Hiring the Best Chef for Your Restaurant (According to Tenured Chefs)

       As a former recruiter of a high-volume restaurant group, I can tell you first hand that hiring great management is a serious challenge, not to mention chefs.  Of course, experience managing a kitchen, efficient in execution, budget consciousness, and training staff are all no brainers in hiring a top notch BOH talent, but once someone takes the reins in your kitchen things can change- fast!  A green chef can sometimes switch it up for better, but more often than not for the worst.  Since it’s too damn hot in the kitchen to just let anyone manage your BOH Team, Harri turned to our vibrant hospitality network to see what some hiring managers / owners might miss in their chef search.

1)   Transparency & Trust

    Like prep before every service, lay out your mise en place …or in this case your honest expectations of the job at hand.  Have a written description ready and make sure that duties of the position actually fit the title.  A “full disclosure of expectations, [and] making sure you are advertising for the right title”, will prevent any confusion during an interview and post hire.  You should not expect an Executive Chef to run food or Kitchen Managers to interact with guests.  This also keeps your interests at heart, as anyone can say a duty is not his/hers but if there is a paper trail, then no one can deny it.

     According to Chef Cash you should also be as upfront as possible with any obstacles your restaurant has faced in its past – high food costs, line-level staffing, inconsistent plates, varied ticket times, paying invoices on time, etc.  Having “transparency in the challenges the restaurant is facing "could be a deal breaker for some, but if a candidate has come across these problems before and solved them, it could [be] true game changer for your overall business.  Since hiring is a two-way street, “be prepared to trust who you hire”. Try your best to throw in questions about integrity (ie. Tell me about a time when your morale was compromised, what did you do? etc).  If this person is taking on a leadership role in your business, having faith in his/her abilities is crucial.  Be sure to not let prior issues cloud your judgment, and lead to micromanagement.  The last thing a great chef wants is someone breathing down his or her neck.    

2)   Belief in Concept

     The best chef in the world has absolutely no value to your restaurant if they have zero interest in the concept.  Chef Landas urges that viable candidates, “at the very least, [should have] a strong interest in the cuisine style of the restaurant”.  Hiring a chef with 5 years experience at a farm-to-table, Italian restaurant will most likely not benefit a Chinese restaurant specializing in Dim Sum.  If your concept’s brand relies heavily on a set menu, make that fact crystal clear to your prospective chef.  Otherwise you could end up with,“ managers and chefs who will try and make the place ‘their own’, deviating from your restaurant’s theme.  A nice way to approach this is keeping the set menu through a certain period of time (maybe a season or quarter) and allowing the new chef to explore creativity through specials. Seeing how well the specials sell can be a good indicator on whether or not to let him/her tweak the menu, before changing it all together.

3)   Ego

     This is a notoriously “touchy” subject, especially with chefs.  Always remember that no one is special enough to treat others with disrespect in your business, most importantly your BOH Team.  Leading a great team in any field requires a certain level of humility, great chefs “should be confident, but not cocky”, and still maintain a “willingness to learn” per Franklin Becker, even at a high level in their careers.  There’s nothing worse than a tenured chef, who comes into a kitchen with no room for compromise.  This attitude is counter-productive and drives kitchens into the ground.  Chef Landas recalls, “I’ve seen many instances where highly qualified chefs scare off good quality staff because they were a**holes”.  The my-way-or-the-highway days are over, even in the best restaurants, look at Noma and Alinea.  They dedicate nights when cooks of all levels can present different dishes to the team and brainstorm menu ideas.

Collaborative mindsets with staff make a huge difference in service, and gaining line-level staff trust is key.  According to Mike Landas, “It’s important to design your interview [process] to see if the candidates will have chemistry with the staff”.  This is where trailing is important, choose your busiest shift and throw them in the mix – brunch and Thurs – Sat @ 7-9 PM dinner service are highly recommended.  After he or she leaves, ask the line-level staff/ cooks, what they think and if they would listen to this person.  If this seems counterintuitive think of it this way: you want to put the best captain at the helm of your ship, it’s best that your kitchen does not become the Titanic, and that all the lifeboats are onboard.

 

 

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5 Reasons Why You Should Train Cooks from Within

Staffing a competent BOH team is a constant uphill climb, and just when you think your core crew is established - one of your best cooks gets a “better job” somewhere else or your AM prep guy gets drunk on cooking wine and found sleeping in the kitchen bathroom (true story).  Every restaurant is different, whether it’s full service or fast casual it’s a guarantee that all of them need cooks. The perfect line or prep cook is the unique mix of a work-horse, with killer execution experience, can work 50+ HRs and all for low pay.  Cooks are either amazing and passionate about the job or they’re forced into the profession by life circumstances. Then once you get a good one you do your best to retain them or you’re back in the weeds again.  Which is why training from within is the best way to maintain your BOH Team.

