How can I get a job at a sushi place?
June 24, 2007 11:42 AM   Subscribe

How can I get a job at a sushi restaurant?

I need a part-time job for the summer and my favorite sushi restaurant just posted a Craiglist's ad. I've been applying for tons of food and retail jobs but haven't had much luck. I worked as a barista in 1995-1997, an assistant manager of a clothing store in 2003, and have done a ton of customer service jobs (IT help desk), but now I am a grad student and it seems that this is a black mark on my resume, regardless of my service industry background.

Anyway, I'd like hints from people who have worked at sushi restaurants or in food service in general to help me nail this job.

* This is the most upscale sushi place in Santa Barbara (in Montecito, actually). It is expensive (~$45/person for cheaper rolls and cheaper wine). It has an upscale atmosphere. It only seats 20 people. It is really difficult to get into on a weekend night.

* The ad says: "Experience a must" and "Experience in Japanese food/translation."

* Most of their servers are Asian or white college students. I'm not Asian and I am 6 years out of college. I haven't waited tables before, but I think I'd be okay at it. (I was a bus girl in 1995 for a summer though.) I think that as a slightly older person, they may overlook my lack of experience.

* I don't know Japanese, but I do know most of the sushi-related words. I figure I should learn the terms in this glossary before I go.

* I have complete weekend and evening availability except Tuesdays and Wednesdays this summer when I have class.

Do I have a shot, food service comrades? What else can I do to impress them?
posted by k8t to Food & Drink (6 answers total)
At first glance I wouldn't think so. Most restaurants in that price range hire waiters who have a good bit of experience (like a year) as waiters. But if hiring college students is standard then it's possible. An additional mark in your favor is that it is "Experience a must" and not "Waiting experience a must". Play up your food service experience and your love of the fast pace of restaurant work. I think knowing a lot about sushi and the vocabulary is good but some familiarity and eagerness to learn is probably good enough. Restaurant managers like having an attractive wait staff. It's likely that will be something of a factor in the manager's decision.
posted by BigSky at 12:00 PM on June 24, 2007

You should try applying....the only thing to fear is rejection.

Besides that though...if you are a US citizen or green card carrying legal resident, you have a more than decent shot at any restaurant that may, theoretically, have not quite legal-to-work-in-the-US staff members, since these restaurants like to boost the number of their legal to work staff.
posted by derMax at 1:47 PM on June 24, 2007

I did a one-month "internship" in high school at my favorite sushi place. They probably took me just because I was free labor, but things that helped build the relationship:

1) It was my favorite sushi place. I told them so. I also brought my friends in on weekends while I worked there and we left big tips.
2) I spoke a little bit of Japanese, enough for pleasantries and to understand a few basic questions. I could also read the hiragana on the wall spelling out the types of sushi we served. It wasn't much, but they were impressed that I'd tried. (Hiragana are easy to learn, by the way, if you want to make the effort)
3) I spoke a lot of Spanish. While the sushi chefs and waitresses were all Japanese, everyone in the kitchen was from Central America. I got along great with them because I could understand them better than the Japanese owners could, and they were excited to work with someone they could talk to when bored.

I worked in the kitchen, not as a waitress, but extrapolate as necessary; let them know you really like the restaurant, and show that you've made an effort to make up for not being Asian ;) by learning the vocabulary and maybe a few useful words and greetings. One thing I noticed about the place I went is that, while it was casual, there were big Japanese families who came in often for dinner and who had a good relationship with the owners -- so they'd send their cute Japanese waitresses to wait on them and speak Japanese. If this is a very small place and they maybe cater to these specialty customers, you'll have to compete with the cute girls who speak these customers' language natively... *definitely* learn the pleasantries, and maybe go on a scouting mission to see how the current waitresses behave... try and emulate that if you make it to an interview.
posted by olinerd at 3:07 PM on June 24, 2007

Hmm, this is a server position so the language requirement is probably not just about knowing menu items in Japanese, they probably want someone who understands a bit of the culture too. If this place is upscale as you say, I imagine that some VIP Japanese families go there. And whether it's a hip-formal expensive place or a formal-formal place, there's a certain way of service (dealing with customers and getting along internally) the owners are going to be looking for that you can't simply pick up from a book. I worked in a sushi place in a college town myself and have been involved with a few Japanese expat/Japanese American communities on the West Coast.

It's a long shot, but not impossible.

As for the restaurant experience, it's probably not necessary if you demonstrate that you learn quickly and independently. And the the language/food experience, learn the vocab you linked to. Learning hiragana and katakana would help. Your personality will take care of the rest. Be awesome... and hot.

olinerd's points 1-3 are spot on. Here's a few more:
4. Read a cross-cultural communication book like
this. It's not meant to be taken too seriously, but gives a general idea of some Japanese values.
5. About your age, be humble and be prepared for those younger than you to hold higher positions.
6. Be enthusiastic but don't talk too much, unless the owner is very chatty.
posted by QueSeraSera at 4:41 PM on June 24, 2007

Get your foot in the door by applying for a host position and attempt to work your way up that way. Get to know the staff and management, prove to them you are smart, a teamplayer, quick on your feet and that the customers love you. Memorize the menu. This is a time honored way of getting shifts at good restuarants, particularly if you have no waiting experience. An inexperienced waiter in a busy, upscale restaurant can be a burden on the other staff.
posted by pluckysparrow at 5:56 PM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

As you well know, most of the undergrads in Santa Barbara are flaky. Play up that you are resonsible, and perhaps you'll have a chance....

Sadly, my wife and I are leaving SB shortly, or we'd come once you have the job (and offer compliments to the manager about the fantastic service, naturally).
posted by JMOZ at 6:42 PM on June 24, 2007

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