A chef posts job openings for a restaurant kitchen “Looking for line cooks – dependable, experienced, strong work ethic”. These three descriptors summarize what most chefs are looking for. The resume is simply an elaboration on the critical traits of good employees – cooks who have the raw materials needed for success. Is this enough or is it simply the bare bones attributes that will result in a job offer?
At a time when finding kitchen staff is quite possibly the number one issue facing restaurants have chefs become jaded as to what they should insist that cooks bring to the table? What separates an employee from a “rock solid” cook who will help the restaurant become successful? Have too many restaurants and chefs lowered their expectations of new hires and in turn diminished the importance of those critical employees?
If we begin with an understanding that cooks are the individuals in a restaurant who execute the vision of the chef, if we come to the realization that great cooks equal a great menu and that it is rare to find a chef in a property who actually prepares the meals that define a restaurants’ reputation, then we might pause for a moment and rethink how we approach filling those critical cook positions. Dependable, experienced, and a strong work ethic are certainly a baseline used in hiring, but without the real specifics behind those words it would be difficult to build a team of rock solid individuals.
So, what does “Rock Solid” really mean?
On the surface a chef might consider “dependable” to mean that the cook will consistently show up at the scheduled time, but isn’t dependable far more important than this? Rock solid cooks will show up ready to work, enthusiastic and passionate about food, professional in appearance, committed to the philosophy of the operation, prepared to consistently execute the preparations and presentations defined on the menu, consistent in how they approach others, focused on efficiency and cost control, and flexible enough to zig or zag when necessary. The chef and the operation need to depend on a cook’s commitment to all of this and more, this is what rock solid cooks are made of.
What does experienced really mean? Is all experience equal? What are the traits and characteristics of an experienced cook and are those characteristics different depending on the type of restaurant seeking them as an employee? Does experience simply refer to a cook’s ability to work fast and efficiently, or does it include specific skill sets, understanding of certain cuisines, an educated palate, grace under fire, time tested experience working within a team, or even the ability to problem solve? Rock solid cooks bring all of these specific experiences to the job – way beyond fast and efficient.
 STRONG WORK ETHIC
Amelia Jenkins referred to five components of work ethic in a recent Small Business article. She goes beyond the traditional definition that points to work ethic as being synonymous with “working hard”. She believes that a strong work ethic involves the following:
Rock solid employees build trust, have high moral and ethical standards, and accept and provide useful feedback. Most importantly, the rock solid employee is consistent with all of these attributes.
*A Sense of Responsibility:
Rock solid employees take personal responsibility for their work, for their attitude, and for their effort each and every day.
*Emphasis on Quality:
Rock solid employees are willing to sign their work. They believe that their work is an extension of who they are as a person and put pressure on themselves to always strive for excellence.
Rock solid employees are focused on given goals and completion of those goals at the highest level. They are dedicated and committed to contributing to the restaurants success.
Rock solid employees understand that they are part of the whole. They understand that what they do impacts on others and vice versa. Working together is an important part of their work ethic mantra.
So here we are – the chef is posting a job opening with the intent of filling a gap in scheduling. He or she is focused on finding an individual who is dependable, experienced, and hard working, but knows in his or her gut that to be successful what is needed is a rock solid cook. In a narrowing market of workers, how does a chef identify people of this caliber, convince them to work in his or her kitchen, and keep them working as committed staff members?
It is safe to say that although everyone has the potential to be rock solid, a much smaller number actually reach that goal. Those cooks who fit this profile are certainly in demand making it increasingly difficult for a chef to fill his team with the best of the best. Here are some thoughts that will first require the chef to stop being jaded and give up the belief that it is important to fill slots on a schedule – this will never yield the results that are needed.
- BECOME AN ADVOCATE FOR EXCELLENCE IN WORK
Creating an environment in support of the best employees includes insistence on the very best work results. Chefs who want to create a positive work environment must have the very highest expectations of excellence – they never, ever accept mediocrity. Ironically, this is exactly what the best employees want as well. The best want to work for the best.
- RECOGNIZE HOW IMPORTANT THE COOK POSITION IS TO A RESTAURANTS’ SUCCESS
Chefs must advocate for the cook, praise their work when they seek excellence, and publicly recognize the critical role that cooks play in the success of the restaurant. The best chefs give credit where credit is due.
- CREATE A SUPPORTIVE “INVESTMENT” ENVIRONMENT
In an effort to attract and retain the best – chefs must be willing and able to invest in a cook’s growth. In-service training, helping a cook build his or her network of influence, and creating outside opportunities for cooks to build their skill set are all investment opportunities that will pay back tenfold.
- RESPECT A COOK’S OPINIONS AND IDEAS
Seeking out a cook’s opinions, providing a forum for soliciting those opinions and ideas, and when possible- acting on those opinions and ideas will help a cook feel like an important part of the business beyond his or her immediate job.
- ENGAGE COOKS IN THE WHOLE PICTURE
The chef must create a situation where the cook wouldn’t think of working anywhere else. Sharing as much as possible about the business and everyone’s role in the restaurants success demonstrates how much the chef values each and every employee.
- HELP THOSE ROCK SOLID COOKS HAVE A LIFE
The old school (of which I am a part) felt that a cook must dedicate his or her life to the kitchen. There is a new reality that truly makes more sense – when in the kitchen it must be a person’s 100% focus, but there must be time to have a life outside of food. It is the responsibility of a chef to help every cook realize this through reasonable scheduling and compassion when it comes to family responsibilities. This is how you help to create and retain rock solid cooks.
- PAY THEM FAIRLY
I can’t stress this enough – when we pay cooks $10/hour we are clearly stating that they are interchangeable parts. How much is that rock solid employee attitude worth to you? If the cook is your most important asset then he or she should be treated as such. Yes, I know how small the margins are in restaurants, but if we stop and take a look at inefficiencies in our systems and the fact that well cared for employees might actually work harder and help to grow the business, then there is a way.
- HELP THE COOK BUILD HIS OR HER PERSONAL BRAND
Finally, every chef must understand that no matter how well you treat a cook there will come a time when he or she will move on. Part of a chef’s responsibility is to help prepare cooks for this reality. Sit down with them and talk about their long -term goals, where they see themselves in 10 years and help them create a roadmap to get there. This investment attitude will serve the chef well and help to create a long list of great cooks seeking an opportunity to work for him or her.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training