March 25, 2020

As restaurant job losses reach historic levels during the Coronavirus pandemic, you might ask yourself: is it still a good idea to go to culinary school? While the short-term situation may seem grim, history also shows us that restaurant and food service jobs have bounced back in every prior downturn.

In past downturns, Americans invested in themselves by going back to school, improving their productivity and helping to create the booms that followed. Take a look at the evidence and decide for yourself if now is still a good time to invest in your culinary education.

A 2005 Congressional Report on pandemics predicted what’s happening now.

The current pandemic, and the impact on restaurant jobs, isn’t unprecedented. Back in 2005, Congress predicted that something like this could happen…and they were pretty spot-on.

In the midst of the Avian flu pandemic, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) commissioned a report to better understand the economic impact a major pandemic would have on the U.S. economy. The report predicted that spending on food services, arts and accommodations would temporarily decline by 80% or more….and that appears to be exactly what’s happening now.

However, the same CBO report also says this:

“In the long term, the economy’s response…demonstrates that people can adapt to extreme hardship and businesses can find ways to work around obstructions. As a result, economic activity would recover, and the economy would eventually return to its previous trend growth rate.

The CBO authors suggest that food service jobs will come back. But when?

History shows us that restaurant jobs recover with time.

The food service industry has faced hard times before, so it makes sense to understand what happened in previous downturns. The past can’t predict the future, but as Mark Twain famously said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

A 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis of economic downturns in 2001 and 2008 showed how restaurant job losses mounted, recovered, and eventually surpassed their previous levels of employment.

The most recent boom in food service jobs was so powerful it led to a worldwide shortage of trained chefs and other restaurant workers. Americans were eating out so often, they were spending more than half of their family food budget on eating out versus eating at home.

It’s difficult to see in the midst of a potential recessionary downturn, but times do get better. As the CBO report said, people are resilient.

Americans go back to school during recessions to improve their résumés.

When jobs become scarce, Americans invest in themselves by going back to school. A 2018 Census Bureau report showed that 2-year colleges saw a 33% increase in enrollments from 2006 to 2011. In other words, the Great Recession led to a boom in post-secondary education.

The reason is clear: as the job market becomes increasingly competitive, unemployed workers can gain new skills while building a stronger résumé so that they can have a leg up as employers begin hiring again. When restaurant jobs do come back, those who have superior training might be favored over those who don’t.

Food Service employers prefer that managers have formal culinary training.

Escoffier’s own research backs this up. A 2017 study (1) commissioned by Escoffier found that employers prefer to hire employees – and particularly managers – who have some form of culinary certification. The study cited four reasons why employers believe formal culinary education was so important:

  1. 1. Reduced training time
  2. 2. Genuine passion & dedication
  3. 3. A more diverse skill set, and
  4. 4. Increased professionalism.

Comments from hiring managers included things like, “Those with a degree happen to pick up the menu [more easily] than those without culinary training,” and “Those with a degree or certificate seem to be more professional and professionally-driven.”

We’ll share more of the findings of this study in a future post. But for now, you might consider: how will you differentiate yourself from everyone else when restaurant and other food service jobs return?

Escoffier: the original experts in accredited online culinary education.

College campuses are closing around the country. If you do want to go to culinary school, is it even possible in this environment?

The good news is that Escoffier is the only accredited institution in the United States offering an online culinary degree and diplomas.

Our professional Chef Instructors know the nuances of teaching in an online environment, and how to help students with one-on-one interaction and mentorship. And most of them have lived through previous downturns. They have ideas about how this could play out. They can help you prepare.

If you’re wondering how online culinary school works, watch this short video.

For those who want to go to one of our campuses in Austin, Texas, or Boulder, Colorado, we can help you get started with your education online and then transition you to one of the campuses when they reopen.

What can you do now?

Make no mistake about it: it’s a tough time to be in the food business, and things will probably get worse before they get better. But humans have dealt with catastrophe throughout our history, and we’ve always moved ahead, despite the circumstances.

So if you’re considering a career in the culinary or pastry arts, now might be a good time to consider your education goals. If food is your passion, when the world comes out of this crisis, people will want creative food experiences. After all, food makes people happy and we will all need a lot of happiness in the coming months and possibly longer. Don’t deny giving the world your creative gifts.

Enjoyed this article? Here are some others you might like, too:

Why Culinary School is So Important for Networking and Career Building as a Chef
Acing Your First Job Interview Out of Culinary School
How Chefs Can Build Standout Resumes

 1 Source:  OW Culinary Survey March 2017 and Analysis