Frank Chen

Frank Chen

writing well can get your foot in the door

I wrote this email a year or so ago when I was considering a side opportunity in a completely different industry. It was based off of a warm interaction before, but I never sent the message. Let's break it down.

Hi [Chef],

I'm reaching out to see if [restaurant] had the capacity for an unpaid stage.

I'm sure you have many guests, so you might not remember, but I ate at [restaurant] with my partner on Valentine's day 2019 and had a splendid time. At some point during the dinner, you saw me peering around the corner of my seat into the kitchen. You noticed my curiosity and invited me back to the pass, where you gave a quick rundown of the kitchen and your lean, 5-man team.

At the time, I didn't want to intrude too much, since I know service is a busy time, especially if you're at the pass. Cooking and the culinary arts has interested me for many years, but I've kept it as a hobby (via supper club and daily home cooking from scratch). My understanding on the differences between cooking at home and professional cooking is mostly academic (Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain), and only a little bit experiential. I poked the bear back in 2011 with a stage at Spago in Los Angeles under the sous chef at the time, [sous chef], but I was finishing up college and they couldn't take on someone part-time.

For me, the thought of cooking has passed my mind more than once, and for me, it's a stone that I refuse to be left unturned. It's been almost a year since I've bounced this thought in my head, and I keep getting your friendly [restaurant] email updates. That eventually nudged me to see if there was any opportunity to offer my hands and some free help to a kitchen that seemed very inviting towards its guests.

I understand that not every kitchen offers stages, so no pressure and no love lost if nothing comes of this.

The summary is "storytelling with an ask". I come out hard with the immediate ask, and then back it out with how I came to that conclusion with the story. Most people don't want to read a wall of text just to get to the final point, which annoyingly, is usually the last sentence of the entire message. I flip it in this email, so that the reader knows my ask immediately, and then holds that context in mind while the story is told. That's the first paragraph.

The second paragraph highlights any understanding of the industry barring any experience on my resume. The restaurant industry is quite inviting to those without experience, so showing at least some baseline knowledge that you're interested in the culinary arts would be to your advantage. I did throw some of the industry terms I'm familiar with, such as "stage", or "at the pass", and "service". Depending on the industry, this might be the place to insert a one to two sentence summary on some relevant side projects you've pursued. A portfolio is usually best. With cooking, I'd probably throw in some of my social media accounts that showcase some of the supper club stuff I've done.

The third paragraph highlights the personal connection to my ask. It's the "why". It's arguable that the third paragraph can also be the first paragraph, but because I had a particularly compelling story to tell, I felt the first paragraph would do a better job drawing my reader in.

The last sentence offers a no strings attached out. They can easily say no or yes and be done.

Normally, I would never recommend offering your services or time for free, but sometimes this is necessary depending on industry standards. The restaurant industry does run on a lot of unpaid stages since the margins are razor thin. In any other industry, getting paid for your services and time is recommended, even if you're a newbie.

The way you format the message is highly dependent on industry characteristics. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don't be too verbose. Get to the point.

Also, it'll only get read if you send it.

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