It is always safe to say: “things change”. Change is an inevitable part of life and as we all know if we fail to recognize that and adapt – we can become obsolete. Throughout history there are countless examples of those who ignore or seem paralyzed by the need to change as their industries or specific job descriptions evolve. This is reality, a reality that is quite predictable although the pace of change is now much more rapid than in the past. Think about the technology sector as a prime example.
Sometimes the change curve can be mapped out allowing ample time to gear up with new skills, new products, new methods of production, and a laser focused marketing strategy, while on occasion, something environmental takes place that forces a more immediate response. Such is the case in 2021.
We all knew that the restaurant industry was in need of a structural overhaul, we (those of us affiliated with the business) were well aware of the cogs in the chain, and the years of rust that had accumulated on systems and organization, but it took the pandemic of 2020/21 to shout out: THE TIME IS NOW!
So here is the good news: there will be ample opportunities in 2021 and beyond for chefs, cooks, managers, and service staff who recognize the immediacy of the challenge and the new skill set that will be required of successful players and leaders in the field. Let’s take the position of chef as a prime example – here is a list of skills and aptitudes that will set todays and tomorrows chef apart from those who are in a state of change paralysis:
Doing more with less will be the name of the game. The labor-intensive environments that have been typical in kitchens are nearly impossible to maintain. Chefs who are able to develop systems of production that work with fewer people will find a gold star on their resume.
 STREAMLINED MENU PLANNING
To go along with efficiency – the new chef will need to find ways to develop creative menus that rely on fewer ingredients, are fluid enough to change as the market demands, cost effective, aligned with seasonal ingredients at their peak of quality, and just as exciting for customers and cooks as those expansive models used prior to 2021.
Chefs who are able to generate, assess, and use analytical data in their decision-making (menu trends, cost trends, daily labor analysis, market prices, etc.) will have the upper hand when it comes to securing those prime job opportunities.
 SOCIAL MEDIA SAVVY
Marketing no longer belongs to a department – marketing is every person’s responsibility. With the increasing relevance of social media as the primary method of getting a restaurants message out – chefs who are social media savvy (astute at using Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, YouTube, and Twitter) will be at the top of the “hire” list for prominent restaurants.
Of course chefs have always been trainers, but be aware that this will now become a “must schedule” part of their job. Chef’s who are able to progressively teach cooks and even service staff about the ingredient, preparations, flavor profiles, pairings, and presentations of the food that is designed and produced in the kitchen will be in high demand. With all of the challenges that culinary schools are also facing in this changing business environment, restaurants cannot depend on graduates as their primary source of trained cooks.
 LOGISTICS MANAGEMENT
Assuming that after the pandemic customers will return to a semi-predictable pattern of traveling to your restaurant is a bit naïve. Chefs who are experienced in multiple ways of connecting customers with their food (catering, food trucks, pop-up restaurants, delivery, take out pick-up, etc.) will find themselves in the winner’s circle.
My way or the highway may be difficult to maintain as a chef’s method of operation. Bending to the market, changing in an instant, adopting other people’s ideas, and seeking out new ways of preparing and presenting food will become the new norm. Can you leave your old habits behind?
 SANITATION ADVOCATE
As important as sanitation and food safety is already, look for this to become the most important signature of a chef’s repertoire. Ultra-clean and safe will be a very important way that a restaurant markets itself and the chef who has the tallest toque.
 LABOR LAW SAVVY
If you don’t have a restaurant law course in your background, now is the time to sign up. In a world where the employee will continue to have an upper hand, owners will want a chef on board who will protect them against litigation, not one who creates litigious situations.
 HR ROLE MODEL
How the parent acts is how the child will also act. The same holds true in a kitchen: how the chef acts will become the standard of operation for everyone else. Throw out all of the stereotypes of belligerent, egotistical, pan throwing, demeaning chefs – they can no longer exist. If this is your M.O. then it’s time to retire.
 SUPPLY CHAIN NEGOTIATOR
Everything, every service, every price, every vendor relationship is negotiable –especially when it comes to buying local and regional. Picking up the phone to place an order without talking about those details and negotiating the best option for the restaurant is not acceptable in the new restaurant world. A negotiation savvy chef will win the day.
 IDEATOR/PROBLEM SOLVER
Finally, more than ever before the restaurant will look to the chef for new ideas and solutions to problems. A 2021 chef must be the go-to person for that next great idea and must have the experience and confidence to find instant resolutions to the plethora of challenges that arise every day in a kitchen and restaurant.
In case you didn’t notice – I failed to mention anything about cooking skills – the act that attracted a person to the kitchen in the first place. It will always be assumed that the chef in any operation has impeccable cooking skills, understands ingredients, is a master of preparation and presentation, and owns a palate for creating flavors that draws a steady flow of customers through the restaurants doors.
This is quite the package. How does your bag of tricks fit the profile?
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
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