Translating vs. running a restaurant

Having been a freelance translator for 30 odd years and reluctant sidekick in my husband’s restaurant business for nearly 16, I’ve often reflected on the respective advantages and disadvantages of these two ways of earning a living. So if you’re contemplating what kind of career to embark on, take note.

The Workplace. Ideally a translator will have an office: you can work there in peace with everything you need close at hand. It’s also somewhere to keep people out of while you fart about and pretend to be working. But in fact you can work practically anywhere that has a chair and a flat surface. Obviously some arrangements are more comfortable than others.

A restaurant, on the other hand, requires premises. And my premise is that premises cost a lot of money and are a liability. Never mind the civil liability you have to insure against in case a customer falls down the stairs.

Equipment. A translator needs a laptop and a printer. Practically everything else you need is in your head or online.

To equip your restaurant premises, however, you need fridges, freezers, fryers, and lots of other things that begin with ‘f’, like dishwashers, coffee machine and cookers, particularly when they refuse to cooperate and break down on you. Which is usually at the height of Sunday lunchtime. They also consume vast amounts of electricity.

Stuff. Or stock, if you want to be technical. A translator doesn’t need much. It’s probably a good idea to have some paper for the printer, a spare cartridge and a couple of pens. But that’s about it.

A restaurant needs large amounts of stock. Food and drink. On good days lots of food gets eaten and the empty bottles pile up; then you have to buy more food and throw out the bottles. On bad days you throw out food but keep the bottles.

Opening hours. Translators can work whenever it suits them. If I wake up at 4 in the morning and can’t get back to sleep, I get up and work for a couple of hours and then go back to bed. This doesn’t work with restaurants.

Customers. I meet my clients’ deadlines and they keep sending me more work, so I assume they have no complaints about the quality of my translations; I’ve given up hoping for emotional expressions of amazement at my linguistic flair. Anyway, it’s usually the institutions they work for that actually pay. Eventually. In one case it took nearly a year for a university to cough up.

Restaurant customers say things like, “That was the best roast lamb I’ve ever had in my life!” or “That chocolate cake was truly orgasmic!” and express a desire to marry the cook. They also pay right away, and tend to leave a generous tip.

There you have it – some of the basic differences between translating and running a restaurant. I’ll stick to my office, thank you very much, and go on earning a living as a translator. Even if my customers aren’t given to exaggerated displays of admiration, take their time paying and don’t leave tips. That’s probably just because I have no way of getting a glass or two of wine into them.

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