Help me prepare myself for working in a bakery for the first time!
February 1, 2012 8:02 PM   Subscribe

How can I make the most out of a opportunity I've been given to work in a bakery?

I work at a regional supermarket chain. For awhile now, I have been trying to get into the bakery department. But they run a pretty tight ship and only now is there in an opening.

I will be starting there in a week and a half. I'm sure it's going to be an easy case of work hard and do my job, but I would appreciate some advice so I don't screw this up.

I'm coming from a much slower department. And truth be told, every job I've had so far has been laid back and the standards on customer interaction have never been high. I am completely fine with nonstop work and giving great customer service, it will just be a change.

I also don't have any experience what-so-ever, but this is something I've been waiting on and I really want to learn. I will be starting out as a counter clerk, which will also involve cleaning and many other miscellaneous tasks, but I do have the opportunity to move up to baker in the future.

While I haven't worked in a standalone bakery, I know that a supermarket bakery is quite different.

I have no doubt I will be fine, I'm not worried about that. But any suggestions to best get me to success? Just work hard, do my job, become interested/take pleasure in learning, and ask questions?
posted by signondiego to Work & Money (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
From what I've heard about working in a bakery from my girlfriend and her friends, cake decorating involves a lot less customer interaction than bakery counter. Really though, what do you want to get out of this bakery relo?
posted by oceanjesse at 8:13 PM on February 1, 2012

Best answer: Do you bake at home? Why do you want to work in the bakery? Is it because you love baking, or because it's just a good department?

I've worked in a smaller bakery. We made cakes, tarts, pies, cookies, marshmallows and some special seasonal treats. I was hired as an apprentice, working part-time. (I had a full-time job so I worked about 2 days a week and on the weekends.) So my experience may or may not be helpful.

I was lucky enough to gain knife skills (cutting endless fruit), improve my cake decorating, and develop a better idea of what works and what doesn't for sweet treats. I also learned how to scale a recipe up for commercial use.

I found that genuine interest in what I was doing went a long way. I practiced things at home. I experimented with recipes quite a bit. I worked in the back for a long time, prepping, cutting, making cookies, brownies, pies and other items. I asked questions when I didn't know. I offered to help on big orders.

When I talked with customers, I made sure I knew about the products. I tasted what was made.

I had a deep love of baking before I started at the bakery; I had been baking for about 8 years for friends and family, and was looking to get serious. Even though I had no professional experience, my drive and earnestness impressed the owner.

If you are looking to learn more about baking; then I highly recommended you experiment at home. Is there a class or two you could take locally as well?

In short - be interested, be engaged, and be willing to help out the more experienced bakers. Refine your skills off-hours when you can so that you can contribute more to the department in a shorter time frame.

Good luck!
posted by carmenghia at 8:49 PM on February 1, 2012

Response by poster: I have to say that I don't have any baking experience at home, not that it's a bad thing. I only became interested in doing this a few years ago, and I just haven't bothered to start learning yet. I won't even touch baking for awhile, but it would be a good idea to start learning on my own.

It is something I really want to learn and know I would enjoy doing, and that's pretty much why I want to work over there. It's a job you need experience in, but the good thing about a grocery store is that they will train you.
posted by signondiego at 9:13 PM on February 1, 2012

Best answer: From your description this will be a "production bakery". They have set recipes and procedures to produce designated amounts of specific products. My best advice from lots of years in and around bakeries is concentrate on learning how to do it their way. I'm not saying that there are not better ways to do what they are doing, but that will not be what they are expecting you to come up with at this point. Learn your procedures, do them diligently, listen to criticism and learn from your mistakes, because there will be some.
posted by uncaken at 9:14 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, you are 100% correct that it is a "production bakery". As a grocery bakery, they would have a set way of doing things. Which one thing I did not mention in my post is that doing it their way would be the only way to go. And good advice at that, thanks.
posted by signondiego at 9:28 PM on February 1, 2012

Best answer: Take notes - have a notebook on hand at all times, and whenever you have a free moment, write down what you have learned. Keep your notes orderly - categorize the information; you can have a store policy section, a baking tips section, a decorating section... even if you don't end up revisiting the notes, the act of writing them down helps you remember. People also like to see you taking notes - they know that you're not going to forget and it shows that you value their knowledge.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:47 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you haven't already had to, learn how to be clean and keep your workspace clean to the standards of your workplace or the health/sanitation department, whichever is higher. This means developing habits like not handling money and then food; changing gloves as required; not scratching your nose and putting your hair behind your ears, etc etc.

(didn't work in the bakery but rather a supplier to bakeries)
posted by whatzit at 3:13 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

On customer service: read this book (disclaimer: by a former boss of mine).
posted by gauche at 6:36 AM on February 2, 2012

Best answer: I work in a large specialty grocery store production bakery. I went to pastry school but I started in this bakery in retail and am now a pastry finisher.

I absolutely second the advice above to get a notebook. I'd add to that a pen and a Sharpie at all times, and a little pocketknife or box cutter.

More things that help:
Patience. Patience. Patience. People are stupid about baked goods; if you don't have what they want, they will be upset. They don't know how things are made or how long they take or even how to store them once they buy them. Know all this stuff.

Know which things are made on which days and how many days in advance people need to order specific products. Know who in production makes what.

Related: know your products. Be able to identify all the breads and know what differentiates them from one another. (Different types of flour; different starters; different scoring marks on top.)

And yes, ask tons of relevant questions and learn the workflow of the department. This goes a long way toward making you an asset instead of a liability.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:09 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

My time in a bakery was one of the happiest jobs I've ever had. Early mornings (but out early) and hopping busy all day, but fun.

If you get overwhelmed, take a deep breath, look around you, and think "Damn! I did that! I made that bread that a member of my community is going to take home and feed their family with. I made that cake that a family is going to sit around and sing over." that always helped me. Baking is such a fantastically practical and helpful job - it's almost like you get to be a part of those families for a moment.
posted by arcticwoman at 12:35 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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