When I was teaching in the Hospitality program at Fanshawe College I used to tell all my students that ‘knife skills are life skills’. Meaning that simply learning how to be a better cook will improve the quality of the food you eat and reduce the time you spend in the kitchen; the sort of life skills they stopped teaching in high school sometime before I got to grade 9. And I stand by that statement. Even if you never intend to work as a cook, just taking the time to learn how to be a cook will reward you with benefits for the rest of your life. And learning how to cook, and how to be a chef, involves a lot more crossover skills than I ever thought. It was when I started my bookkeeping company that I finally realized how much my culinary training and background had prepared me for my new adventure into the accounting world. And when I break it down there are ultimately three key areas of crossover from being a chef to being a bookkeeper. You need to always be learning new things about your industry, you need to develop consistency in both effort and execution, and you need to develop strong but concise communication skills.
Learning about your industry
As a cook you are trained to taste the food you are making. And as a bookkeeper you are trained to review the financial statements that are a byproduct of your work for accuracy before they go to the client. Both actions are meant to ensure the customer gets the best possible experience from your efforts. You are meant to try and understand what it is that your guest or client is expecting and, at the minimum, meet those expectations. And to do this you need to be constantly upgrading your skills or learning new things.
As a cook you need to stay on top of new trends and consumer expectations. You need to push your skill set forward so you can make new dishes, feel inspired and be confident adapting to new kitchens and writing new menus. While as a bookkeeper you need to keep up with technology and any developments in the industries you serve. You need to learn how to decipher government legislation and the impacts that changing legislation will have on your clients. You need to keep up with online security best practice and be looking for efficiency improvements. And as you learn and adapt and hone your craft you’ll progress into troubleshooting. Whether it is figuring out what your apprentice did wrong to the daily soup or unravelling a set of messed up books from a new client. The need to constantly be learning and adapting to your job is common to both careers. And figuring out how you learn and making it a priority is only the first crossover skill.
Perhaps the most important skill a chef and a bookkeeper can possess is consistency. If a customer orders the duck confit or the quail consommé and really love it, then it better be exactly the same the next time they come in to order it. And it should be obvious that completing the financial data entry for a business in the same manner each time is extremely important. There is a lot of attention to detail required in both jobs.
But it is not just consistent execution that is important. Consistent effort is equally vital.
The pace at which you push out meals or the pace at which you record expenses. The energy you expend learning how to filet a salmon or the energy you expend learning how to set up depreciation schedules. In a kitchen we want to have our mise en place done before service. This is the final bit of prep that we need on our station on the line to save ourselves time, steps and mistakes. It means we put everything we need in the same place for every service; so you can grab a pinch of salt or a spoon of garlic without even looking at your station. And in bookkeeping we do the same thing, but with a computer. Our process from start to finish is the same every time. The spreadsheets, procedures and checklists are all part of our mise en place. We are putting the things we need, in the place we need them, so we can execute the same function almost on autopilot.
Whether you are cooking or bookkeeping having a good system for your mise en place allows you to focus on the trickier parts of the job and not be bogged down by the mundane. By striving for consistent execution and effort you cannot help but get better at whatever you are doing. So even your consistency improves over time. And that brings us to communication.
Yes chef. You hear it on tv, but you also hear it in real kitchens. Or something along those lines. One kitchen I worked in used a system of repeating the direction. One ribeye medium, one pork. One ribeye medium, one pork. In a busy kitchen you don’t have time to discuss the nuances of each dish. An order comes in, it gets called out and it is expected that it will be ready at the appropriate time to go with the rest of the table.
Communication in a kitchen is clear and concise. And communication in the bookkeeping world needs to be the same.
Some clients will want to have a long discussion about their financial statements but the day to day requesting and receiving of information needs to be clear and concise. Your client has neither the time nor desire to read a long email about why you want the June bank statement or the importance of sending in changes to their insurance policy or car lease. They want a one sentence message letting them know what you need. And then they maybe also want a reminder the next week. Business owners, and especially owner/operators, have other things on their mind. That’s why they are paying someone else to do the books. In both professions there is no ‘fake it until you make it’. And in both careers, you will interact with your coworkers a lot more than with your customers.
But when you do interact with your customers it can become something a little more special than just a conversation
As a chef I always enjoyed strolling out to the dining room and talking with the guests. For the most part, just talking to someone wearing the chef whites was all a guest would need to turn a bad experience into a second chance, or a good experience into a great night. Because it is uncommon to speak to the person who cooked your meal and because there is some bizarre admiration given to those who cook for a living. And as a bookkeeper you similarly have very little actual interaction with your clients. Everything is handled online now; there is no more exchange of the shoe box full of receipts and the in-person conversations that happen with them. So, when I reach out to a client for something beyond the normal request for a missing receipt, there is a return to the personal touch. The client gets to interact with the expert, whether we are discussing why an expense should or should not be capitalized, what the best approach is to handle mileage, or to do a deep dive into their financials. Communication in both professions is unique, but the similarities made the transition from one career to the other a little easier for me.
Skills for Life
Knife skills are life skills. And, although I do not have a rhyming slogan, financial literacy is another of those important life skills they stopped teaching in school, at least where I grew up. Understanding the income statement and balance sheet of a small business translates easily to understanding your own personal finance. Regardless of what the bank’s algorithms say, how much can you actually afford to borrow, or ultimately repay, to buy a house? Or why you sometimes run out of money before your next pay, but not consistently? Those answers are easily found by reviewing your ‘personal financial statements’. Regularly learning new things, consistency in effort and execution, and concise but clear communication are traits that make for strong cooks and strong bookkeepers. And they also turn out to be habits that make for a higher quality of life in general.