How to attract and retain chefs in your business

It is no secret that a good chef is hard to find. With the intense competition in the hospitality industry, it is more important than ever to find ways to retain the chefs you have in your employ. 

One of the biggest expenses for any business is high turnover of staff. When an employee leaves, you not only lose their skills and experience, but you also have to spend money on recruiting and training a replacement. This can be a costly exercise, especially if you’re constantly having to replace chefs.

Here are some tips on how to attract and retain staff:

1. Hire the right candidate

A well-run kitchen is a well-oiled machine, and each part must work in harmony with the others in order to achieve success. Hiring managers must keep this in mind when seeking to fill a position in their kitchen. While it may be tempting to simply hire the first qualified candidate who comes along, this can often lead to problems down the road. Inefficiency, personality conflicts, differing career goals, and a general lack of cohesion can all result from hasty hiring decisions.

Instead, it is crucial to take the time to develop a structured and thorough hiring plan as part of your recruitment process. Job descriptions should be well-written and clearly detail the expectations of the role. The best interview questions should be carefully crafted in order to elicit the most relevant information from candidates to get the right person.

2. Offer competitive salaries, bonuses and benefits

It’s no secret that experienced chefs are in high demand. With the ever-growing popularity of cooking shows and celebrity chefs, more and more people are interested in fine dining. As a result, restaurants are increasingly competing for the best talent. One way to attract top chefs is to start with a generous basic salary. This will help to offset the increasing cost of living especially in a big city. 

This point is perhaps the most obvious way to prevent high turnover rates. Make sure you are offering salaries in line with the going rate in your area. Also, provide benefits that appeal to them, such as health insurance, bonuses and pension plans.

Bonuses should be linked to the overall GP of the restaurant. This will help to ensure that chefs are motivated to produce quality dishes that will drive up profits. By offering a competitive salary and bonus structure, you can hire the best chefs and set your restaurant up for success.

2. Provide opportunities for growth

Chefs are always looking to improve their skills and advance their careers. By offering opportunities for career growth, you will keep them from getting bored and looking for a new job. Offer to pay for classes or certifications that will help them improve their skills. Also, provide opportunities for them to take on more responsibility within your organization.

3. Foster a positive work environment.

It’s no secret that the restaurant industry can be high-pressure and stressful. With long hours, tight deadlines, and demanding customers, it’s easy for restaurant employees to become overwhelmed and burnt out. That’s why it’s so important for restaurant owners to create a positive work culture in their kitchens. By promoting a healthy work-life balance and encouraging open communication, you can help your team to stay motivated and focused. In addition, by fostering a positive work environment, you can also attract top talent to your restaurant.

Chefs spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so it is important to make sure it is a positive environment and team spirit and part of your company culture. Encourage open communication and collaboration among your existing staff. Make sure the kitchen is well-equipped and organized and in line with company values. And provide ample opportunity for break times and socializing.

4. Give full-time hours

In the survey of 2,000 full-time and part-time sous chefs and executive chef, 67% said that one of their main reasons for leaving a role was that they were only offered part-time hours. Offering full-time hours will not only make your business more attractive to chefs but will also lead to increased stability and higher quality dishes.

5. Give Chefs more say in the marketing

As any restaurateur knows, a successful business requires not only great food but also effective marketing. After all, no matter how good the dishes are, if potential customers don’t know about the restaurant, they won’t be able to enjoy them. Therefore, it makes sense to give your chef a financial incentive to not only produce excellent cuisine but also to play an active role in promoting the business.

By linking bonuses to both kitchen performance and marketing efforts, chefs will have a direct impact on the profitability of the business and will be motivated to ensure that both the food and the marketing are of excellent quality. In this way, chefs can make a significant contribution and celebrate successes of the restaurant.

6. Offer flexibility

Many chefs have families, so it is essential to offer flexibility regarding working hours. Allow them to set their schedules within reason. Also, be understanding if they need to take time off for family emergencies or other personal reasons.

7. Train and retrain

A career in the restaurant industry can be very rewarding. Not only can you learn new skills and gain valuable experience, but you can also advance your career by taking on additional responsibilities. As a manager, one of your most important tasks is to provide training and development opportunities for your team members. By teaching them new skills and providing them with the opportunity to learn more about the operation of a restaurant, you can help them to progress in their careers. In addition, by offering training and development opportunities, you can also create a more positive and enriching work environment for your entire team.

Offering training and retraining opportunities to your staff will help to reduce turnover and save you money. It’s also a great way to show your employees that you value their skills and experience.

If you can tick all of these boxes, then offering training and retraining to your chefs is a great way to save your business money.

