Top Chefs Struggle As Restaurant "Euphoria" Fades

The somewhat glamorous career faces the reality of an ailing economy.

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Turns out this country may have been in a bit of a restaurant bubble, and highly talented chefs are lining up for openings. A restaurant soon to open on Manhattan's Upper West Side posted an assistant position at $25,000 with no benefits and 300 people applied (9 had PhDs), according to the NYTimes.

Two years ago, Forbes Traveler said of the Las Vegas dining scene: "Top resorts are working feverishly to provide upscale restaurants for their increasingly upscale clientele." Today, the Las Vegas economy is in bad shape, thanks to spending-averse consumers and a lousy housing market. MGM Mirage reported a $1.1 billion loss in the fourth quarter.

The National Restaurant Association projects total industry sales will slip an inflation-adjusted 1 percent in 2009. Not surprisingly, "the top trend restaurateurs see for 2009 is an expanded focus on value," according to the association.

Restaurateurs talk of a "euphoria" and "momentum" that rings similar to what fueled the housing bubble. Joseph Bastianich, co-owner of a dozen U.S. restaurants, told the NYTimes: “Suddenly the restaurant business looks not so different from the financial and real estate markets. ...When expansion is fueled by unfounded optimism, you get a balloon that doesn’t exist in reality."

For chefs facing a difficult employment situation, I thought this recent comment on a chef's forum was especially useful and worth sharing (grammar is lightly edited):

Hi, I was self-employed 30 years in the restaurant business, It was hard to work for anyone. I took a job in assisted living for seniors, as a cook . One year later I was offered the Chef Manager job. Seniors are great to work with. They really appreciate what I do. I make my own menu selections, I'm really my own boss. Just keep the residents happy, keep under budget, and you don't have to worry about being laid off. I was working seven days a week when I had my restaurant. Now five days a week, five weeks vacation pay ... I wish I made the move sooner.


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