Soft Skills in the Food and Beverage Job Search: Your Key to Success
It’s a good time to start or advance a career in the food and beverage industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’s career outlook projects fast employment growth for a number of occupations in this sector through 2031. They highlighted ten roles that are growing faster than the 5.3% average across occupations. While many of these are restaurant roles like bartenders (18%), cooks (16%), chefs (15%), and food service managers (10%), roles like food science technicians (9%) and agricultural food scientists (8%) also made the list.
While the hiring landscape is active, that doesn’t mean that job seekers can assume a new role is guaranteed. Food industry employers don’t just want anyone to take their opportunities. The increase in industry turnover over the past few years has many hiring leaders refining their recruitment strategy, aiming to hire full-time employees with whom they can build a long-term relationship.
Soft skills are a major factor in that equation. Understanding which soft skills are most in-demand in the industry, and how to highlight them effectively through the application and interview process, can help food and beverage job seekers to land their next role faster. Let’s look at the key soft skills for this industry, along with some tips for how to demonstrate them effectively to employers.
Soft skills vs. hard skills
The terms “soft skills” and “hard skills” are often misunderstood, especially when it comes to their relative importance in the workplace. Just because something is classified as a hard skill doesn’t automatically mean it’s more important to the role. In fact, when it comes to jobs in the food industry, a candidate’s soft skills are often the best indicator of their ability to thrive.
The difference between these groups of skills is primarily one of specificity, not of importance. Hard skills, also called technical skills, are abilities learned through education or on-the-job training that are specific to that industry or role. For example, hard skills in a restaurant would include things like knife skills for chefs, or the steps for a bartender to make certain cocktails.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are more general capabilities and personality traits that can be useful in a wide range of roles across industries. This is why you’ll also see these referred to as “transferable skills.” These include things like leadership, critical thinking, staying calm under pressure, and interpersonal skills, just to name a few examples.
Employers outside the hospitality industry often look for these traits in candidates, too, but that doesn’t make them less important for work in a kitchen, restaurant, or other food organization. In fact, it’s often more critical for employees to have these soft skills from the start. People can learn and improve traits like communication skills or teamwork, but that’s often a longer and more complicated process than learning new job-related skills or knowledge, like how to make specific recipes or navigating their point-of-sale system of choice. Particularly for customer-facing roles like servers and bartenders, having the right soft skills on your resume is critical to advance in the field.
Key soft skills for food and beverage roles
Now that you know what soft skills are, what are the main ones you need to thrive in the food industry? The exact answer to that question will depend on the position and its core tasks. However, while not everyone in food and beverage needs the same skills, there are some soft skills an individual will need regardless of their career path or level in the hierarchy. Here are 10 soft skills that just about every food industry employer looks for in candidates.
Communication skills are the most consistently necessary soft skills across areas of the food and beverage industry. For jobs in a kitchen or production facility, strong communication within the team helps the business to maintain productivity, find solutions to problems, and meet its clients’ needs.
This skill is even more necessary for F&B staff that work directly with customers. People who work in an establishment like a restaurant, bar, or cafe need to communicate well at a variety of levels: with their managers, with their co-workers, and with guests. A strong communicator is able to adapt their interactions to fit each of these situations, along with consistently listening carefully to what others say, and being able to express themselves clearly.
Providing an exceptional customer experience is in the mission statement of most hospitality companies, and the customer service skills of their workforce are critical for doing so. This skill set is closely related to communication, though it also incorporates aspects of creative problem solving, decision making, patience, and empathy.
Someone who excels in customer service is able to stay calm and friendly when listening to customer complaints, then identify the root cause of their issues and find a solution. Individuals with a talent for customer service are often also excellent active listeners with a high emotional intelligence. This enables them to quickly earn a customer’s trust and keep their own emotions in control, no matter how angry or frustrated the other person gets.
While there are some more independent roles in the food industry, the majority of them involve working in a team. This makes the ability to form and maintain healthy, productive professional relationships with colleagues a key part of any employee’s success in their position.
Teamwork is especially important for restaurant careers. Restaurants often have a fast-paced work environment where each individual has unique duties in preparing food and drinks and serving them to customers. All members of the team need to be able to communicate, work together, and help out when somebody ends up in the weeds, in order to ensure the entire team’s success.
Empathy and emotional intelligence
Empathy is valuable for anyone who works with other people. This is the ability to identify what another person is feeling and connect to them on that emotional level. It’s often the thing that differentiates exceptional customer experiences from those that are negative or forgettable. An empathetic server or bartender can often turn complaints into happy customers, thanks in large part to their attitude during the interaction.