1) They Already Know the Restaurant

    Your dishwashers, runners, bussers and porters are untapped talent, they already know their way around the kitchen. No time wasted with “Where is _____?” and “Where do we put _________ during/ after/ before service?”.  If you need them to put some mise en place in the walkin, they already know where to find the quart containers, tape and markers.  This could take some time for a newer employee to adapt, whereas a current employee already knows this information.

2)  High Accountability

There’s a certain sense of accountability instilled in an employee being promoted from within, and the pressure to not mess up the opportunity is much higher.  Nothing grows the perception of ownership than cross training.  If anyone calls out then everyone can work the same stations because they have done it before, and loyalty grows from there. Training your dishwashers and porters seem tedious, but if you want to build a team who started from the bottom and worked their way up together - it’s the way to go!

3) Creates a Stronger Team

In food pairings there’s a saying, “if grows together goes together”, the saying is the same for strong BOH teams.  Cooks grown from mastering stations from the bottom, build solid teams who have seen it all before, this only occurs with longevity.  It also lights a fire under your current dishwashers’ and porters’ butts to get their careers to the next level.  Also nothing talks like taking off the rubber gloves, putting a knife in someone’s hand and increasing his or her pay rate.  If they really want to learn and your current cooks are about to burnout at 60+ hrs a week, then it’s well worth the extra time for your team’s sake.  
 

4) Shows off Your Leadership Skills

Taking the time to cultivate in house talent, shows you genuinely care about your people beyond your labor costs and just barely pushing through service. If you’re still worried about wasting your time, then this is a serious test of your leadership skills as well. Chefs and kitchen managers, before believing you’re “too busy” to train a dishwasher or  remember that many of really great chefs began as dishwashers, John Besh, Thomas Keller, Gabrielle Hamilton and Anthony Bourdain to name a few.  You think you’re a strong leader? Turn your most tenured dishwashers into your top line and prep crew.  Chef Daniel Angerer of By Chloe says a good Chef “needs to be an authority, leader, motivator, spokesman, a person to look up to”.

True leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders or in this case great cooks.  

5)  Cultivates a Better Work Culture

As entrepreneur and blonde golden raisin, Richard Branson, once said, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to”.  The key to retention is solid training and acting in the best interest of your entire team.  A major plus is you never have to worry about fixing flawed training because you trained them all YOUR way. So, there’s no team dividing arguments on how much acid goes on the ceviche or how soft a scramble should be a brunch. The potential of growth is also the easiest way to recruit more dishwashers and runners, then the of challenge of hiring the most eager dishwashers and porters is 86’ed.      

 

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The 3 Best Ways to Find Cooks

      Finding excellent cooks is one of the most challenging of the restaurant industry.  Cooks are the backbone of every restaurant, they are usually the ones executing the food that brings in revenue. Good cooks are essential to any thriving restaurant.  The best cooks are able to follow instructions accordingly to their respective chefs’ recipes, have some experience (but no ego), know that creativity is reserved for after they prove themselves in the kitchen - all for hourly wages and low pay.  Some of the usual obstacles of recruiting for these difficult positions include: no shows for interviews and training, candidates not looking to stay for a long period of time.  With all of these challenges turnover is high and all chefs need competent cooks - fast! There are better ways than posting on every individual job board and waiting for candidates to come to you.

1. Referrals

    When a position is open, referrals are usually the first route chefs and managers take to get someone through the door, especially for finding skilled cooks.  If your guy on grill is killing it every night and has never called out once, chances are he might know other hard working people like him.  You get his friend through the door from his old job, and she happens to be a beast in prep - problem solved!  However, referrals can be risky just as they are successful.  Be wary of hiring just anyone your employees ask to hire.  Set some parameters and restrictions on who can be referred.  The last thing you want is a husband and wife working in the same space arguing about the kids, while you’re waiting at expo for a steak on the fly because table 12 ordered steak tartare and didn’t know it was supposed to be “raw”.  Referrals are a pretty safe bet for filling a few positions, but if you hire referrals only because you need a “body on the floor” it could be a disaster.   

2. Proper Job Promotion


    Posting on job boards is very effective but posting to multiple job boards is a painstaking process.  If your job happens to be posted on the wrong board then great candidates can miss an opportunity to work for you.  Cooks have hectic schedules and a limited amount of time to apply for new jobs, so more exposure is always better. Harri’s Job Distributor takes all of the strengths of Craigslist, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, CareerJet, Jooble and more, then posts them all at once. You will be able to see your jobs (host, waiter, and chef jobs) right away. You receive the volume and quality of all of the job boards in one place, and it saves you time from posting on each one.  As an extra plus, candidates can use their smartphones to apply through the application, so they can come through your restaurant doors quickly!

