Oct 182010

Electronic Toys for Chefs.

Although the last Luddite on earth has yet to read “Computers for Dummies”, most chefs by now are pretty technically savvy.  You order online, write spreadsheets, do projections and rely on Open Table for guest information. Courses in restaurant technology are even offered by the University of California at Berkeley in the extension program.

Beyond this battery of the standard technical arsenal, a growing selection of technological products and applications not only offer advantages in the job search and hiring process, but are very  useful in day to day operations. Some of them are pretty nifty.

Iphone or Ipod/ Windows Mobile Phones. These are useful for a lot more than tweeting, Four Square and music storage. Unfortunately the programs created for the kitchen for the first generations of PDA’s  (scheduling, ordering, inventory) seem to have all but disappeared, but online ordering systems, document storage and editing software like Documents to Go or just the Windows Mobile System) and handheld database apps like HandBase make it possible to read and create documents,   (aka schedules and ordering lists), menus, to do lists etc in your pocket or access them online. Scanner Aps such as Turboscan with OCR (optical character recognition) turn the camera of IPhone into a mobile scanner, which can translate menus, receipts, lists into text documents (consider, for instance, the amount of literature offered at a wine tasting or a restaurant show.) Shared shopping applications for private use are equally useful for purchasing plans for single restaurants.

Netbooks. You may already have one. Small laptops with net storage and up to about 200GB drives, which you can dump in any briefcase or shoulder bag for work and home. They’re much handier than fifteen inch screen laptops for travel, taking to events and meetings and just about anywhere you need connectivity.   Some  come with several gigabytes of online storage, and all take storage cards and usb storage devices. A caution: If you look at one, find one with a right shift button you won’t confuse with the up arrow. A laptop mouse makes them easier to use.

IPad: Pricier than netbooks, it offers a wide number of programs include full office suites, and can be synced with other programs. Competing and competitively priced touchpad computers are expected on the market soon.

Business Card Readerss.  If you use more than a few cards a month, you you also collect them. You’ve probably got a box or a drawer full of them, which you rarely look through. If you are organized you carefully enter them into an Excel spreadsheet. What a waste. Card scan and other card readers let you feed business cards into a palm sized scanner  and builds a searchable database from them with a picture of the card attached to the contact information. It will synchronize your address list with your Ipod,  ACT, Outlook and any number of programs.  You can organize your contact in categories. Shape (poor reviews) and Abby offer card readers for the Iphone for   $3 and $9 respectively (Desktop OCR programs can cost up to $200).  Some lite versions are free. Neat receipts scans not only business cards but scans and organizes hard copy receipts and integrates them into an accounting program. It is reported to be harder to set up than Cardscan.

Compact Cameras tend to take better pictures than most smart phones. If you are serious about documenting your work, but don’t want to carry around a five pound camera, you will live them. Canon is considered the gold standard, but all of the new models are better than the best four years ago. Or take pictures of the bad shipment you received to send to the broker.  Desktop reader programs like One Note and Top OCR can turn your camera into a mobile scanner.

The Cloud: SkyDrive and Google Docs: Free, secure online storage space combined with online productivity software. Let’s you produce Word documents, graphics, spread sheets from a netbook, smart phone, Ipad or any computer anywhere. Work on menus, wine lists or business plans with your sous chef or partner using these or “WIKI” services like OneBox.com. Access your job search or candidate folders from any cafe.

Thumb drives: Keep any docs or spreadsheets you need on your key chain. The main advantage of a thumb drive is its small size.

E-Readers: To be more precise, the Sony E Reader, which permits you to store and carry most document formats in your pocket or backpack.  Store magazines, cookbooks your personal documents, plating diagrams, itineraries and more.  Thousands of out of copyright books including many old cookery volumes are available on line. Books from the E Reader Store cost less than hard copy, but Amazon’s books on Kindl are more reasonable, and the Kindl has both free connectivity (you can buy on a whim) and lower book prices, but only stores PDF and the Kindl proprietary book format.  The Ipad offers much more, but also costs more. A Kindl Reader is available for the Ipod, Iphone and probably the Ipad and probably other smart phones. Of course, they’re good for books as well.

