.motorestaurant.com

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In my life outside of eGullet I do a number of things, including assessments to help organizations in a wide range of industries hire, promote and develop professional and management talent. I have been involved in helping hospitality industry companies hire corporate executives, hotel and resort general managers, HR managers, marketing directors, executive chefs and other management positions. In addition, I consult with individuals on career development and change in this and other fields.

That said just to establish minimal credibility.

I do not see anything about your background that would be a barrier, and do see a great deal that you would have to offer in the hospitality industry. For anyone that is considering changing fields that require or benefit from further education or training, this is not a bad time to do the training, given the economy. I am saying that without knowing more about your specific situation. And these are personal decisions that typically benefit from a good deal of thought and weighing all the factors involved. Nonetheless, clients of mine are doing things now to position themselves for better times.

Good luck to you.

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I hate to say this, DWT, but you sound too smart to be a manager in this field. :laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh:

To establish MY credibility, quick precis: BA in Theater; MBA in Organizational Behavior; AOS in Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management; worked as a stage manager and techie for a couple of years; ran a concert hall box office for 6 seasons; did a lot of government computer and management consulting work; also did field research in industrial psychology. THEN: went to restaurant school 8 years ago and since have worked the line, done pastry, managed a kitchen, and now do consulting (for back-of-house) and writing/editing. But enough about me.

Back to you. Are you crazy? Well, of course; anyone who chooses to work in the foodservice industry has to be. :raz: But the lucky part for you is that you can get your training AND get your feet wet in the industry without giving up your day job. (And from your resume, I can't imagine that you've got a huge cushion of savings to live off.)

If I were in your position, I'd go to school, make contacts, and try to work for the best indie restaurant or restaurant group in my locale. And believe it or not, I would not turn my nose up at working for a chain; the food may be horrible, but business-wise most of them ARE doing it right. Cooking, one can learn on the job; but for the technical tools of good management, I think school is absolutely necessary.

Anyway, welcome. :biggrin: Stick around here -- even if you don't make the switch, this is a great place to scratch that itch.

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"And believe it or not, I would not turn my nose up at working for a chain; the food may be horrible, but business-wise most of them ARE doing it right. Cooking, one can learn on the job; but for the technical tools of good management, I think school is absolutely necessary." - suzanne F

This point of view may come off as a bit religious. However it must be made.

My advice, never sellout, never put anything on a plate that you are conciously aware can be made better. Life spent in mediocrity is no life at all. Do it your way, make it the best you can. Work hard and do what you love, the money will come later if you think you have what it takes.

My old boss always use to say "at this level, you have to be crazy, you have to risk it all on every plate, you must believe your next chance could be your last, and most of all you have to belong to a cult of excellence that will respect you as their leader." CHT

Future Food - our new television show airing 3/30 @ 9pm cst:

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tv/future-food/

Hope you enjoy the show! Homaro Cantu

Chef/Owner of Moto Restaurant

www.motorestaurant.com

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This point of view may come off as a bit religious. However it must be made. My advice, never sellout, never put anything on a plate that you are conciously aware can be made better. Life spent in mediocrity is no life at all. Do it your way, make it the best you can. Work hard and do what you love, the money will come later if you think you have what it takes.

This is great and inspirational advice (and a philosophy I aspire to), but please remember that DWT is looking to get into the management side of food service and not cooking. Yes, I'm sure he wants to be involved and associated with the best chefs doing the best work, but I think professionalism, quality customer service, and solid business practices will be at least as important as what goes on the plate.

A couple people mentioned the importance of going to school for management training. How important is choosing the right school? Which schools have the best reputation and network of contacts in the hospitality industry?

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I'm no chef, KN, just a former line cook and KM, but to me the most important attributes of a manager are knowing how to run a business and and how to manage people; food and wine knowledge are just below those -- as long as he/she understands what the BOH is talking about and doesn't put the kabosh on some idea without full and serious analysis, I don't care where that knowledge was gained.

Come to think of it, knowing how to run a business and and how to manage people are pretty damn important for a chef, too. Because what good is rampant creativity if it can't make a profit? And if the chef can't keep good staff, there goes the business, too.

Inventolux, I'm a little confused: did you agree with what I said, or not? Either way, I definitely agree with what YOU said. :smile:

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Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and perspective.

Just to add more fuel to the fire....How do readers feel about feel about going to school to launch a career change (as described above), vs. just trying to jump into the industry and learning as I go? As a reminder, I'm looking at the management side of hospitality industry (building on my existing management ed. and experience).

Also, if you think school is the way to go in this scenario, what schools/training programs do people like (or not)?

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I'm in a similar position, D.

