A common complaint from chefs and restaurateurs is that they can’t hang on to employees. The blame game always includes pointing a finger at those who leave claiming that they are ungrateful, lazy, uncommitted to their field, or just incompetent anyway. There are loads of articles and books dedicated to the way to keep good employees, but very few that point chefs in the direction of “How to lose good employees (something that many chefs are better at)”. So here you go – if you are one of those chefs who seems to constantly be in the market for new employees as others leave at a rapid pace, then this might serve as a bit of reflection.
HOW TO LOSE GOOD EMPLOYEES IN 12 EASY LESSONS:
- DON’T LISTEN
The chef, after all, knows more than anyone else in the kitchen and as the master of every answer there is little need to listen to the opinion of cooks or service staff. Chefs don’t pay employees to have an opinion even though listening is one of the attributes of leadership that most employees admire. Right?
- CRITICIZE OPENLY
Let’s face it – when employees make mistakes it should be brought to their attention immediately. To wait would mean that you somehow condone the error allowing it to eventually repeat. The most effective way to make an employee feel the weight of his or her error and commit to doing it right the next time is to criticize them in front of their peers. In this way the mistake will take hold and they will recommit to excellence. Right?
- DON’T PROVIDE THE TOOLS TO DO THE JOB WELL
Running a kitchen is difficult and very expensive. Buying equipment can be a real financial burden on the kitchen and may impact on a chef’s ability to meet his or her budgetary goals. The same goes for repairing equipment already in place. Employees need to learn how to adapt and find solutions that work given this reality. “Make it happen” is the best response when an employee complains about substandard equipment, a lack of pots or pans, blades that are dull, mixers that don’t work, or ovens that are not properly calibrated. If they are smart they will figure out a way around it. Right?
- DON’T CELEBRATE DIVERSITY IN THE KITCHEN
Chefs should have the right to hire those people with whom they identify. White, black, brown, yellow, straight or gay, tall or small, male or female, old or young, culinary graduates or school of hard knocks graduates, and every other point of difference doesn’t really work for some chefs. What benefits can be gained from creating a diverse work environment anyway? Oh….some may say that diversity is what makes a work environment really click and builds a team based on mutual respect while drawing positive energy from multiple backgrounds, experiences and points of view, but some chefs know better. Right?
There are some things that chefs shouldn’t have to point out to employees. If a new hire has worked in kitchens before then he or she should know how to do certain things and do them well. Every chef should assume that cooks know how to follow proper sanitation and food safety procedures, they should know how to hold a knife and execute all of the standard vegetable cuts, they should be able to identify common kitchen ingredients, use all of the equipment, execute fundamental cooking methods, cook a steak to varying degrees of doneness, and work with reasonable speed and dexterity. This is an assumption that must be true because a chef doesn’t have time to review the basics of kitchen performance with everyone he or she hires. Right?
- TREAT YOUR STAFF LIKE PAWNS
Employees should be grateful to have a job and as a result the chef should have the right to schedule and use them as he or she sees fit. Work them seven days in a row, schedule them for twelve hour shifts, ignore their need to stop for 20 minutes and enjoy a meal before service, work on a line without proper air handling so the mean temperature hovers around 120 degrees, and even call them on their day off because you need them – no excuses. This is why they call it work. Right?
- DON’T PAY A FAIR WAGE
Back to the belief that they should be grateful for a job – just because they have demonstrated the skills necessary to be a competent cook doesn’t mean that they should be paid for those skills. Restaurants, after all, are not very profitable so they can’t afford to pay the kind of wages that a cook might attract from other non-cooking jobs. If a person wants to cook then they must accept the fact that they won’t be paid a fair wage, will likely never receive reasonable benefits, and no matter how much they invest in building those skills, the wages will remain as they are. This is just the way it is. Right?
- BE INCONSISTENT IN YOUR MESSAGE
Hey – a chef’s opinion and demands change by the moment – it’s a tough job. “I know I may have told you to do it this way yesterday, but today I want you to change that method entirely.” A chef may say that it is imperative that every cook takes the time to do the job right, but today is busy so we need to cut corners. This is called adapting to the situation. Right?
- DEMEAN AND DISCOURAGE AS A RULE OF THUMB
“This dish is crap! I thought you knew how to cook? I can’t serve this to a guest, are you trying to put us out of business?” Some chefs feel that this is the only way to get a cook to change his or her ways. Verbally slap them in the face and they will wake up and take a different approach. Later on in life they will thank the chef for this lesson. Right?
- BUILD AN ENVIRONMENT OF DISTRUST
Some chefs know that one way to run a kitchen is to play favorites and ask cooks to let them know what is really going on when they turn their backs. This steady stream of underground information is essential if the chef is able to know how to operate. Sure it makes everyone look over their shoulder to see who is watching and what they might be saying, but this level of fear is the only way to keep people in line and retain control. Right?
- AVOID EMPATHY AT ALL COSTS
“Leave your personal problems at home.” Someone made this statement decades ago and many chefs have adopted it as a call to arms. Your problems are your problems and they can’t impact on your work. The chef’s job does not include being a shoulder to cry on or a sage with advice on how to live your life. Focus on your job “I don’t really care about your kids soccer game, your car that needs repairs you can’t afford, a family members health, or those college loans that you are about to default on – not my problem”. Right?
- DON’T INVEST IN TRAINING
Some chefs believe that it is the individual cooks personal responsibility to improve his or her skills, to learn more about the ingredients they work with, to broaden their base of knowledge so that they can grow as a cook and maybe, one day, become a chef. “Why should the chef or the restaurant spend money or take time to teach cooks how to become more effective at their jobs.” Training is a personal responsibility. Right?
I guarantee if you follow this list – you will be very successful at driving good employees out the door and will spend most of your day trying to find replacements. If you want to get off of this treadmill then I would encourage you to simply do the opposite of everything on this list.
There are many chefs who do it right, who invest in their employees, who understand that cooks are people first and employees second, who know that given the right support most employees can be coached into becoming great. Be one of those chefs.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training