Advertising and food—they’re two of my favorite things in this world. There’s nothing like having an epiphany and ideas flowing from your head onto the screen to create a great piece of advertising. There’s also nothing like trying a new dish from an inspired chef, or biting into the best cheeseburger you’ve ever had. I think it goes without saying that I currently work in advertising, but not so much that my only other professional working experience was in the restaurant biz. Recently, it dawned on me how both industries are remarkably similar. For those that have worked in both, you may have also noticed. If not, let me lay it out for you.
Almost every restaurant is divided into the front and back of the house (no, Subway is not a restaurant). Either side cannot survive without the other. The same applies to an advertising agency. Let’s look at the organization and personalities within both.
So, you’ve got the back of the house. In a restaurant this is the kitchen, and in an agency it’s the creative department. In both, these tend to be filled with people who are more tattooed, sometimes more introverted, and much more likely to have impressive beards and mustaches. Their roles are also similar.
In the kitchen, the boss is the executive chef. Their responsibility is guiding the kitchen crew, creating and approving recipes, and hiring staff. This is also the role of creative director, who shares similar responsibilities. Under the executive chef, you have other chefs like the sous chef and pastry chef. They are responsible for the day to day cooking and baking, and who will also sometimes develop menu items. Their equivalents are the art directors and copywriters who are creating the advertisements. Last, you have the prep and line cooks who assist the chefs. This was my gig, and their equivalents are the junior level assistants and production artists.
Kind of weird how it’s lining up, right? Now onto the front of the house…
In the dining room are those who deal with the public. I also once worked as a server, until I realized I was more of a back-of-the-house guy. In an agency, these types are the account executives. They tend to be more outgoing, more presentable and less likely to rock impressive beards. They are the ones who guide the dining experience, take orders and ensure the guest (client) is happy with the food (work). Yes, they get to be the heroes when everything is going right, but they are also the ones who take the blame when it’s not (and then have to tell the kitchen that they need to make the logo bigger).
In the kitchen, you need an intermediary between the front and back of the house. This is the expeditor. They are in the kitchen coordinating efforts between stations, ensuring that priorities are established and food goes out at the right time. So who’s their counterpart? You guessed it, the traffic manager.
But wait! There’s more! (Please excuse the bad advertising line as a segway.) Advertising agencies and good restaurants both aspire to win awards. They do so not only to win notoriety among their peers, but also to increase business and attract top talent. There are local awards for restaurants like “Best of” (for ad agencies these are the Local Addy Awards) or national ones like the acclaimed James Beard Award (One Show Pencil). Or, a restaurant could even earn a coveted Michelin Star (Cannes Lion).
With all these similarities, it’s no wonder it was a smooth transition for me to leave the world of restaurants for agency life. Sometimes the back doesn’t get along with the front. Sometimes a perfectly cooked steak gets sent back because medium rare really means well done in the eyes of the guest. Sometimes everyone goes out drinking at the end of shift and vents about a bad table or triumph over a great tip. Sometimes the front and back realize they’re on the same team. Sometimes everyone comes together and creates magic.
But, hey, what do I know? I’m just a chef du jour hoping to one day become an executive chef, and eventually win a James Beard Award. Sadly, however, my facial hair genetics will not allow me to grow an impressive beard or mustache.