What does this have to do with job search and hiring? A lot. Organizing data and having it accessible is essential to seeking successfully. These toy-tools also allow you to access or pull up information, pictures and more during an interview, beam or send your resume or references from any coffee shop, organize your candidates with pictures in a database or keep information on line in a cloud for your decision making staff to review and comment together, or scan hard copies of information brought to interviews on your netpad.  Keep pictures of candidates.  As a bonus you can continue to use all of these tools and toys when there is no position to be found or filled.

Oct 132010

If you have given up your own restaurant and are seeking to reenter the world of the employed, you face a few challenges. You probably already know this.

The ranks of recovering restaurateur chefs and entrepreneur managers thrown back  into the labor pool exploded in 2009, as the economy took down even some of  the best restaurants. Watching most of them find jobs but not keep them has been a revelation. Most ex entrepreneurs face both internal and external hurdles in reentering the market. Recognizing them may help.

Anyone who has owned a restaurant has a lot to offer, such as peripheral vision encompassing both front and back of the house issues.

Financial responsibility for all aspects of a restaurant has provided them with insights into expense to profit relationships, so they appreciate the value of product, energy, equipment and people.

They have developed  holistic business perspectives, understanding of the necessity of pleasing the customer, marketing and advertising, sourcing.

They are, by definition, entrepreneurial. Ownership builds a profound  buck stops here sense of responsibility. Entrepreneurs learn to think on their feet and make quick decisions. Most are accustomed to working hard and long.

So why do we see the average entrepreneur come employee is a series of jobs beginning with about three months, the second counting about six, then a year before they stand back in the labor market?

Employee and entrepreneurial realities are harder to reconcile than most people realize. Giving up the reins is traumatic, occasionally impossible. The habit of making unilateral decisions rarely succeeds in someone else’s restaurant, where trip wires, egos, and territorial expectations obstruct the best intended actions.

Transitioning from your own arbitrary decisions or logically set policy to that of another location is full of pitfalls.The purpose of policy is not to produce the best outcome but to keep some fool from provoking the worst. The problem with policy is that it punishes good performance, since if it is required of one employee, it has to be required of all.  People with a strong sense of responsibility have trouble doing what is prescribed instead of doing what’s best.

Surprisingly, the entrepreneurs who seem to have the fewest problems transitioning work in hotels and executive dining rooms for large corporations, the places with the strictest policies and standards. This may be because these policies are clearly written, so the chef or manager knows precisely what is expected of him, while policy in free standing restaurants may be spoken or just a matter of culture.

Every kitchen has a culture that can become a stumbling block for someone not expecting it.  Having ruled kingdoms of their own, entrepreneurs are not practiced in watching out for the trip wires, territorial issues and occasional obstructionist behavior  in a less than perfect  working world.  The compliment your waitress accepted with a smile in your restaurant can be carried to HR as sexual harassment in someone else’s.  Speaking to a customer wanting a bridal shower without passing it by the Catering Director can lead to internecine wars which end in the last person hired leaving.

And then there are habits and liberties you cannot take on someone else’s dime. You can’t pick up the kids after school, you can’t come a little later on one day a week. Perhaps you can’t make last minute purchasing decisions.

Of course some chefs weren’t prepared in the first place to run a restaurant and taking another chef position after trying unsuccessfully to reinvent the wheel just isn’t going to work.

Knowing this, employers are rarely eager to hire someone they see themselves having to press back under the yoke by force.

“Why did his restaurant fail, if he’s so good?” “If I hire an ex owner, I am just going to have to argue to get what I expect.”  The recently self employed have a well earned reputation for head butting and arrogance, and although you may not engage in either, you are likely to be painted with the same brush as the worst of the bunch.

Sooner or later, these issues work themselves out. Some ex owners take three or five bumps to relearn the art of being employed. Others will later open another  and do better the second round. Some of the most celebrated chefs in America have at least one closing behind them.  It’s a no guts, no glory world, and having the spunk to get up and try again pays off.  The knowledge gained in the first or second restaurant  serves them well in the next.

I’ve no call to give advice here. My experience is vicarious, and anyone who has owned a restaurant knows way more than I ever will about this business, but perhaps a little insight about why you are being told, “Sorry, but you are overqualified,” can help.