Emotional intelligence is closely related to this, as well. This can be loosely defined as your ability to identify what other people are feeling based on their words, tone, and body language. It also includes awareness and proper management of your own emotions, such as your ability to stay positive when interacting with a disgruntled customer.
Multitasking and time management
Many food industry jobs have a fast pace and require employees to keep track of several details at once. This is true in both the front and back of the house. Kitchen workers need to keep track of multiple dishes and cook times to ensure an entire table’s meal is ready at the same time, while servers need to split their attention between all of the tables in their section. Either way, the ability to track, organize, and prioritize multiple tasks at the same time is instrumental for success in all types of food service roles.
Food industry workers face a lot of decisions, questions, and potential issues in an average day, and there isn’t always a manager around to offer assistance. The ability to independently solve problems makes you a valuable member of the team because you can find ways to navigate any workplace situation, even if it’s one that you haven’t been in before.
Some amount of conflict is inevitable whenever you work with people, whether those are your coworkers or the diners in a restaurant. Effective conflict resolution is closely linked to skills like communication and emotional intelligence. It starts with identifying each person’s perspective, the resolution they want to achieve, and how far from that ideal they’re willing to compromise. This is an especially valuable skill for food industry managers and leaders, allowing you to maintain harmony within the team and keep everyone working together toward the same goal.
Attention to detail
In the food industry, the devil is often in the details. Attention to detail is what ensures products and menu items taste consistently the same from day to day. It’s also critical for special orders, and making sure all diners get the right food and drinks. Having a sharp eye for detail starts with paying close attention to everything in your environment, even when things are stressful or busy. People who have this sharp observational eye often thrive in all areas of the food sector.
Flexibility and adaptability
The food industry is dynamic. On a big-picture scale, menus and service approaches often evolve in keeping with trends and customer tastes. On a day-to-day level, predicting the needs of customers isn’t an exact science, and last-minute call-offs or sudden surges of business can disrupt even the best-laid plans. Workers in this industry need to be able to roll with the punches and willing to take on tasks outside their job description, particularly in customer-facing food establishments like restaurants.
There’s a reason cooking is often called the culinary arts. Chefs and food scientists are often called on to combine ingredients in new ways, create elegant and appealing plating designs, and come up with unique recipes that will excite customers. This is a particularly important soft skill for those on the food preparation side of the industry, though those who work directly with customers can put it to use, too, in their ability to describe and sell a product in a compelling way.
How to showcase soft skills in your job search
One of the main differences between soft skills and hard skills is that many soft skills are general life skills rather than learned skills specific to an industry. This can make them a challenge to showcase to employers.
The good news is, you can demonstrate some soft skills simply by how you engage with the job search process. For instance, being responsive and clear in your messages with the hiring team demonstrates your communication ability. Having a well-proofread resume and cover letter also conveys this, along with your attention to detail. Similarly, when you show up for your interview on time, dressed appropriately, and with a copy of your resume and references in hand, this shows that you are professional, organized, and understand effective time management.
You can also use your resume to demonstrate your past success with critical soft skills. If you were regularly given high reviews and ratings from customers in past restaurant jobs, for instance, this shows hiring staff that you have effective customer service skills. The same goes for soft skills like teamwork and multitasking. If you excelled in prior positions in a kitchen or restaurant, especially one that operates at high volume, that demonstrates your ability in these areas.
The interview is another great place you can showcase your strongest soft skills. Situational interview questions are often designed to target these areas. These include questions about your interactions with past customers and coworkers, or how you navigate potentially difficult situations in the workplace. Consider times that you’ve effectively used the key soft skills for the role in past jobs before the interview in preparation, so that you have examples in mind that you can cite to demonstrate these capabilities.
Leveraging soft skills to land your next role
Soft skills are certainly not exclusive to the food service world. Just about every employer wants to hire people with a strong work ethic, high professionalism, and skills in areas like communication, collaboration, and problem-solving.
The key to standing out as a candidate for any role starts with identifying the right combination of skills for the position. The job description can be your best guide for this information, often telling you exactly which skills you’ll need to demonstrate in order to be considered a top contender. Take advantage of this data, along with the advice and tips given in this article, to turn your soft skills into your next dream job.
Bristol Associates, Inc. is an executive search firm with over 55 years of excellence in recruiting nationwide. Bristol specializes in recruiting for the Casino Gaming; CBD; Facility and Concession; Food and Beverage Manufacturing; Healthcare; Hotel and Resort; Nonprofit; Restaurant and Foodservice; and Travel, Tourism, and Attraction industries.
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