Love in the Work Kitchen

Thinking of pursuing a romantic interest who works with you? Read these tips first, because things can get slippery.

Love in the Work Kitchen

Keep your cool when a kitchen romance heats up.

You've been working 12-hour days in the kitchen for years, and the promotion to head chef is so close you can taste it. Everything is going according to plan -- until a new coworker catches your eye. You see your future unfolding; you hope to date or even one day marry this person.

Then reality hits you. Your company has a nonfraternization policy. Do you risk your career for what may be the love of your life?

Be ready to leave

"If you are going to pursue a love interest in your restaurant, be prepared to leave," warns Tammy Roy, of Las Vegas, who met her husband, a sous chef, while working as his line cook. "Someone always ends up leaving."

Lucky for Roy, her husband was planning to leave the restaurant, and she didn't actually get romantically involved with him until he did. Her coworkers sensed the tension. "We tried to keep things as quiet as we could, but it wasn't until later that we realized others knew what was going on," Roy says.

After her experience, Roy cautions restaurant staffers to tread lightly. "You are working in small, hot spaces, and things can get explosive," she warns. "Animosity can quickly grow between the front of the house and the back of the house." And things will be even worse if the chef gives his love interest special treatment.

Prepare for the worst-case scenario

Not everyone will be as lucky as Roy. Chef Tom was employed as a sous chef for a four-star restaurant in Boston and helped his wife find work as a waitress there. While Tom was in the kitchen creating tantalizing dishes, his wife and the busboy were in the dining room falling in love. Tom found out about his wife's affair and had her fired. Then they divorced.

Tom advises you to leave love out of it when working in the restaurant business, or if you can't, find a new position. "If things go sour it can affect your job and career," he says. "Quit your job, get another job and then get involved."

Lisa Pasay, human resources manager and former restaurant manager for Hartford-based Max Restaurant Group, agrees. "Gossip may spread, and your credibility and reputation may get tarnished," says Pasay. "People around you begin to feel uncomfortable."

If you decide to go for it, be professional

"If you do decide to pursue a work-related relationship, inform management, because chances are they already know," says Tom. "If you keep it a secret and they find out, it can lead to distrust."

And Pasay advises you to remember that work takes priority. "Don't come in and set up camp at a table for six hours while your boyfriend is working his shift," she says. "We can't mirror two schedules all the time because you would like to work as a couple. Business needs must come first."

One last word of caution: Pasay says even casual dating may cause suspicion. Remember, affairs of the heart can turn to heartburn overnight.