I'm 34, and I've worked in IT since I was a kid. Well, when I was a kid I programmed video games, and in my twenties I managed a software wholesale company, then started a software development company, then -- two years ago -- got laid off from a job where I was making low six figures. I should mention that I spent a lot of time at that job reading cooking websites and so forth. Didn't know about egullet, then. There was a writer there who had cooked professionally, so we'd talk that up a lot. Anyway, two weeks later, my wife and I found that we were preggers (our first). Since she has a job she actually likes, we decided that I would stay home for a year or two taking care of the little bugger, so I didn't even look for a job. Didn't want one, really. I am absolutely sick of computers and selling crap products I don't believe in. No more sales! Wanna do something creative, right? Was moving towards writing, professionally (I've done lots of technical writing). Watched all the cooking shows. Am I the only one who feels he's learned all he can from Food Network? I mean, before they trashed the schedule with, well, whatever you call the new shows. Has anyone seen "Lighten Up?" Man, oh man. Anyway, after all these months of making fancy dinners for my employed wife she says, "you should go to California Culinary Academy." So I'm starting in two weeks.

Originally I was thinking about food writing. I wasn't interested in restaurant work. Then, we were working on a personal chef/catering idea, like these gigs that invite folks to cook in a professional kitchen and make a bunch of decent food to take home and freeze, then I started thinking that maybe I _would_ like to work in a restaurant ... the point is that I came to believe that cooking school is an end to inself. I'm in it for the education. I feel the itch, and school seems right. I'll almost certainly make a career of it, one way or another, but I'm not going in with a precise idea of what I want to do, and where. For many, certainly, it's part of a career program (I think you're thinking this way, yes?). A counselor at CCA was accommodating when I said I didn't know what I want to do after school, but he was emphatic that they "create executive chefs." I think it was the company line. And while it's bullshit, CCA claims to place around 99% of graduates into the business, in one field or another.

I mean, once when I was touring the place I was examining the post-it board that lists ads for externships. One was for Tra Vigne. C'mon! What are you gonna do, not go? What else are you going to do with forty grand, buy a truck? Dump it in a few years and buy another one?

When I was researching cooking schools and so forth, I found a Usenet post from a guy who went to cooking school (I don't remember which one, but it was high-end, J&W maybe) and absolutely hated restaurant work afterward. Someone asked what he's doing now and he's managing an insurance office or somesuch silliness. But he said he's glad he attended cooking school, and he's the king at the annual company pot luck.

(Everyone seems to agree that you can't get into this for the money, so why is there so little emphasis on the education for the sake of the education? You're gonna be in debt even if you don't, so just do it -- it'll be fun!)

I got lucky -- I'm still at home taking care of our 10-month-old son during the day, and CCA is starting evening classes in July. It wouldn't have worked otherwise. I live in San Francisco so it's close and I have the time. I think. I plan to handle him during the day then hit the school every weeknight for five hours. I'll just have to carry a picture of my wife so I remember what she looks like.

And of course, I can afford to do it this way. If I were single and childless, say, I'd probably need to work, in which case I don't know how school could be afforded. In that case, I'd look for work in a restaurant. During the day. Then do school at night! Ta da!

I'm intrigued by your idea of attending the management/hospitality program. I've never really considered it. CCA's is unproven, I think, because it's new. You know, they're building a "casino" there for that program. Have you been there, for a tour or orientation? They have pitch programs every couple months. No, cancel that. The pitch program is a dud. Skip it and make an appointment with an enrollment counselor instead.

On the other hand -- if you're serious about management (strictly), you can probably get into it with your experience; if you need school, attend a general ed. program. City College probably offers one, for a minimal investment. I bet the guys in charge on cruise ships don't know diddly about cooking. Why pay the big bucks for cooking classes? Unless it's cooking you want to do ...

The most important thing I have to add to this chat is that I encourage, heartily, career change. You obviously want it, and now you've gone public with it. The previous comments have focused on the details, so I'm going general, and saying, "Dump it! Do something entirely different!"

C'mon, it'll be fun!

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Do you have any specific idea what type of management position or company interests you in the food business? For instance with your intelligence and your history private caterers or party consultants would be willing to mentor you without any further education.

After re-reading your original post, I'd guess your dream job would be something like a F&B director at a Four Seasons?

Still I wouldn't think you'd have to spend too much time furthering your education, but it's necessary if you want the corporate way.

Edited by Sinclair (log)
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Thanks for the great thoughts....

Engberson: It does sound like you and I have some similarities in our situations, although I'm a little bit older....

I have visited CCA, spoken to several people and been given the tour. You are correct that the management program is much newer than the culinary program. As such, they have fewer statistics to draw from.

The party line from the folks I spoke to at CCA is that the placement rate for the management program is still very high (in the 90s), and that the program was created, in part at least, because the industry clients they work with were encouraging them to create a management track. Of course, I have no way of confirming this information one way or another.

One of the reasons I'm considering the CCA program (and others like it) is because of the culinary component. While I'm not looking to work in a kitchen as a chef, I'm definitely attracted to the idea of working with, and supporting, great food. It seems to me that I could be more useful if I had training in cuisine, wine, etc. I have a fair amount of management experience that is transferable, for sure, but it's also true that there are lots of industry specific issues that I need to learn about.

One of the other primary reasons I'm considering CCA is for the contacts and network. It strikes me that if one is trying to break into an industry, having that network can be pretty valuable. This is assuming that CCA has the credibility they claim they have.

