By Scott Mechura EBS FOOD COLUMNIST
I’ve written several articles over the years about the challenges we face in the restaurant business; hospitality as well, but particularly restaurants and bars. From steward to executive chef, these are among the most difficult occupations out there as compared to their compensation.
Even on a cold winter’s day, a kitchen is hot. Think about opening your oven at home then multiply that by five much larger ovens opening every minute with several burners and a flame broiler running virtually nonstop.
A kitchen is also loud: the constant clatter of china and metal pans and utensils could be considered a method of torture to those who aren’t acclimated to it.
And in a kitchen there’s constant pressure; more like relentless pressure sometimes. And it certainly isn’t for everyone.
I remember having beers with some chef friends once and we all joked that we should go into selling furniture or jewelry because they don’t go bad like seafood, freshly cut steak or beautiful produce. The moment we receive it, it’s deteriorating before our eyes.
And who wants to deal with unruly guests who are intoxicated on a semi-regular basis?
But despite all this, we miss it. Each component of the aforementioned creates a bond and a solidarity in the workplace and the industry at large that never lets you see society and commerce the same way again.
We are among the lifeblood of this country. Along with the U.S. Postal Service, firefighters, police officers, healthcare workers, and service men and women.
We are not nearly as vital in terms of health and security, not even close, but we provide a substantial portion of your social interaction in a way no other industry can. And restaurants and bars are the first businesses that gentrify an up-and-coming neighborhood or entire city for that matter.
According to the National Restaurant Association, 15.6 million people work in the restaurant and bar industry in America, and before this shutdown the NRA said that the industry would generate just a hair under $900 million dollars in projected sales in 2020.
We need to work, plain and simple. To work, day in and day out, with all the chaos I listed only to have it quite literally yanked out from under us overnight, is akin to attending a rock concert and someone cutting the power mid song. It was that abrupt.
How many times have you had a conversation with friends who said that if they won the lottery, they’d quit their job and never work again? Yeah, basically everyone says that.
Of course winning the lottery is vastly different than suddenly being unemployed without a paycheck. I get that. But of the several cooks, servers and bartenders I know and have spoken to, they all pine for the day when they again have a place to go as much as they are relying on that paycheck.
So, add to the list of lessons we are learning in these trying times. Americans still really do crave a solid day’s work.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.