Byline: Bo Davis, CEO of MarginEdge
The restaurant industry is wonderful and alluring, albeit challenging, and its workers are a one-of-a-kind breed. Despite the stress and pressure from the dinner rush, the long and irregular hours, and the various challenges that can arise in customer service, restaurant employees find some aspect of their work rewarding. The work is the hardest many will ever experience, but those that stick through it are rewarded with life-long relationships and the pride of knowing they can do a job most can’t, or won’t.
Then life happens. Whether it’s moving to a new city, starting a family, or caring for a loved one, the physical and mental demands can begin to feel unsustainable even for the most passionate of those in the industry. Many people eventually find themselves contemplating – and then making – a career change.
But where do you go when you’ve worked in restaurants for the past few years, or decades, of your life? How do you jump to a different sector when you’ve been sharpening your knife skills since you were practically a kid? What if you’re not totally ready to leave restaurants behind, even if your life is telling you otherwise? Transitioning to a new industry is never simple, or can it be?
Consider this: Apply for a job with a restaurant-adjacent technology company.
“Every part of my restaurant experience informs what I do everyday,” says Eric Jeffay, who jumped during the pandemic from fine dining to working at restaurant management software company MarginEdge. “I thought moving to tech would be a bigger pivot than it was, but there are way more similarities than differences.”
The restaurant technology space continues to mature and provide value for operators like never before, and many software companies welcome candidates with real-life restaurant experience. If you’re not sure where to start, think back on your work experiences. Maybe there was an inventory management system you were fond of at your last restaurant. Check out the company’s hiring page. Perhaps there’s a point-of-sale platform you prefer over others or a customer loyalty software you always recommend to colleagues. Look for opportunities to join those companies’ teams.
Restaurant technology roles often allow you to make use of your hard-earned expertise while gaining a schedule that keeps you close to the industry you love, without the 2 am inventory in the walk-in.
“A lot of the mentality remains the same – we take care of our restaurant clients like I’d take care of the regulars in my restaurant,” says Matt Molaski, who worked in restaurants for two decades before joining MarginEdge’s team. “But now I can see my wife for more than a couple of hours a week. For as much as I sometimes miss working in restaurants, tech gives me and my family a better work-life balance.”
And for someone like Maria Mendez, the more stable routine was a necessity, as a life-altering event prompted a much needed change in scenery to better take care of her physical and mental health.
“The restaurant world isn’t the most conducive to healing when you’re working while your body is going through a lot of stress,” says Mendez, who was a chef for 15 years before joining MarginEdge more than two years ago. “When I was a chef, I was working 13-14 hour shifts and my days off were few and far between, so, as much as I loved it, I needed to get out of the restaurant industry. I had a little bit of a technology background, mostly self-taught, and the rest is history.”
When you enter the restaurant tech space, your customers typically become the very people you once worked with – restaurant operators, general managers, even executive chefs. This is where your past work experience becomes highly beneficial. Who better to understand the day-to-day challenges those customers are facing than someone who’s been through it before?
“Understanding the restaurant industry is invaluable,” says Jeffay. “I work with people at other companies that have great business school degrees, but they don’t understand the realities of restaurant owners, and so I’m explaining what it was like to use their software in a restaurant.”
Having hands-on experience with restaurant software is a definite plus when applying for roles within the tech space. But there are numerous other restaurant skills that are easily transferable, too, including teamwork, flexibility, customer service, and hard work ethic.
It’s important to note taking on a career change of any kind almost always involves some level of commitment to acquiring new skills. The tech industry offers a wide range of opportunities, including roles that focus on customer acquisition, product management, customer support, and beyond. This gives you a chance to find a role aligned to your interests, along with opportunities for growth. Show up with a willingness to learn, and you’re likely to see your career options open up. Long-term career paths in the tech industry are typically more varied than those in the restaurant industry, and often you’ll find quicker and more accessible opportunities for advancement.
When you join the restaurant tech space, you also get the chance to become part of a larger mission to improve the restaurant industry as a whole. Most of the software on the market is designed for the sole purpose of helping operators run their operations more efficiently. After working for years on the ground level, likely you have ideas to bring to the table. The smart companies will want to listen.
At the end of the day, moving into tech doesn’t mean bidding farewell to the restaurant industry. If anything, it enables you to remain connected to an industry with which you are familiar, and potentially deeply passionate, while leaving behind some of the many sacrifices restaurants require.
“I did my time. I’ve worked for 40 days straight, I’ve worked 16 hour shifts. And now I’m just really enjoying where I am today,” says Molaski.
“I studied in Italy and loved food even more than I thought I did, but I wouldn’t go back to working in the kitchen. The stress level for me was so intense,” Mendez adds. “I wouldn’t trade my experience but I’ve really enjoyed my transition to tech and my lifestyle is much healthier now.”