Considering Front of House? How I Used My Culinary School Education Outside of the Kitchen

A public service announcement for anyone who needs to hear it: working as a restaurant server does not amount to failure after attending culinary school.

On the contrary, servers who have culinary school training enhance not only the professional atmosphere of the restaurants where they work, but the experience of guests who dine at their tables. If it’s something you even suspect you may love doing or have an ability to do well, there’s no reason not to pursue work in restaurant service following a culinary education if that feels like a good fit. Many of the country’s top tier restaurants boast a large number of culinary school graduates in both kitchen and service positions.

If I am honest, while I did love cooking before deciding to attend culinary school, I was attracted to the idea of working in a restaurant more because of the atmosphere — and a love of dining — than the idea of a life in the kitchen.

But I couldn’t very well leave my professional career (for which I’d acquired an advanced degree) to be a waitress, though, could I, even though that’s exactly what my gut was telling me to do? I couldn’t figure out how to justify that move. I could, however, leave it to attend culinary school, which was a decision that, once made, felt exactly like something that fit with where my life wanted to go, all the while being something that I knew the people around me would respect and understand.

I mean, who doesn't want to quit their day job and go to culinary school? (If you are reading this, I suspect you either do or have already.)

Related reading:Should I Go to Culinary School?

Having quit my full-time job to attend ICE, I decided to pursue front of house work during the duration of my program to keep myself afloat financially and ostensibly to round out my culinary school education. That was also a move I could easily justify and explain.

With little prior restaurant experience, I took a job as a server assistant in an upscale casual restaurant in New York, tying on my apron for the first time at the tender age of 35.

As I had long suspected (but had been afraid to pursue without a culinary school context), working front of house was extremely appealing to me. I loved the energy of restaurant work, and interacting with my fellow servers, the kitchen staff and those dining. I loved talking about the menu, learning even more about food and beverage, building my skill set and the bustle of maintaining an organized section while helping people enjoy their nights out. The pay was good, and the work was not only satisfying, but gratifying.

Related reading: Restaurant Management Advice

Was I missing something? Why is it that work as a waiter or waitress is so often characterized as something people only do if they have to, never because they want to?

Case in point: once I completed my externship at the end of my culinary program and decided to return to the front of house, one of my former bosses called me to offer me my job back, hearing that I was “only waiting tables,” which obviously meant I was in need of professional rescue. (I politely explained how they could no longer afford me, financially or emotionally.)

I stuck with serving, and stuck with it happily for a decade.

Culinary school does more than just teach you to cook, it gives you a context for understanding food and our relationship with it. Culinary school training leads to the possibility of all kinds of food-based work, including working as a server.

Culinary school does more than just teach you to cook, it gives you a context for understanding food and our relationship with it.

As a culinary school grad, I used the knowledge I learned in the hands-on kitchen environment in numerous ways in my front of house positions. I understood how to communicate with a busy kitchen, and how to explain complicated techniques and ingredients to inquisitive diners. The discipline of keeping an efficient kitchen station translated extremely well to maintaining order in a busy dining room section. Recipe development and the ability to layer flavors served me daily as an eventual bartender. Culinary technique came in extremely handy for certain tableside flourishes that were required as a fine dining captain.

Not a day went by over the course of 10 years that I didn’t utilize both skills and knowledge to the benefit of my various service positions that were developed during my time in culinary school.

While culinary school might not be a requirement to becoming a restaurant server, being a restaurant server is immeasurably enhanced by attending culinary school.

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