If you’re a good cook at home, and often have guests over or cook for others, you have undoubtedly had someone tell you that you should open your own restaurant. It’s a compliment, sure, but if you hear it enough, you may be tempted to actually want to do it. How hard can it be? Cooking is cooking, right?
Not so fast. While it is true that certain principles of home cooking are similar to professional cooking, for the most part, it’s vastly different. If you’ve never worked in a restaurant, it’s difficult to see, especially if you have a hobby of recreating your favorite restaurant meals at home.
Before you head out and open your own place thinking it will be similar to cooking at home, read on. You may change your mind before you get to the end.
1. The Equipment is Different
Besides the fact that professional tools and appliances are designed to be in use non-stop for hours every single day, they work differently. This is because in a restaurant, you want efficiency. Food needs to be prepared quickly and consistently over and over. For this reason, ovens are hotter, pots are heavier, and that commercial deep fryer heats up in seconds instead of minutes. These are all conveniences that you’ll learn to appreciate, but it takes some getting used to. You’ll also quickly notice that almost everything is much larger than you’re used to at home.
2. The Food is Different
While many restaurants use fresh food, it’s not uncommon to find commercial products that are just made to make restaurant cooking easier. You may go in thinking that you’ll make everything from scratch, but when a vendor shows you a bag of soup that doesn’t taste that much different than your version for a quarter of the price and a tenth of the time to prepare, you may start to think differently.
3. Professionals Don’t Use Recipes
You won’t find a professional chef tediously measuring ingredients in measuring spoons and cups unless he’s baking a cake. For the most part, chefs rely on formulas and ratios, which allow them to easily scale recipes to make more without the hassle of dividing minuscule amounts of a spice or oil. It takes memorization to get it right, and if you head into a kitchen with recipes on paper, other professionals will think you look silly.
4. You Won’t Find Any Gadgets in a Commercial Kitchen
A professional chef knows that almost any dish can be cooked well with nothing more than a sharp knife and some pots and pans.
For this reason, you won’t find a quesadilla maker, fancy onion chopper, or anything as seen on TV. They know these things are difficult to store, don’t last, and just make cooking more difficult.
You may find a waffle iron in a kitchen that cooks a lot of breakfasts, but outside of standard multi-use tools, that’s probably it. You also won’t find every item in every kitchen. Most professional kitchens are small spaces and need room for a lot of people to move around in, so you’ll only find items that are used for the restaurants menu.
5. Cooking at Home is More Laid Back
If you think you’re going to lazily stir your sauce, or sit down and relax while you wait for your timer to go off, you won’t have fun in a commercial kitchen.
Especially on busy nights, professional kitchens are always a hustle and bustle of activity. Workers will be walking by you holding scalding hot pans over your head, all while trying to do two other things at the same time. There’s always something to be done in the kitchen at a restaurant, whether it’s chopping for the next shift, cleaning out the fridge, or even washing dishes in the downtime.
A professional kitchen is hot, uncomfortable, and at times, ridiculously cramped. Busy cooks can be downright mean when they can’t get what they want, which can stress anyone out.
6. The Health Department Won’t Bother You at Home
Home kitchens aren’t subject to the rigorous and sometimes downright tedious inspections that commercial kitchens are, and for good reason. At home, you’re cooking for a couple people. Making a recipe with expired products may make you or your spouse sick, which is bad, but at a restaurant, one bad egg mixed in with a couple dozen good ones can send tens of people to the hospital.
7. Presentation Matters in a Restaurant
When you make something at home, you probably just dish some out on a plate, not worrying about splatters. You place your piece of meat on the side of your vegetables, because you don’t care what it looks like as long as it tastes good.
Restaurant diners are different. They’re paying money for their food, sometimes big bucks, and they want it to look good, and taste good, which can be a difficult balance to achieve with certain foods. You need to think about how you’re going to plate that dish when you create your menu, and it needs to be in a way that can be done fast without the need for excessive cleanup. Splashing soup in a bowl, or plopping a brown piece of meat on a brown plate is unacceptable in most places, and your diners will let you know by not coming back.
8. You’re Not Cooking in Your Bath Robe
You probably don’t think about what you’re going to wear when you make dinner for your family, but in a professional kitchen, what you’re wearing can keep you from getting burned, cut, or worse. To a non-professional, that tall chef’s hat, heavy chef’s jacket, or steel toed shoes may seem like overkill, but professionals know that even though it’s hot, they’d rather wear it than not.
Restaurant kitchens are hot, they move fast, and there’s always a chance someone will bump into you sending a hot dish tumbling to the floor. Professional clothing protects you from injury, as well as keeps things sanitary.
9. Professionals Use More Butter and Salt
When cooking at home, you have different priorities than in a restaurant. You may want your meal to be healthy, or you may just want something that comes together quickly on a busy night. In a restaurant kitchen, only one thing is important, and that is that the food tastes as good as possible. There are two secret ingredients that help achieve this: Butter and salt. If you’ve ever had a restaurant meal in which you couldn’t figure out why it was so good, the answer is probably because of excessive amounts of one or both of these ingredients.
10. Cooking for 100 is Not the Same as Cooking for 4
Perhaps the biggest misconception about restaurant cooking is that scaling a recipe is easy. Want to make a recipe that serves 2 serve 100? Simply multiply every ingredient by 50 and you should be safe.
Not so fast. Not every recipe scales well, especially with such a large difference in servings; in fact most recipes don’t. Many dishes simply taste better when made in smaller quantities as well. It’s difficult to understand unless you’ve tried to do it, but it rarely works out like you’d think.
Working in a restaurant is a noble profession, but it’s not the same as cooking at home. Even if you are a great home cook, you may find yourself lost when faced with professional equipment, commercial food products, and the stressful environment. While it shouldn’t discourage you from opening your own restaurant, it is something you should think about before taking the plunge.