Trends in food service – Student Loans

There has been a surge of culinary students since Food Network and various other cooking channels and shows have hit the television screens. With these culinary students desiring to enter the workforce across the globe, there will inevitably be an increased level of education in production kitchens. This is a trend already happening. More line cooks nowadays have degrees from culinary institutions than in previous years. These same cooks are also working at line cook wages. That is to say, they are not making much money, and still have student loans to pay.

Now, I know I have been told many times, the food service industry is unforgiving, difficult and competitive. This will play a key factor for the future. More food service establishments will be filled with educated persons preparing your food. Does this mean you egg is going to come out from the back more perfectly “over easy”?

I think one trend is going to involve management and HR decisions based on this level of education. When competing for a line cook position between two candidates, one with a culinary degree, and subsequent student loan; hiring managers will be paying more attention to applications instead of just knowledge and skills. Say, for example, applicant (a) has no formal education, but knows how to make a perfect egg. Applicant (a) demands minimum wage and has a solid work history, and minimal debt. Applicant (b) has an Associate’s Degree from an acredited culinary institution, has a dream of owning their own restaurant someday, knows how to flip a mean egg, has minimal food service experience, and has a $50K education debt “With Honors”, and has unwillingly agreed to accept minimum wage for employment in your kitchen.

Just as many raised security jobs do a background investigation because of a propensity of security risk, and those being investigated to take risk based on their debt (i.e. stealing and reselling products or information), this education trend could lead to the same risk in the food establishment. I anticipate education in the food service industry will result in an increase in background investigations and drug testing. You see . . . these kind of go hand in hand. Along the same lines, there will be a significant trend in culinary graduates changing professional directions based on the level of their debt, or an increase in the failure rate of start-up restaurants (the educated student gets tired of making minimum wage and opens his/her own establishment without a solid business acumen).

I strongly believe that education is a foundation, but education alone does not steer the course for a career. Money steers the course of careers. The education may point an initial direction (i.e. working in the kitchen), but salary drives the career (i.e. food sales for a wholesale food distributor). So, applicant (b) was given the job in your kitchen, and is pursuing their dream course; but while checking the kitchen’s food order coming in that day, talks with the truck driver about a sales position opening at the distributor. Next thing you know (a couple years later), applicant (b) is now a regional sales supervisor for a major food distributor making $50K and driving a used, but newer model of BMW. Applicant (b), (many years later) shows up to eat in your restaurant with his whole family. Applicant (b) tells you they are now the Regional Vice President of Marketing for Thompson’s Sheet Metal. Applicant (b) now has a Masters of Business Administration, makes $120K and drives a new, much larger model of BMW. You see, the education pointed the direction, but money grabbed hold of the wheel; because the sheet metal business supplies the sheet metal used in the fabrication of the ventilation hoods used in the kitchen. Remembering their dream, applicant (b) now wants to buy your business, and fulfill that dream.

Happy ending!



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