Out of all the articles in the Food Challenges 101 category, this is definitely the one that I have been the most excited to write because the term “professional eater” is the most misunderstood label / title throughout the entire world of food challenges and competitive eating. There are extremely ignorant restaurant owners and people all over the world, especially in the United States, that use the term “professional eater” without having any clue or idea what it truly means to be a professional eater. These people seem to think that we are like “mutants” in X-Men, and that “professional eaters” were just genetically born to eat more, eat faster, and be better at eating than everyone else. Some restaurants have “professional eater clauses” that prevent better eaters from taking their challenge because they have a higher chance of winning. Some small restaurants host eating contests and restrict “professional eaters” from entering the contest so that it is more competitive for the more novice local contestants. The problem is not that they don’t allow professional eaters. The problem is that they have no clue what a professional eater is, and therefore they restrict contestants from entering that should not be restricted. Believe it or not, other professional and competitive eaters and I were not created in a sports science laboratory, and the only real difference that sets us apart is that we actually have a work ethic to go along with the desire to be a professional and/or competitive eater. The point of this article is to clear up what it means to be a “pro” so promoters can at least know who to wrongly discriminate against:
The Current Definition Of A Professional Eater
I have been very active in following the world of food challenges and competitive eating since beginning in 2010. Since beginning, I have always been public about my challenges and I don’t even do a challenge unless it is being videoed so that a YouTube video can be produced. I even have my own website RandySantel.com. Therefore, the search for “Randy Santel” comes up with thousands of different results. I have dealt with the “professional eater” misconception many times, and I know many other eaters that have dealt with it also, and therefore this issue “hits home” for me. In today’s world, there are 4 “definitions” for the term “professional eater” used by restaurant owners, staff, and promoters which I have derived from past bad experiences:
1. Professional Eater – Any person that has won money for winning an eating challenge or contest
2. Professional Eater – Any person that has won an eating competition before
3. Professional Eater – Any person that competes “in that hot dog contest on TV” (Nathan’s on July 4th)
4. Professional Eater – If eating contest or food challenge posts show up when your name is “Googled”
As an avid food challenger, there are few things more irritating than when a restaurant owner claims that they created their challenge “just for local people” and that it wasn’t really meant for “professional eaters” to attempt. Just recently, I had to listen to a chef use this line when referring to their TEN POUND sandwich challenge. I just kept my mouth shut, shook my head, and walked away laughing at his ignorance, counting the number of eaters that can defeat a 10lb (4.54kg) sandwich challenge with just my 2 hands. That “small-minded” thought process is why his restaurant had very few people on a Saturday evening during prime dinner hours.
What Those 4 Definitions Really Mean In Plain English
When I was getting proposals to create this website, I had 2 different companies mention that they did some work for other professional eaters, and they gave the particular person’s name as a reference. Both individuals should not have even been considered an amateur or even a competitive eater at all, and therefore I threw both proposals into the trash because I knew they were not the right company to get the job done. I can shoot and dribble a basketball, but I am not a professional basketball player. I wrote and edited this article, but I’m not a professional writer, and I don’t want to be one either. I did not even really consider myself a professional eater until I became only the second person to have 100 food challenge wins around the USA. Calling yourself a “professional eater” after 5 food challenge wins, or labeling a person as a “professional eater” that has won just two or three eating contests is just plain ignorant and disrespectful to all of the actual veteran professional eaters that have helped build the world of food challenges and competitive eating into what it is today.
If a restaurant uses any of those 4 definitions when referring to their food challenge, in plain English they mean that, “We want to receive the marketing benefits that come with hosting a food challenge, but we don’t want anybody to actually win the challenge, causing us to have to give away the meal for free or pay the cash prize we advertised.” If a restaurant or promoter uses any of those 4 definitions when referring to their eating contest, in plain English they mean that, “We want a local regular customer to win the event so that the prize stays local, and we don’t want anybody coming in from out of town and beating all of the locals.” Whether you want to believe it or not, both of these statements are true, and there is one major similarity between all restaurants that share this way of thinking. They are “small-minded” with a “small-minded” way of marketing, and unfortunately small minds don’t make large amounts of money. Without risk, there will be no reward.
