The Side Dish: Keeping It Professional

When I began in the food industry, it had more to do with paintbrushes and less to do with pots and pans. The local apple orchard was a popular one and they hired high school students to work their frenzy of a fall festival from August to November every year. Seasonal hires would work tirelessly every weekend from morning to night, entertaining whiny kids, enduring country music cover bands, and staving off nausea from the rampant smell of french fries and horse droppings, all while trying to stay warm as the temperatures dipped below freezing.

I started working at the orchard during my junior year of high school, thanks to an in from a family friend. The personable, big-haired HR director asked politely if I was interested in the arts, and I was placed post haste at my position as face painter. Despite the long hours, I happily returned the next year for a second season, this time working after school in the orchard’s main office, answering phones, typing documents, and filling in wherever they needed extra help, from stocking store shelves to dipping caramel apples to sprinkling sugar on freshly fried donuts.

One afternoon, I received word that I was needed on a cash register at the front of the orchard’s country store. I watched, slightly confused, as a fellow seasonal worker was shuffled into the office to replace me on the phones and I was hustled to my newly-assigned cashier post. Knowing full well that my temp office replacement had spent time on the registers, when I had only spent money at the registers, I searched for the orchard’s owner in order to suggest an alternate staffing plan.

I soon tracked the owner down, stopping him as he frantically moved through the back storage area, explaining my stance on the schedule shift as best I could. That it would take time for me to get up to speed on the cash register, when my replacement had the register skills already. That I was, essentially, of better use to him at my regular office position. He listened as I made my plea before hastily reaching down into his back pocket, pulling his wallet from his jeans, removing his driver’s license, and holding it up in front of my face.

You see the name on this license, he asked.

I nodded.

When your name is on the building, you can make the decisions, he stated, stuffing the license back into his pocket and walking away hastily.

Shocked by his reaction, I vowed never to work for, or speak highly of, the orchard again.

As both an employee and a business owner, I’ve often replayed those moments over in my head. Was it important for him to assert himself as a business owner in such a situation? Sure, why not. Were his actions professional? Not at all. On top of that, those ill-considered five minutes destroyed any kind of loyalty I felt towards his company.

On Tuesday, The New York Times ran an article about a few New York chefs who have utilized social media – specifically Twitter – to voice their opinions towards food purveyors, restaurant reviewers, and anyone else who’s ruffled their feathers, and it reminded me of that moment of unprofessionalism at the orchard. Instead of taking an adept approach to a business difficulty, the article names chefs who consider it more advantageous to take to 140 characters to voice their complaints. I even had snicker at a quote given by a chef who whined about a late delivery and was surprised to have the purveyor terminate their business relationship because of it.

“What are we, teenage girls now?” [Joe Dobias] said. “How is it good business to make decisions off some lame thing you read on the Internet?”

Are you kidding me? If you’re going to air your grievances online, you better well expect that the results may not be in your favor. It’s a completely unprofessional way for you to handle a business discrepancy. Period. By all means, assert yourself – as the chef, as the business owner – but try to resolve the conflict directly with the person or business at hand. Berating a company online not only discredits your professionalism, it makes it difficult for that purveyor or any purveyors in the future (or employers – I’m looking at you, Ryan Skeen) to desire a business relationship with you. And it speaks volumes about you and your brand.

With social media and blogging at such a central point of discussion on the web, particularly in the food world, posts, tweets, photos, and anything else you might place on the Internet should never be broadcast without serious consideration. Integrity within the food industry seems to be dwindling at a rapid rate – look how many TV “chefs” aren’t even chefs! – and sometimes, the only thing that makes you stand out from the crowd is your professionalism. Why relay a hot-headed rant across the web when it could singlehandedly trample your reputation, and your future, in the culinary industry?

After all, you’re not a teenage girl. Why act like one?

~Jennifer Heigl

*Twitter Fail Whale photo courtesy of Twitter.

4 replies on “The Side Dish: Keeping It Professional”
  1. says: Paul Green

    Thanks Jennifer, for your thoughts on this silly business. Those participating in online disparagement show a lack of professionalism and a large amount of immaturity.

    We used to call them blowhards.

  2. says: Jenny

    Can’t agree with you more on this topic. People seem to expect that they’re entitled to express whatever they want, but that there’s some sort of hidden code about whether or not there are repercussions to what they’ve said in front of an audience of millions. I am notoriously resistant to getting on board some social networking scenes because I can’t trust anyone else in that environment to always have my best interests in mind if/when I say something stupid. That’s my responsibility, to behave like an adult, and to take my licks when I say something stupid. Mom said it best. If you can’t say anything nice, keep your trap shut.

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