What it takes to work in the restaurant industry in Australia

The adrenaline during a dinner rush, putting together fresh menu items, selecting the best ingredients, ensuring guests have a wonderful experience and working with creative, passionate people: these are just a few reasons why Australians choose to work in the restaurant industry.

Add in global opportunities and the ability to work almost anywhere in the world, and you’ll see why so many people work in restaurants.

Whether they’re working back of house in the kitchen and preparing the food, or working front of house and serving guests and ensuring the restaurant runs smoothly, those who work in restaurants need to make sure they have a few key things before they are able to be hired or consider a career in the industry.

What do you need to work in a restaurant?

The restaurant industry is heavily based on connections and a who-you-know hiring system. Getting experience is vital to making it in the world of restaurants. On one hand, you’ll build skills and on the other, you’re meeting fellow restaurant professionals who may know about a new restaurant opening up across town who are looking for a head chef or a manager.

However, this can be a paradox. You need the experience to get a job, however, you need a job to get experience. That’s why early hands-on training is vital, especially training with restaurant experts who know what’s important. Look for training that will let you walk into an interview at a restaurant with real experience.

What you plan to do in the restaurant determines what training you’ll need to work in that position. For example, a bartender will need their RSA or Responsible Service of Alcohol training to legally serve alcohol. This is also a good idea for servers and anyone working in front of the house, including restaurant managers.

Restaurant managers and others who won’t be working in the kitchen should be well-versed in everything from managing the restaurant to helping organize catering to planning events. One key opportunity for gaining real experience is through Barrington College’s partnership with Sofitel. Students will be placed at the hotel to get real-world experience in a 5-star hotel, gaining skills and experience for their CV.

Chefs will benefit from a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery to get entry-level qualifications and, later, enrol in Certificate IV in Commercial Cookery to hone their craft, which includes how to arrange food, select ingredients, plan a menu, manage staff and more. Those who are interested in becoming chefs certainly won’t start out leading the kitchen but will work their way up as sous chefs and kitchen assistants, gradually gaining more experience and knowledge. Some chefs even go on to start their restaurants or cafes.

Every restaurant must have a Food Safety Supervisor on staff, which requires additional training and anyone working in a restaurant will need to have basic food safety education. Since, by law, every restaurant must have a Food Safety Supervisor, you can set yourself apart from other job candidates by having this qualification, making you more competitive in the job market.

Getting the job

Once you have the necessary training and a well-written CV, it’s time to apply for jobs. Because the restaurant industry is close-knit, see if you can connect with any friends or family in the industry. Ask them if they know of any restaurants that are hiring and see if they’re willing to make an introduction.

However, if you don’t know anyone in the restaurant industry, most of the traditional job-hunting rules apply to getting a job in a restaurant. With a CV that shows your experience and training, you should also have three to five references of people who you’ve worked with or know professionally who can vouch for you and your work. Make sure you have those references lined up ahead of time-- and ensure you first ask their permission to be used as a reference.

Applying to restaurants can be quite casual, however, make sure you pick up your application well-groomed and put together; chances are good that the person handing you the application may also be your manager or co-worker one day. A bonus tip: when picking up your application, ask if the manager is available for a quick conversation. This moves you from just another application in a stack of applications to a real person whom this manager has spoken with-- and who showed initiative in wanting the position.

For many restaurants, you’ll need to apply online. If that’s the case, it is still worth stopping into the restaurant in person to introduce yourself to the manager and ask for an interview. Should you be invited in for an interview, make sure you follow typical interview etiquette and show up a few minutes early with extra copies of your CV, dressed neatly and cleanly. Even if you won’t be interacting with guests, you’ll still want to make a good impression and show your professionalism. During the interview, make sure you relate and connect your training and experience with the position you’re hoping to get. For example, if your first restaurant job was at a French restaurant and you’re interviewing in a French restaurant, show your interviewer your knowledge about French cuisine. If you’re a restaurant manager, relate your experience working with a similarly sized restaurant in the interview. Being able to show the interviewer that you have done something similar-- and excelled at it-- is a powerful strategy.

Working in a restaurant

If you’ve successfully accepted a job offer-- congratulations! The restaurant industry is competitive and fast-paced. While you will learn on the job and in the kitchen, if you have your sights set on management or one day opening your restaurant, continuing your education and training will be key.

Barrington College has a number of continuing education opportunities in kitchen and culinary disciplines, hospitality and, if leadership or opening a restaurant of your own are of interest, courses to help you gain management and business skills are also available.

As famous chef Daniel Boulud once said, “there’s no great chef without a great team.”

Are you ready to become that great chef-- or join a great team?

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