So much more than waiting on tables or devising a menu, this practical guide provides a valuable spotlight on the variety of positions available within the vast professional universe of F&B. Calling on creativity, tenacity, communication and strategy, a job in this sector draws from many essential skills that are as transferable as they are desirable.
An enticing field for the determined and passionate
Adrenaline coursing as you perfectly execute the most divine culinary foam, just in time to garnish your masterpiece and shout “service!”. For a fleeting moment, you watch your creation being whisked away to grace the palate of the anticipation-filled patron, with the next task long since on your radar. If the speed, precision and endurance of the professional kitchen floats your boat, excellent. If not, note that the food and beverage industry has many paths and profiles to offer that enable those considering a career in F&B to live out their creativity in what can be a rewarding, diverse and exciting field.
Making it in this highly competitive, fast-paced industry requires grit, determination and hard work. But if you are passionate about food and drink, it can open doors to a wealth of future opportunities. Whether you shoot for the stars within the industry or simply draw on the valuable skills acquired to excel elsewhere, F&B is a smart choice for the career-savvy.
A plethora of potential positions
Suffice to think of the role social media now playsin promoting both restaurants, bars, cafés and food and beverage products, and it’s clear that the industry spans across many disciplines and specialties. These range from the traditional to the downright eccentric. Mindful of the fact that other roles and sub-categories may apply and that some roles include responsibilities that overarch categories, the following overview exemplifies the scope of the F&B industry. One role per category is fleshed out to highlight different aspects of the prerequisite skill sets and duties.
Dishwashers, kitchen helpers, line cooks, sous-chefs, chefs, pastry chefs, executive chefs, bakers and butchers.
Prime example:Line cook This role provides unique insights into the functioning of a professional kitchen. Line cooks have to work efficiently and independently, organizing, preparing and assembling hot and cold food. To meet the relevant safety and sanitation regulations, they must ensure their workspace is clean at all times and that all kitchen equipment is properly maintained. Speed, dexterity and food-quality awareness are musts, with inventory and time management skills sure to be an asset.
Front of house
Maître d’, waiting staff or servers, sommeliers, bartenders.
Prime example:Server Food and beverage servers may be employed anywhere from restaurants and fast-food outlets to hotels, private clubs, convention centers and even cruise ships. Taking guests’ orders, relaying these to kitchen staff and serving food and drinks are among their duties. They must be familiar with the products on offer at their establishment and be able to work quickly and unobtrusively around guests, using established service techniques and good communication skills. This role provides an excellent opportunity to practice professionalism and customer-orientation.
Administration and management
Restaurant managers, nightclub managers, catering managers, food and beverage service supervisors, food brokers, food buyers, HR staff.
Prime example:Restaurant manager Leadership and organization skills form the core of this role, with restaurant managers requiring good oversight of operations from the kitchen to the front of house. Employee scheduling, workflow and inventory management are just as integral to this role as ensuring safe working conditions for the whole team, researching dishes, updating the menu and improving customer relations. Strong interpersonal skills as well as the diligence to create and submit reports round off this profile.
Prime example: Craft brewer Craft brewers work behind the scenes to provide robust beer following trademark recipes or conjure up their own creations. They see to the entire chain of events, including inventory upkeep, equipment cleaning and maintenance, fermentation, tank pressure monitoring and packaging for outgoing goods. An affinity towards processes, great attention to detail and critical thinking skills are required, as is the ability to work in a team in the case of larger breweries.
Prime example:Food writer Magazines, newspapers, blogs, books and more could be potential publication options for food writers. Foodies often have a natural tendency to appreciate the finer differences between culinary offerings, but to be food writers, they must also have an excellent command of grammar and an eye for editing. They will be required to conduct thorough research, apply analytic thinking to their work and know how to translate their passion and creativity into persuasive copy tailored to their target audience.
Prime example:Cooking instructor Cooking instructors combine their love for food with teaching. While the more traditional setting for this work might be schools, this arena has opened up to include demonstrations at supermarkets, lessons at community centers, in-home private classes, commercial group classes and even online classes and vlogs. Personality is key in this line of work, with sociable, entertaining characters with a service orientation most likely to be able to hold people’s attention. Public speaking or instruction experience would be an advantage.
Prime example:Mycologist Mycologists specialize in different types of fungi, including mushrooms. Some mycologists do work in the F&B industry, supplying the mushrooms they grow or find to restaurants, private individuals or food distributors. However, they might also work for government agencies, pharmaceuticals companies or in academia. Clearly, this profession requires a certain interest in science and cultivation, but math and problem-solving are just as relevant. Succeeding in a niche market requires perseverance, as well as baseline skills in observation, time management and critical thinking.
A world of opportunities – literally
The sheer breadth of settings outlined above clarifies just how diverse the food and beverage landscape can be. Not only can the roles themselves be transferred from setting to setting, (think cooking instructor), but also, the skills developed can be applied in different industries entirely. The leadership and organization skills honed as a restaurant manager, for instance, are invaluable. Keeping everything and everyone in check in a business as fast-paced as a restaurant is no mean feat. The discipline developed as a line cook could be the differentiating factor when applying for a wholly different job.
Add to this the fact that – provided any language barriers can be overcome – these roles can be performed from anywhere, i.e. any country, and the world truly is your oyster. You have the power to make cultural enrichment and broadened horizons part and parcel of your career.
The various routes to an F&B career, whether it be via tertiary education, an apprenticeship, or simply by starting from the bottom, ensure that you will be surrounded by people from different walks of life. And working closely with people in a high-pressure environment has the potential to yield long-lasting friendships.
Upwards momentum – going for gold
Job satisfaction and fulfilment are often linked to the possibility of upwards mobility. Taking servers as an example, career progression from this entry-level job may take you via beverage services manager to food and beverage director, general manager and beyond. Who knows, you may decide to set up shop on your own one day and assume the role of owner-operator.
As in any industry, pay varies greatly form role to role and from market to market, but there is certainly potential to strive for a higher pay bracketwith hard work and commitment. Informed choices as regards domicile may also pay off. For example, the mean average salary for mycologists in the U.S. was reported to be around USD 66,000 per year in 2016, but those located in foodie hotspots like Washington, D.C. and California earned up to a maximum of USD 113,000 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
“Food is the only beautiful thing that truly nourishes.”
Does this Richard Gere quote from romantic drama “Autumn In New York”resonate with you? Or do you require a little more coaching to guide you through your decision? Perhaps EHL Insights’ “10 questions to ask yourself when choosing a career”might be of help. Or you might take inspiration from Philipp Blaser, EHL class of 2006. If a career in the F&B industry is indeed for you, summon your inner Remyand heed the wise wordsof an alumnus who rose through the ranks to Managing Director: “Believe in success, don’t be afraid of failure.”