Rest assured, at some point restaurants will rise up again, clubs and hotels will measure success based on occupancy and food service activity, and the position of “chef” will be center stage in driving sales and measuring profitability. The opportunities for chefs will be viewed again as instrumental and of significant value to owners, and those who are qualified and prepared will have ample career opportunities in front of them.
This being said, some responsibilities will return to where they were pre-pandemic, yet others will work their way into the chef’s bag of expectations. In all cases, there will be a re-shuffling of priorities driving changes to the profile of the “best candidate” for the leadership position in the kitchen. Some of the previous characteristics of chefs and their role will be viewed as less important and some may even not be tolerated in the “new normal”. Now is the time to self-assess and realign priorities. When those opportunities rise up – you want to be ready. Here is a list of career killers in the new normal – now is the time to make the necessary adjustments.
“I am the best” is more likely to turn employers and teams off. You should not confuse being humble with being weak or lacking in confidence. Chefs can be very confident without putting on an air of superiority. When chefs are willing to listen to others, admit that they still can learn something new, that others may have the right answer to a problem and that those individuals should receive credit for their ability to bring about resolution is the sign of a strong leader. This is where you need to be.
 POWER vs. LEADERSHIP
“I am the chef” has oftentimes been a statement that points to his or her authority over others. This is arrogant and rarely sets the stage for teamwork and alignment with a common goal. Leaders don’t boast about their authority and never use it for personal gain over another. The power of leadership comes with tremendous responsibility to listen, treat others with respect, study an issue and avoid making rash decisions, and an understanding that his or her role is that of guide, coach, and mentor – not dictator.
 LACK OF EMPATHY
“That’s not my problem” is a statement that demonstrates a callous approach towards other members of the kitchen or restaurant team. This callousness will do very little to create followers, in fact it will contribute to division and angst among those team members. The environment that is a result will surely drive a wedge between management and staff.
 POOR COMMUNICATION
“I don’t have time to tell you everything” demonstrates a lack of understanding the importance of taking the time to make employees, vendors, and customers comfortable with your style of management and the decisions you make. Share as much as you possibly can, do it in real-time, and do it because it will build understanding and support. Share your financials, share your challenges with product, share your vision moving forward, share your commitment to excellence, share what you know and share what you don’t – it’s all important. This is what brings a team together and firing on all cylinders.
 LACK OF TRAINING
“You should know how to do that” is an attempt to relinquish responsibility for a team members skills and abilities. When you hire a person you own the responsibility to inform, train, teach, and improve their abilities. The best operators seek to find ways to help employees improve even if it means that they eventually move on to find other opportunities as a result. Training will create a business brand that attracts the very best.
 POOR DELEGATION
“I will make those decisions” is a proclamation that only the chef knows how to make the right decision. You are foolish if you think that the hundreds of decisions that are necessary on any given day in the kitchen must rely on your abilities alone. The best chefs train effectively so that others can make solid decisions without the chef’s active involvement. Delegation of responsibility must include the responsibility for decision-making and the authority to make those decisions. This is how a team operates.
 INADEQUATE FOCUS ON COST
“My responsibility is to produce great food”! Yes, this is true, but it is even truer that a chef’s responsibility is to make great food that yields a profit. The most talented cooks without a focus on financial acumen will not be enough to sustain their position. Chefs must be number crunchers and advocates for analytics that allow them to make the best financial decisions for the restaurant. This is your job!
 LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
“That’s beyond your pay grade” is a statement that hides something that will make an employee question your actions. If labor cost is too high in comparison to sales – share it with your staff. If food cost is too high, then share it with your staff and talk about possible solutions. If ownership is not satisfied with the product that is leaving the kitchen, then share this with your staff. If your job is becoming overwhelming, then share this with your staff and show how they can help to relieve some of this stress. Trust me when I state that your employees will respect and appreciate this, and will rise to the occasion if they feel that you trust them with business information.
 DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO
“I am the chef – just do as I say. My position is different that yours.” This is the most effective way of losing the respect of your employees. You need to set the example for others to follow. Be there, work as hard as they do, demonstrate your passion for excellence, look and act the part of a professional, help others when they need it, and support your staff in the way that you would like to be supported in your role.
 AVOIDANCE OF SCENARIO PLANNING
“I can’t predict those things” is an admission that you are not prepared. The chef is expected to have answers and solutions. This goes with the turf. The best way to solve problems that arise is to prepare for them. Yes, experience will certainly help – if you have faced a challenge before then you understand how to react, but scenario planning is a more effective way of avoiding those challenges before they arise. Plan for a power outage, plan for that crippling snow storm, plan for the delivery that doesn’t arrive or that missed event that shows up unexpectedly, plan for new competition, plan for sick employees and plan for that new menu that doesn’t hit the mark. How will you respond if any of these realities knock on your door? Planning is the best antidote to chaos.
Take the time NOW to look at yourself and build a portfolio for success in the future. Be the kind of chef that is in demand, a chef that attracts followers, a chef that helps a restaurant succeed, and a chef prepared for the new normal.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
CAFÉ Talks Podcast
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