Cookbook Profile

Chapter One: Introduction to
Culinary Careers in Restaurants

by Lisa M. Brefere, Karen Eich Drummond, and Brad Barnes


Not long ago, eating out was reserved for special occasions and celebrations. Times have changed. With more dual-income families, fast and convenient meals are a must. Restaurants are now an essential part of the American lifestyle, with many Americans spending 47 cents out of every food dollar to dine out. With an annual economic impact of more than $ 1.3 trillion in 2007, the restaurant industry is huge, and it employs over 12 million people—more than any other private-sector industry.

The restaurant industry boasts over 900,000 restaurants in large cities, small towns, rural areas, and every place in between, and it presents consumers with more menu choices than ever before. About 45% of restaurants are limited service eating places, such as fast-food restaurants and cafeterias, which primarily serve guests who select items and pay before eating. Full-service restaurants account for about 39% ; these cater to patrons who order and are served while seated, then pay after eating.

National chains are a growing segment of full-service restaurants. These restaurants usually offer efficient table service, well-priced familiar menu items prepared by moderately skilled culinary employees, and a substantially nicer physical setting than limited-service establishments. By contrast, customers at upscale or cutting-edge dining places tend to seek a relaxed and elegant atmosphere in which to enjoy skillfully prepared food and leisurely but professional service. Cost-conscious and time-strapped guests increasingly eat at midscale or family restaurants rather than at elegant dining establishments.

You can categorize restaurants by level of service, such as limited service or full service. You can also use two culinary perspectives to roughly group restaurants. First, you can examine how much cooking is done from scratch and how much cooking utilizes convenience or premade products such as soup bases or frozen prepared foods. Second, you can look at who develops the menu and recipes. Are the menus and recipes mostly the product of corporate decisions, or is a chef solely responsible for menus and recipes?

Using the culinary perspective, most restaurants fall into one of these four categories:

1. Cutting-edge restaurants: Also called fine dining, these restaurants feature cooking from scratch almost exclusively, with the chef/owner developing the menus and recipes.

2. Upscale casual restaurants: These restaurants make most of their own menu items, and the chefs make most of their own menus and recipes.

3. Value-driven, multi-unit restaurants: The food in these restaurants is the result of corporate decision making and recipes, but it is still cooked mostly from scratch and of high quality. Examples include Houston's Restaurants and the Cheesecake Factory.

4. Chain restaurants: The restaurants in this category do little cooking from scratch, and most, if not all, of the menu is corporate-driven.

As you can imagine, chefs at cutting-edge, upscale casual, and value-driven restaurants encounter more culinary challenges and tasks on a daily basis. In chain restaurants, chefs are more often used in research and the development of new products, an exciting area discussed in the "Interview" section of this chapter and in chapter 10.


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Culinary Careers in Restaurants
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This page created October 2008