The Real Definition Of A Professional Eater
By actual definition, the word professional refers to “a person engaged in a specified activity as a main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.” Going by this definition, there are less than 5 eaters currently in the world that can be considered an actual professional eater that makes a majority of his or her annual income from competing in eating contests. I am not even a professional eater YET if you go by this definition. Most of the “professional” competitive eaters that compete in the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest on July 4th actually spend more money traveling to the different Major League Eating (or IFOCE) events each year than they really make in prize money. Also, competitive eaters that are signed with the International Federation Of Competitive Eating (or MLE) are not even allowed to participate in your unsanctioned food challenge or eating contest due to their extremely restrictive contract stipulations, so definition number three makes absolutely no sense at all.
To separate professionals from amateurs, from this point forward, a “professional eater” shall be known as any person deemed worthy to be considered a 4 or 5 star eater ranking on FoodChallenges.com. To be rated 4 or 5 stars, an actual food challenge must weigh over 6.25 lbs (2.75 kg), and therefore a 4 or 5 star eater must be able to consistently eat over 6.25 lbs (2.75 kg) of food in one sitting. A 5 star eater is able to consistently eat over 8 lbs (3.5 kg) of food in one sitting. The only exception to this rule is eaters that focus mostly on speed eating contests, but even these eaters are rated at least 3 stars, meaning that he or she can eat over 5 lbs (2.25 kg) of food in one sitting. While some 3 star eaters can arguably be considered professional eaters, restaurants and promoters that deem 1 or 2 star eaters as restricted “professionals” are just plain ignorant. No 4 or 5 star eater began their career being able to eat 3 kilograms (6.6 lbs) of food in one sitting, and it took years of hard work and training to build their capacity up to the point where it is at today. Like any career, it takes a lot of training and effort to become a true professional, and it does not happen in just one month or even in one whole year.
Smart-minded people and successful marketing professionals already know this, but you should be proud that actual professional eaters are wanting to compete in your contest or attempt your food challenge. If a pro comes in and smashes your food challenge, you should be contacting every local media outlet around you to see who is interested in picking up the story. Depending on the day and location of your restaurant, you will more than likely be able to find at least a few media outlets interested. People hearing about the story will think, “If he ate it in 10 minutes, I know I can eat it in less than an hour.” In regards to eating contests, professional eaters make the events much more exciting. How many people want to watch a contest full of people that look like they are eating a normal lunch? More than likely, the value that a professional eater brings to your small restaurant is worth more than the prize you are offering, so to restrict “professional eaters” from competing is just plain stupid from a business standpoint. Contestants that complain about a few “professional eaters” being in a contest need to realize that we live in a world that doesn’t celebrate people winning 9th place medals. He or she needs to accept personal responsibility and put forth the effort to train and win the competition, just like the actual winner did, rather than taking the easy way out and complaining like a little whiny baby. Like in every sport, some eaters are naturally better than others, but hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
Hopefully this article settles the debate about what it means to be a professional eater. There are too many restaurants creating massive food challenges while thinking any “professional eater” should be able to finish it. The most ignorant explanation I’ve heard is that “a professional should easily be able to defeat it because its their job, you know, it’s what they do.” Actually, almost all active “eaters” have regular jobs just like normal civilians, and competitive eating is just a fun hobby. Believe it or not, but a restaurant’s $100 cash prize for winning their food challenge is not going to feed that eater’s family for the month and pay the mortgage. If you are an active “eater” in the community wanting to enter an eating contest or participate in a food challenge, and the hosts are trying to restrict you from entering simply because you have won a few prior competitions, please contact us and provide the restaurant’s name and information along with an accurate email address. We will be happy to send the restaurant or promoter an email supporting your argument to see if changes can be made.
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