As a foodie and a huge fan of shows that range from the down-south BBQ competitions of BBQ USA to the Michelin-starred level cooking of Top Chef, I've definitely come to a small understanding of how completely next-level it is to manage or work in a fine dining or Michelin-starred establishment.
So, when u/Illustrious_Luck_916, a second-year culinary student who has never worked in a restaurant kitchen before and accepted an externship at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, asked the r/ChefIt subreddit for advice, I knew it would be full of some intense behind-the-scenes fine dining secrets:
1."You are working longer and harder than you ever have in your life before. Fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen-hour shifts are not uncommon. On average, we would start at 10 a.m. and finish between 2 and 3 a.m. There will probably be some sort of meal break where the staff will eat together, but outside of that, there are no breaks; don’t ask for one."
2."If your shift starts at 4:00, that means that you should’ve gotten there at 3:40, changed in the locker room, gotten all your stuff squared away, and been standing where you’re supposed to be with your pristine whites on, ready to go. You also need to make sure that your hygiene is really good."
"Some people might not think of this, but it’s just a whole different level of professionalism, so every single detail is important. Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t gossip, and don’t fool around. Be respectful to everyone; that means everyone."
3."Tedium. Everything has to be exactly as the chef says, every time. If you mess up a cut, you will hear about it. If there is a chunk of onion in your mince, you will hear about it. You will get yelled at, belittled, and chastised until you get things perfect. You will learn some good knife skills, and if you stick around, maybe even become a good cook. It’s not going to be easy. They demand perfection."
4."Make sure to take stock of how everything is done. How can you simplify that and make it more approachable? These dishes can be picked apart and used piece by piece. Love a sauce? Take notes and use it somewhere else. A lot of people also don’t say this: Do NOT keep your head down. Be focused. Always, always, always be aware of what’s going on around you. Always. Observation is key in kitchens."
5."I work in a Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK, and when I tell people where I work, they seem to think my job is very fancy. It really isn't. Out of all the places I have worked, I think it might be the worst (except for the pay). We may only get 70 people over a four-hour period, but each guest creates a huge amount of dirty dishes. This can include three plates (for each course), bowls, and any pots or glasses that go with items on the menu."
6."You will get 10x as much negative feedback as positive. The pressure at three-Michelin-starred restaurants is unbelievable. You have 50–70 people dining with you every night. They are all spending at least $1,000 to be there and are expecting the best meal of their lives. If they don’t leave blown away by the experience, then you’ve failed."
7."You can expect to demonstrate excellence at any task. If you are asked to shine plates, do it with passion and vigor. Make the shiniest plates the house has ever seen and fucking smile. Be grateful! Whatever you're doing, you'll be learning consistently. Remain disciplined and sleep when you can. If you're an asshole, you're going to cut walnuts into perfect halves for an entire stage."
8."It's insanely stressful when the rush comes, and it seems like no end is in sight sometimes, but this, too, shall pass. Just keep that in mind and never compromise the dish over stress."
9."Having worked everything from coffee houses (during the '90s craze) to fine dining, I can tell you this much: The more casual you go, the more your job is about turn-and-burn for both you and the restaurant. The higher up the scale you go, the more the job is about knowledge and skill in providing a seamless experience that looks effortless."
10."Shut your mouth and open your eyes. There is very little talking in fine dining kitchens; you may go weeks with the only words you say being 'yes,' 'no,' and 'chef.' There is a ton to learn. Keep your eyes open and take in as much of what’s going on around you as you can."
11."With fine dining, the answer is always yes. Can I get the thing with the other thing, but I don't want this thing with that thing? 'Yes.' This is our first date, and I think it's going to work out. I would like to buy these wine glasses. 'Yes.' (A good manager will GIVE THEM the glasses.) These people have money, and they do not want to hear the word no. If it's in the building, we will sell it to you. If you want something made, our chef is an expert, and we'll make it for you."
12."Ask and listen. Michelin will eat you up and shit you out faster than you can blink if you don't stay on your toes."
13."It really depends on the restaurant. Michelin-starred restaurants are great for education and personal growth, but expectations for service are heightened, and money isn’t necessarily better. Typically pooled houses or pay a flat, heightened hourly ($35–$50/hr)."
And finally, this user made it a point to share what it's like to work in fine dining as a woman:
14."If you’re a woman, be prepared for the old men with money. They can be creepy and way too nice, but many of the waitresses make HELLA cash by building rapport and having regulars. You have to decide whether you want to play that game or not. Just yesterday, someone had an older man confess his love for the server as his wife went to the bathroom. Sure, it was awkward for the waitress, but I’m also sure she got tipped VERY well."
Do you work in fine dining or Michelin-star-level restaurants and want to share your experience? Let me know in the comments!
Note: Responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.