Like you, I'm not exactly sure where I want to go with this. With my background, I'm thinking (hoping) that there are possibilities I can't envision at this point. School, theoretically, gives you an opportunity to do that exploration.

Having said all this, I'm not opposed to the idea of a mentor approach. Embarking on this path, however, is less clear to me than going to school. I would love to hear other thoughts on this route vs going to school. And if there are any good mentors out there.....

I'll probably be getting down to SF before too long, Engberson (I'm in Seattle). I should check in on you and see how you're doing....

Thanks again for the great comments....I'm ready for more...

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Hi, D.

It's encouraging, knowing someone else feels as I do. I agree that CCA's placement program appears to be very valuable; their enrollment people are a little flaky but it seems the placement people are serious, and good at what they do. And it's reasonable that placement out of the management program is as high as the culinary program.

So we'll jump, and we'll see.

Oh, to answer your original question -- Yes, you're crazy.

(And please call me Bob ... maybe I should change my ID ... And yes, you should call if you come to SF, that would be fun ... you can get my email address from egullet, right?)

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Bob:

Thanks again for the encouragement. I wish you the best with your CCA adventure. I definitely will want to hear more about your experience.

I'm not sure how to get direct emails from here. I haven't been successful so far.

Please feel free to contact me at dwt98102@aol.com and we can keep in touch.

Good luck.

Daniel

Edited by DWT (log)
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Yeah, another freak with a similar story... so here's mine. I just turned 39 years old. I've got over amost twenty years in combined retail management and the corporate life of adminstration. While working these silly corporate jobs, I acquired a Master's degree in Fine Art (Jewelry and Metalsmithing). The whole time I was working on my MFA, the Food Bug was biting me so immediately after graduation, I attended a credential course (basically 20 weeks for a Chef's Certificate).

With that I began professional catering of Culinary Historical events with the idea that I wanted to write a book on The Eating Habits of the Victorian Gentry. I also catered events a la Renaissance Faire, Medieval Middle Eastern, you name it. In between the catering jobs, I curated Interntional art exhibits (and catered their openings).

The corporate jobs got cushy as I was promoted within a Dot-Com to be a Technical Writer (lots of money) but 9/11 put me out of work where a prominant Los Angeles Caterer hired me to coordinate VERY large, upscale events (I'm trying not to drop names but I staged upwards of 20 events a week, from breakfast for 7 to seated dinners for 700 -- sometimes numerous events a day).

Finally, wanting out of L.A. and believing my corporate, hospitality, and arts background would be gobbled up by the Food and Wine loving folks of Napa, I moved here before Christmas to realize my dream of being fully ensconced in the Industry (Food AND Wine).

Guess what? Seven months later, I have sent out over 300 resumes, been on over 40 interviews, and still can't get hired.

What's the moral of the story? Follow your dream, if you are willing to be kicked around, rejected, and otherwise shat upon. Sometimes it can work. Sometimes it can't.

I haven't given up yet. But I have gotten too damned close to destitution, homelessness, and food stamps.

Tomorrow is another day...

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I suggest you put the resumes on the back burner and work every personal contact you can think of. Doesn't Patina Group have a restaurant up there? Did you burn that bridge? If not, knock on the door. Or advertise yourself as a personal chef and go to work for some wealthy folk. Good luck.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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I suggest you put the resumes on the back burner and work every personal contact you can think of.  Doesn't Patina Group have a restaurant up there?  Did you burn that bridge?  If not, knock on the door.  Or advertise yourself as a personal chef and go to work for some wealthy folk.  Good luck.

So... you figured it out, huh?

Here's what happened with them: On my last day in LA, I had a lovely conversation with the Director of Catering. "Please call me if Patina ever moves up to the Napa area," I said. "Of course, Carolyn! We'd love to!" I was told. That was in November.

In February, I heard the scuttlebutt that Patina was moving into Copia. I phoned the corporate office but was told that it was already staffed with people from Pinot Blanc (their Napa restaurant).

In March I saw an advertisement for the very job with I held in L.A. I phoned and e-mailed again and was entirely ignored. I continued trying to make the contacts and couldn't figure out why no one was talking to me.

Finally, I formally resubmitted my resume through Proper channels and was scheduled a phone interview with a flunkie in H.R.

Two weeks later I received a "thank you but no thank you" letter stating that I did not have enough experience with large events. I know that is bullshit because I handled events of upwards of 1,000 people in LA in the Napa location can't handle anything much bigger than 200-300.

So, somewhere along the way I DID burn a bridge but I don't know why/wherefore/with whom, etc. And the silly California employment laws keep people from telling the truth for fear of lawsuits. Somehow I've pissed someone off but I'm clueless to know what I did or how I can fix it.

In retrospect, though -- if you google Joachim Splichal, you will find a website of some other Patina managers and the lengthy labor-related lawsuits they are filing against his empire. It is probably a good thing I'm not back there, I just hate not knowing the truth.

I'm done ranting now. I'm just frustrated beyond belief.

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