8. Show your appreciation

As a restaurant manager, it’s important to show appreciation for your chefs’ hard work. A simple thank-you can go a long way towards making them feel valued, and small gifts or lunch outings are also appreciated. Your chefs play a vital role in the success of your business, so it’s crucial to let them know that their contributions are valued. By taking the time to show your appreciation, you’ll foster a positive working environment and keep your chefs motivated.

For further insights, we asked our consulting chef for his view and what he thought was important with new hires:

How to retain chefs – Our chef’s view

This was an actual conversation I had last week via text with a young man called Adam who had found a job in a local kitchen; bear in mind, he’s 17, didn’t like school and had worked with me previously in a “pop up restaurant” at his school.

This is how the conversation went…

Adam.

“Hey Mark, I’m asking for some advice. Ever since I left school, I have been trying to find what I wanted to do, and then I stumbled across being a chef, which I thought I was OK at. I worked as a chef in a little British Pub (I won’t name it for obvious reasons), but I didn’t like how my manager was treating me. He kept sending me out of the kitchen when I got the wrong ingredients for a dish, so I ended up leaving. I want to get back into it, though, could you give me some advice?”

My reply.

“So, one bad experience shouldn’t be the end of something you want to do…

It sounds to me like you didn’t have a manager that had the time or the inclination to teach you or the patience when you made mistakes. Sounds like you are never going to learn anything. Find a good restaurant with a decent reputation, take your time to learn, and make it clear that you are willing to learn from a good chef, but you don’t have a lot of experience. Maybe ask to do a few days in their kitchen, unpaid, that way, you will get to see the way the kitchen runs, how the chefs behave and what the food is like. Just as importantly, they will get to see exactly where you are at, before deciding.”

The conversation ended there – with me offering to help in any way I reasonably could.

You could say this was an isolated incident, but during a period where it is almost impossible to retain chefs, it certainly is not a shining example of how to train someone.

How could this have been different? 

We all make mistakes, but that’s how we learn. I wonder if there was ever a moment that “Head Chef” praised him for any good work he must have done?

I spent many years as a Sous Chef, and my main priority was to make sure the junior chefs were confident in the dishes they were producing by training them in the way they understood. Otherwise the whole kitchen would go down. I discovered quickly that shouting doesn’t work, but finding the way that the junior chef learns and then tailoring training to that does work.

Now, this isn’t an isolated case. I speak with lots of young chefs who are not treated in a way which allows them to become part of the team and learn. If we are hoping to expand our talent pool and retain chefs, why would we behave like this and then complain nobody wants to work in the industry.

We already have high dropout rates; food businesses are struggling to staff their venues correctly, and it shows in poor food and worse service.

If we are to recover, we need long term investment in skills and on the job training across the hospitality industry.

If we take the time to invest in young, ambitious, energetic chefs, they will give back in the quality of work, loyalty and innovation, all things the industry needs to move forward.

Working in hospitality is at times painful and difficult to understand for anyone who has never done it, so why push away the crazy ones who want to join, wrap your arms around them and make them feel appreciated and continue to develop that talent. It increases your staff retention in the long term.

Times have changed. The adverts I read now for vacancies are ridiculous and often destroyed in some of the private Chef groups I am part of on social media platforms. If I could give you some advice, for those planning to place an advert for staff soon, these are not “Employment Benefits”.

Things I have seen included 28 days holiday and tips, one is required by law, the other shouldn’t be kept by the owner anyway. Uniforms were another. I’m pretty certain a work uniform, if required, should be provided by the employer, so how is this a benefit that’s supposed to be attractive to new talent?

How to inspire and incentivise chefs

Make them feel like a valued part of the team and also give them something to aim for with career development.

  • Straight shifts with paid overtime
  • Continued training and development, higher certificates in food hygiene or an area of the industry they are interested in; bakery or pastry, perhaps?
  • No shifts longer than 12 hours
  • 30-minute food break with dedicated staff food

There are lots of websites and online training available to help you develop your staff and train them to be the best they can. I am pretty sure there are also government training grants available too, so it shouldn’t even cost you anything…so what do you have to lose?

I am sure there are more that you could all come up with. You expect dedication from staff and treat them like they are valuable to you because if you don’t, they will be to someone else that does, I guarantee it!!

A bit about our contributor……

Mark Lloyd – Head Chef & Industry Professional

“Mark has been an industry professional for over two decades, working in outstanding venues in the UK and across Europe, including well known TV chefs and Michelin starred chefs. He has also been on various TV and radio channels over the years and is writing for some of the most popular food publications in the country.

Having been a head chef for many years, Mark has now stepped away from the stove full-time and his expertise is now being passed on through training, consultancy and demonstration cookery, both in person and online.”Post navigation

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