I was a late-bloomer to the food service industry, probably because we had no fast food when I was growing up (my oldest son worked at a McDonalds when he was sixteen). I found my way when I was in dental school and (finally) twenty-one. I worked as a bartender in three different venues, each with its own set of life lessons: a summer resort, a Country Club and a Japanese Restaurant owned by a Milwaukee German. Life’s first lesson was:
· Communication: In any service industry the key to success is learning to be a good listener. It is what gets you tips and promotions. Most good communicators initiate a conversation, but they do so with a question. In airports I often use, “Are you going home or away from home?” That opens up all sorts of topics: what they do, where are their children, vacation plans, etc. Sometimes it even opens topics I’m more interested in, like “What do I do?”
· Dependability: Across generations, one thing has not changed about Food Service. Employers and fellow-employees appreciate it when they can depend on you showing up on time and ready to work. That is a life-lesson that is harder to see in the normal workplace and may explain why when I left the Navy as well as when I left the corporate world, there was a hefty check for unused Vacation and Sick Days.
· Apparel is not a bad word: My younger son used to kid me about my Navy uniform and how I carried that habit along when I joined the Corporate world, but perhaps that is because his uniform is shorts and a collared shirt because he teaches Physical Education to grades 4 through 8 in a warm climate. But, although what is considered acceptable “business attire” has changed dramatically since I joined the Corporate World, what has not changed is the “branding” of what is acceptable by wearing what the bosses are wearing. In my case that explains why in my closet I once had five Hawaiian shirts, many Ryne Spooner, because the boss had just purchased a Dental Plan in Hawaii, or why I still have five pair of suspenders, excluding anything formal, because my bosses were visible in demonstrating they were a Union Shop. Now, working when I do, mostly virtual, I wear Dockers or shorts depending on the weather and a collared sport shirt with a light sweater. I also take myself out for lunch on Bosses’ Day.
Life’s Lessons learned from Food is a little harder to categorize, but I would choose:
· Consideration. I have gravitated into doing most of the cooking, gathering recipes more from Epicurious than from the dozens of cookbooks we have accumulated over the years, but recognizing that when I was out of town Tim and Mary often made a Tuna Casserole, I found a recipe for same and will adapt it to Fresh Ahi-Ahi I can get at the Farmer’s Market and make it tomorrow. Working with food and food groups like Slow Cooking and The American Institute of Wine and Food, I have learned that we all continue to try new foods as out tastes and incomes change.
· Experimentation: Building on that thought, I am watching my grandchildren discover new foods and my 15 year-old granddaughter discover food preparation. Our moist recent sojourn into the different was a trip for Mongolian Barbeque, which we regularly did as a family when I was stationed in the Philippines and the boys were sixteen and twelve. My 12 year-old grandson, a notoriously picky eater, seemed to enjoy the meal, probably because his dad helped him select the contents of his bowl. That same dad was a child who ate everything placed in front of him, consuming so many yellow vegetables and fruits as an infant that he developed jaundice. So, we were surprised when he looked at eggplant Mary prepared and said, “No, thank you.” We encouraged him to try just a mouthful, stopping short of the Jewish mother’s admonition, “just hold it in your mouth. It will feel good.” But he remained resolute saying, “I’ll throw up.” We persisted and he did indeed take a mouthful…and proceeded to throw up.
· Organization: The most valuable lesson I have learned cooking food is the value of organization. Tim no longer reminds me that I said we would eat at seven and it is now almost eight. The secret is that not only do I do my chopping before I start to cook, I also do my measuring prior to starting. I learned this from watching the chefs at cooking demonstrations Mary and I went to for about 1 ½ years. They were also my inspiration to buy good cutlery and to regularly sharpen the not-so-good paring knives I use. A fringe benefit of cooking organization is that I find out what ingredients I need to adjust or substitute for before I start to cook. As a Manager and Director in both the Navy and Corporate worlds I gradually learned the value of organization. It just took me longer than it would have, had I been more immersed in food preparation at an earlier age.
So, I encourage any of you who are not already active in Food consumption and preparation to adapt the skills I have learned from my experience through the years. Perhaps, if our society had Universal Conscription into the food industry for a year, we would be more polite and caring, and maybe even better organized.
In my next Post I intend to look at a custom our Presidents have: speaking at Commencements, and what we might learn from that. I hope you will join me.