The restaurant industry is tough. Outsiders might romanticise the idea of being a chef as living a certain lifestyle or pursuing a passion — and it’s true, you do need to be passionate to be a chef. But behind the glitz and the glamour, being a chef means being part of a business and it requires more than just being a good cook.

I learned this the hard way when I opened my first restaurant at 29. My business partner and I knew what we wanted to achieve, but we didn’t have a formal business plan before we opened. We were also blindsided by costs that we’d never had to be responsible for when we were working for other people.

Things like crockery breakages, missing cutlery and staff giving away free drinks; and we certainly never factored a $5000 laundry bill into our budget. This experience was a huge learning curve, and it forced me to learn more about the financial and operational aspects of a restaurant.

Today, there are a lot of young chefs who are under prepared for the commercial side of their career, just as I was. Training in business skills might not be a high priority for those at the beginning of their journey in hospitality because they don’t think it’s appropriate or necessary for them just yet, but you don’t need to be on the cusp of owning your own restaurant for these skills to be helpful.

Even at the beginning of your career, learning about how something like food and beverage wastage affects the profitability of a restaurant will help you be a better chef in the long run. Budgeting and knowing your day-to-day costs, as well as being on top of your taxes, is also essential to running a restaurant.

And chefs need to consider that food is just one part of the diner’s experience. They need to work with other parts of the company to make sure the food, music, lighting and décor of the restaurant all work to complement each other as a package. I think if more young chefs learned about this side of the restaurant business earlier in their career instead of focusing solely on cooking, it could create a much stronger hospitality industry.

Currently, chef apprenticeships are focused primarily on cookery and it’s up to the individual to take the initiative to build up their business skills. One way to do this would be to ask a lot more questions in the workplace and learn from the owner or executive chef.

However, it’s such an important skill-set that every chef should be equipped with that these skills should perhaps even be taught as part of the apprenticeship scheme, as a way of better preparing the next generation of chefs for their future careers and boosting the restaurant industry with the skills that are so crucial to its growth.

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Image credit: Nikki To

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