Why millennials don’t want to work for you

I came out of school with a B.A. and a culinary degree and you want me to spend nine hours a day peeling potatoes or holding down the deep-fry station? Forget that; with that degree, I should at least be a sous chef. No way I’m even applying for a 70-hour-a-week job as a lowly line cook that makes minimum wage.

Does that sound like the ramblings of some entitled, whiny brat? Maybe it does. But it’s a problem ringing true in restaurant kitchens today. Operators from all over the country report that a major problem in restaurants right now is finding—and keeping—good cooks. Well, folks, as much as I hate to admit it, much of that stems from some of the stereotypical millennial traits, the shared characteristics of those who should be doing the grunt work in the kitchen.

1. Entitlement.

The perception is that millennials are lazy and expect things—like promotions and high-level positions—to be handed to them without putting in “the time.” While that isn’t the reality for most of my millennial cohorts (and I get personally offended every time I hear a presenter of an older vintage speak so poorly of me, by association), I can see where the stereotype comes from. 

Part of it stems back to the way millennials were raised. Most can recall discussions around the family dinner table where the parents asked the millennial kids where they wanted to go on vacation or what they felt like having for dinner the next night. Family decisions were more collaborative than in the past, and millennials have been mini-consultants from a young age. Millennials are accustomed to voicing their ideas and being part of the decision-making process, and they want that kind of control in the workplace, too.

Also, 50 percent of working millennials already are in leadership roles, according to Hannah Ubl of Minneapolis researcher BridgeWorks. For starting-out cooks to see their peers in higher positions with semi-regular hours, the realities of a line-cook job just aren’t that appealing.

2. Work/life balance.

This creates a lot of generational discord. For many millennials, work is one piece of their overall life puzzle, but it’s not necessarily the dominant piece. It’s all about integrating work into the grand scheme of life without allowing it to overpower other parts such as social or personal time, BridgeWorks finds.

Here’s an example from outside of the industry: I have a family friend who is a partner at a large Chicago law firm. The biggest issue her firm is having right now is that most of the millennial employees don’t want to be on the “partner track.” She’s been told that it’s “not worth it” to devote 80-plus hours a week to work.

The same mentality is true for young cooks looking to get their start. To them, the commitment needed to achieve that higher level in the kitchen just isn’t worth it.

3. Growing up around food TV.

Millennials grew up watching Bobby Flay on The Food Network and chefs from high-end restaurants compete on Bravo’s Top Chef. Millennials see the more glamorous side of the business through this lens and want the exciting lives of the chefs they see on TV. The grueling hours, low pay and at-times unpleasant working conditions aren’t a part of that equation presented in the shows. So while many think they’re in culinary school working towards running their own kitchen, they haven’t always seen the realities of what it takes to get there.

4. Career loyalty.

It’s not uncommon today to hear that a boomer is retiring after 40-plus years with the same company. The employee stuck with the company through good times and bad. While statistics don’t necessarily show that millennials have less workforce loyalty, job hopping is a reality of the economic positioning. As the economy improves, there’s more opportunity, so more millennials are changing out of their old jobs for better ones.

Like I said before, I hate to agree with stereotypes about millennials. But they did catch on as generational descriptors for a reason. And that’s why you won’t find me or many of my 75 million cohorts standing in whites in front of your line stations, slaving away. Now, if you want to make me a partner…


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