Survival Jobs for Performing Artists: Food Industry
Interview by Lauryn M.
Although the food industry isn’t ideal for all actors, it can provide a source of flexibility and income, while on the move. You can choose a variety of positions; Host, Waiter, Manager, Bar Tender, Busser, or even Event Planner, depending on your commitment and availability. For most, working in a restaurant is not a career choice, but used for supplemental income. If you happen to consider moving to the city and want a job, immediately, to help pay the bills, working in a restaurant is not a bad idea.
Read on to see how my friend, Ben Knight, whom I met working in a restaurant, juggles (literally) his performing arts life with his survival job in the food industry.
Interview with Benjamin David Knight
How many years have you lived in NYC?
8 years! I moved to NYC when I transferred to Pace University.
How did you become interested in working in the food industry in the city?
I was a host for a restaurant in NJ for about a year when I was a teenager, but that's far less interesting. In NYC? Completely on accident. I had been working in corporate retail for some time, and had become incredibly dissatisfied with the disrespect shown to my scheduling and personal needs. I finally quit and was between jobs for a while, unsure if I could find a place that would pay the bills and respect my endeavors. I even almost became a phlebotomist (a story for another time!) One day a cast mate at the time helped me get a busboy position where he worked, and that's how I started on that journey.
How long have you been working in the food industry?
On and off for... wow three years now! I actually had to pull up my resume to be sure!
How did you hear about your food industry job opportunities?
As I said my first NYC job was word of mouth. I was a busboy and runner for some time. When the overnight bartender suddenly quit, they threw me in, so that's how I learned to bartend. After that job ended Harri.com was a great resource for me. It helped me land two jobs after that, including the one I work now between shows.
What different types of positions have you had?
I've been everything except a manager and a chef pretty much! Busboy, runner, server, bartender, event representative... It's honestly been useful to see a restaurant from the perspective of so many different positions.
Do you believe working in the food industry is a reliable, flexible, enjoyable source of income, while pursuing a career in the arts?
It CAN be, but like any job you have to find the right fit. I've worked at places that made my life a living hell as a performer, and that even tried to make me feel guilty or selfish for pursuing the career that I worked hard to receive a degree for. Luckily the place I work now (The Route 66 Smokehouse) is phenomenal in regards to respecting my schedule, and affording me the money to pay the bills when the theatre can't.
Would you recommend working in a restaurant or a bar to new artists in the city?
As an option? Absolutely! But again, it's about the right fit, and remembering that those jobs aren't meant to be permanent. I'm very lucky in the sense that my managers and I have a sort of unspoken arrangement: I will work whatever shifts they need at a moment's notice: doubles, closing, openings (I've even come in on my days off!), and in exchange I know that if I have to leave on tour for months at a time that it will not only be alright with them, but that I will be welcomed back when I return. It's about respect: I respect their business needs, and in return they respect mine. That's what you need to look for.
Have any other comments or concerns you would like to share?
As much as I love my service job, I know it isn't for everyone, and not everyone will have the luck I've had in finding a respectful place in regards to scheduling and the arts. So, the one universal piece of advice I think I have is, just be upfront when you're applying for a job. Let them know that you're an artist, and that may mean your schedule varies time-to-time. At the same time, assure them that you'll give them proper notice for time off, and find cover when you can't. Because if they aren't OK with it when they hire you then you can be sure they won't be OK with it when it happens, and that means they were never a good fit to begin with. Break legs out there everyone!
Benjamin David Knight is a classically trained NYC based actor from NJ. He has performed Off, and Off-Off Broadway in a range of shows from Twelfth Night (Antonio) to Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Cabaret (Moist). He has most recently completed a tour with The National Theatre of the Deaf, and will be touring with Foodplay this Fall. Currently Benjamin is performing as Matt in Dog Sees God at the Producer's Club.
Facebook: Ben Knight
Where to search for restaurant work in NYC
I found my first restaurant opportunity in the city on Craig’s list.