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When it comes to Cooking Schools, we've been there, done that, now serving 227 tips in 20 categories ranging from Amateur Courses to Wine and Food Pairing.

Is it reasonable to expect to be able to incorporate my own menus and ideas into my first restaurant job?

Working Your Way Up The Ladder

While you're in culinary school, you'll have an opportunity to work your own kitchen station, work at different departments, and eventually create your own restaurant menu. Students at The French Culinary Institute in New York City have the added benefit of working in the school's own Zagat reviewed restaurant, L'Ecole. It's here where the students really get into restaurant management. Students have a chance to develop their own menus, based on their own recipes and culinary creations. If you're a student, keep all of these things for your portfolio. When it comes time to look for restaurant jobs, you should have those things ready to show. Depending on where you work, you may be able to quickly incorporate some of your recipes into the restaurant's main menu.

Keep in mind that as you go to work in your first restaurant job, the owner may not be interested in letting you take over the kitchen with your own recipes. At least not right away. Build up a reputation in the business, make suggestions, and pay attention to any constructive feedback you get on the job. Remember, if this is your first restaurant job, it's important to start at the bottom rung and climb your way up. If you're lucky, you won't even start at the bottom. A good culinary education might get you on the second or third rung of that ladder!

What other way is there of finding a restaurant job?

Finding Restaurant Jobs through Alternative Means

How about an alternative way of finding restaurant jobs? Instead of going straight to the want ads, or the employment classifieds, why not go to the source? Pick up as many restaurant guides as you can and start flipping through the pages. Look for new restaurants that may be looking for qualified chefs. Position yourself for a career in a high end restaurant by browsing through the Zagat Survey. This survey is intended to provide reliable reviews and ratings off all the top restaurants in the world! You won't find any fast food burger joints here.

Once you've narrowed down a few restaurant choices, try to get out and visit the establishment. Have a meal or two. Pay attention to the atmosphere. Who are the restaurant's patrons? Are they mostly families, single professionals, young or mature? What about the pace? Take a look around and pay attention to the staff. Are they ultra-serious or does it appear they enjoy what they do? All of these things are indicators you should use as a gauge. You'll know if it's a place you'd like to work or not simply by immersing yourself in the atmosphere. If it's not your atmosphere, move on. On the other hand, if you're immediately intrigued, introduce yourself, put forward your resume and portfolio, and let it be known that you're in the market for a restaurant job.

How can I prepare for a restaurant job interview?

Finding the Perfect Restaurant Job

Okay, so you've graduated from culinary school and it's time to start looking for a job. Restaurant jobs can be found at any work placement agency, or through online job searches. Before you start responding to restaurant job ads, make sure you're prepared.

1) Have a portfolio ready. Your portfolio should include things like photographs of some of your culinary creations, sample menus you've created, and a resume listing all of your previous work experience (including voluntary internships) and a list of professional chefs or instructors who've mentored you.

2) Be prepared for an eventual interview. Wear nice clothes. Be well groomed.

3) Ask questions! Keep a list of pertinent questions to ask your potential employer after the interview is over. The jury is still out on whether it's appropriate to ask what the salary will be at the interview stage. Some say to wait until the job has been offered. What you could do is ask for a sample salary range. That way, you're not coming right out and saying, “What are you going to pay me?”

4) Remember, there's no rule on how many interviews you can go to. If restaurant jobs are what you're after, take as many interviews as you can.

5) Waiting to hear from a specific employer? If other people are phoning and giving you offers in the meantime, it's okay to take a day or two to make your decision.

Restaurant jobs are out there, so don't feel pressured to take the first one that comes along. Play your cards, ask the questions, and position yourself into a restaurant that offers career advancement.

How can I make a restaurant franchise successful?

Starting a Restaurant Franchise

Interested in opening your own restaurant franchise? The first thing you're going to need is cold hard cash. If you've already got in mind a specific franchise, don't just visit their website for information, make sure to have a look at the American Franchise Association's website. At least at that particular site you'll get some good unbiased advice and information to get you started.

Which franchise you buy and the franchise location are two things that will determine the success of the business. Before signing on the dotted line, it's important to have an understanding of the local market, interest, demand, economy, and reasonable expectation of success.

Prepare to work long hours as you get your restaurant franchise established. Every restaurant management skill you learned in culinary school is going to be exercised with this new venture. Once the walls are up, the staff is hired, and restaurant supplies are in place, it's time to hit the streets. Visit local businesses with coupons to get people in the door. Don't be the franchise owner who hides out back or worse, at home. Make yourself visible; take a walk through the restaurant to check on patrons. Roll up your sleeves and make yourself visible. Beating the competition can be as simple as good old fashioned customer service.

Do I really need business skills even if I don't plan to work in restaurant management?

The Business Side of a Culinary Career

Not every graduate of culinary art school goes on to restaurant management. Not everyone owns a restaurant empire either. As you work your way through college, you'll soon find your groove. You'll settle into your cooking strengths and those strengths are what should mold your career choices. For example, maybe your thing is catering. You don't have to own a restaurant to do that. All you need is an inspected and approved kitchen and, of course, clients.

Running a catering business isn't a one man show. You'll need to hire and pay staff, order restaurant supplies, keep a tight schedule, manage your revenue and expenses, etc. Wait a minute! Maybe it is a lot like restaurant management. The key is doing what you love. In your own restaurant, you create the menu and recipes. When you're running a catering business, the client pretty much dictates the menu. Of course, you can create a menu roster that clients can choose from.

The point is, as a graduate of culinary school, you have career options that don't always have to result in restaurant management. However, having a few business courses under your belt will help tremendously. No matter what culinary career you get into, those business skills will be invaluable.

What are some key things to do about managing my own restaurant?

Restaurant Management - Avoiding the Pitfalls

The best way to ease into restaurant management is to start small, especially if this is your first time owning and operating your own business. There are many reasons why new businesses fail, but one of the top reasons is because people start too big. They get in over their heads, can't afford what they have, and haven't planned for the unexpected. Restaurant management is probably one of the hardest types of businesses to run. Think about your favourite restaurant. How many hours is it open during the week? Restaurants don't operate like banks. They might not open until late morning, but they stay open until the wee hours. When you're first starting out in the restaurant management game, you're going to be investing every waking hour into that business. You don't have to, but if you want to success it's the only way.

Don't be discouraged! If you've already made it through culinary school, you know what it takes to succeed in restaurant management. Still, it helps to have some insight from someone who's already made it happen. Keep in touch with college alumni to find out how they succeeded in restaurant management. Ask for advice. Find out what mistakes they made, and what they did right. As a culinary arts student, you probably already understand that team work is what makes it happen. Use a little of that team work attitude to ask for help if you need it. There's no crime in asking for advice and it just might save you time and money in the long term

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Susan Sayour