 

 

 Courtesy of @lupulonyc Instagram 

Courtesy of @lupulonyc Instagram 

3. Social Media

    Much like referrals this could be a hit or miss.  Being aware of peak times to post is key for having job ads on social media.  This takes a little more preparation than posting an ad on a job board or asking a cook if he has any friend or past co-workers for referrals.  A good job post on social media must be very image driven.  Usually restaurants collaborate with their marketing or PR Teams to get this completed, then they can use the same ads whenever there are positions to be filled.  For example Chipotle went all out by dedicating an entire Facebook page to gain more candidates, while Lupulo kept it simple with an Instagram post with the positions available.  When posting on Facebook remember to do so with with images and video.  Studies have shown that have 39% more post engagement, than just posting text alone.  If you go the Instagram route then note the most successful times to post are Mon-Thurs from 6AM -12PM. One of the largest drawbacks can be that expense if you don’t have internal resources to create these posts.  Overall, posting positions on social media is effective because almost everyone has a cell phone and the reach is not only instantaneous but shareable.   

 

 

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5 Steps to Successfully Onboard Restaurant Employees

Now that you have completed the task of finding and interviewing the right candidate for your restaurant, the next step is onboarding. Studies show that when employees properly onboard staff, it leads to higher satisfaction levels, decreases turnover and high retention rates. Not only do you want to remain compliant, you want to keep potential hires happy and make them feel valued.

Here is a checklist of must-do’s when onboarding your new staff:

#1: Send hires onboarding papers

At Harri, we make this step super simple for you and your employees. Send new hirees offer letters and necessary onboarding documents online. You save both time and money with digital onboarding. (And think about, you probably do not want to deal with piles of paperwork anyway.) In addition, you will be 100% compliant to labor laws. You do not need to stress about putting together an onboarding package because everything is already pre-loaded onto Harri. All you have to do is select whichever forms are needed, and send it over to them digitally.

#2: Plan out an onboarding first day

On the new hires’ first day, they will not know their way around yet, so do give them a tour around the restaurant. After, sit them down once more to review what their jobs’ responsibilities and duties are. They probably will feel like a lot is being thrown at them and it seems daunting. Don’t scare them away on the first day already. Set aside some time during their shift to do an icebreaker session with the rest of the team during mealtime. Provide a welcoming atmosphere for them so that they can get more comfortable with everybody.

#3: Run a trail and stage training

Run a trail (or stog) on the servers, chefs and others during the onboarding period. Remember – It is illegal to stage a candidate unless their onboarding paperwork in 100% complete. Monitor how their work ethic is like during their shifts and how they interact with the rest of the team. Keep note of these things so that at the end of their trial, you can make an informed final decision to hire or not hire the candidate.

#4: Assign mentors to new hires

Before you assign one of your current staff to mentor a new hire, make sure to ask them if they would be willing to take on the position. If they agree so, encourage them to help out their mentees get settled in and get them up to speed with the workings of the restaurant. The new hires can also shadow and learn from their mentors during this time.

#5: Provide feedback on performance

Schedule a meeting at the end of the first shift to go over the new hires’ performance. Things to review include their general performance, attendance, attitude, cooperativeness with the team, amongst other job specific-related details. Do not forget about your staff’s approvals as well. It is important to hear their comments too, since they will be working with the new hires as a team.

Ways to Reduce Restaurant Turnover

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Retaining and keeping employees happy has always been a challenge in any industry. It's both time-consuming and costly to keep hiring, so it's in your best interest to retain staff for longer periods of time. Here are some ways you can reduce the rate of turnover at your business: 

#1: Establish specific goals for new hires.

Refresh your new hires of their responsibilities on their first work day. Make sure they understand their duties and that they are able to accomplish them. Create goals for them to achieve, so they stay on task and are motivated. During the first week, sit down to discuss what you want to see from them after 30, 60, 90 days and beyond.

#2: Assign mentors to junior-level staff.

Mentorship is key across all fields, but especially so in the restaurant industry. Assign a mentor to a each new hire. The senior staff will have more experience and will be able to guide juniors around the restaurant, answer questions that they may have and provide moral support. 

#3: Allow time for team bonding.

Set aside time for the entire team to meet each other and interact during non-working hours. Consider breakfast or dinner outings as a group once a quarter, so staff can build relationships. Employees that develop workplace friendships feel happier with that they are doing, which definitely helps retention.

#4: Encourage and praise great work.

Take notice of the exceptional work done by your employees. By providing positive feedback, staff will feel a sense of achievement. Also, they will know that they are appreciated and able to contribute greatly to the business. Employees like feeling they are valued, or else, they will feel like they are not needed and thus, try to find a new job.


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