Catering Recruitment Agencies: Uses and Abuses 1

You decide you’re going to use a Catering Recruitment Agency to fill your most recent chef job vacancy. Before picking up the phone a thought hits you…why not use several Catering Recruitment Agencies and let the best man, or woman, win? In fact why not do that and also put out a bit of advertising of your own while you’re at it? At first blush this seems like a very reasonable and sound approach to take. If your advertising doesn’t bring in an acceptable candidate then at least one of those recruitment agencies is bound to deliver, right?

Catering Recruitment Abuses

Err, sort of right or, put another way, right depending on who you’re looking to hire. What do I mean by “sort of right”? Okay, here’s where that type of recruitment strategy is a very reasonable gambit: in situations where you’re looking to just “fill” a chef job vacancy. Without being too nuanced about it, what I mean by “just fill” is that this is a good enough strategy when the chef has to be just “good enough.” If you’re looking for a chef who’s more than just “good enough” it’s a very bad strategy and I’m happy to tell you why. I riff off on this same topic elsewhere so it might not be any harm to take a look over there before going any further.

Chef Recruiting & Game Theory

Catering recruiters, and this applies to all of us, not just specialist Chef Recruiters, will know soon enough how widely dispersed that chef job has been spread, they’ll know pretty fast whether you’re marketing the chef job yourself and also if you’ve given it to another agency, and if so which one(s). The ethical, and courteous, thing to do is to tell them up front, it’s also the sensible thing to do because they’ll find out anyway, sooner or later and usually it’s sooner. With this being so, what do you think is the best “play” an agency recruiter can make under these conditions?

1. Write up a detailed job specification & some imaginative job marketing copy, craft a skills breakdown, and do some extensive market mapping? Follow all this up with some serious search and selection activities, working the phones and every online tool imaginable?


2. Will they simply “post and pray” before ripping through their database for a list of the most likely contenders i.e. approximate matches who they believe/fear their competitors can find or whom they suspect your own job marketing efforts may, at some point, attract anyway.

If you guessed 2, you’re right. This is the chase for the low lying fruit, one, two or three Catering Recruitment Agencies, and an Employer, in a race against each other for candidates from the same narrow pool of human capital. As a strategy does this work? The answer is, it depends on what you want. If there’s a lot of people out there qualified to fill this position, and you’re not that fussy, then the answer is yes, it can work and often does work. However the law of diminishing returns very much applies. The more recruiters you put to work on it the less work you’ll get from each of them, and that’s a certainty.

Are You Really Looking For an Excellent Chef or Just Filling a Hole?

A lot of people are mystified as to why this should be so, normally competition is good and brings out the best in people, so why is the inverse often the case in recruitment? The reason is that the recruiter believes, with good reason it has to be said, that the best way to win the assignment is to get as many of the obvious candidates out of the hands of the competition and into the hands of the employer fast. They feel that this employer, by making knowledge of the job vacancy a commodity, hasn’t any ambitions for anything better, in terms of service, than a commodity in return. They believe that the winner wins for being fastest to produce a “decent” candidate and that there’s no profit in putting in the work necessary to find an “exceptional” candidate for their client. To be blunt they think your sights are set low, although they’ll never say that to you, and that’s were they set theirs too. You get what you pay for after all and when you throw a position this wide open then this is precisely the way recruitment agencies will react. And we’re not dissing the competition either, this is precisely how we handle such assignments too; although we are working towards accepting fewer of this type of assignment so as to enable us to do a great job finding great chefs for fewer open positions. Chef recruitment agencies, or any other type of contingency recruitment agencies, don’t get paid for working on vacancies, they get paid only for placements made.

 Chef Recruitment When Less Can Mean More…Quality

Retained Chef Recruitment is, of course, a very different animal but that’s for another blog post. I’ve worked on both types of assignment, many times by now, and as time passes I’m making it a point to accept less and less of the “commodity assignments” so that when the high quality ones come our way we’ll have the time to do a really good job on them. The truth is that the more of these multiple agency jobs you accept, the busier you are, but the less money you make in the end. What’s worse is that it becomes harder to give candidates the time and courtesy they deserve while your clients, the same ones who’ve given their job to multiple agencies, scratch their heads and wonder whether agencies are worth bothering with, because “none of them seem to be any good.” And that’s quite correct too. Agencies could, and should, be more discriminating about the work they take, make a vow to accept fewer, but better, assignments and really go and do some fantastic work for their clients.


This isn’t to admonish any hoteliers, restauranteurs, or caterers, some chef jobs really don’t require skills that special and employers should, at all times, do what’s best for their business in a tight market. Sometimes that doesn’t include working closely with one particular Catering Recruitment Agency to find a chef with special gifts and sometimes it does. It is important though to know the difference and calibrate your expectations accordingly. It’s equally important you let any recruiter you’re working with know which type of approach is warranted by your assignment because if you’re not taking a “throw as much mud at the wall to see if it sticks” style of approach there’s a far greater chance that whatever agency you’re working with will actually put in a serious effort to produce some magic, instead of mundanity. So next time you need to find a really good chef, and seriously doubt you’ll find who’s needed on the job boards, get in touch with a Recruitment Agency, tell them what you need and tell them you’re prepared to give it to them exclusively if they’re prepared to do a lot more than “post and pray.” That’s not a pitch, I don’t mind where you go with your chef vacancy, I simply know that whichever agency you end up working with you’ll get a much better service, and very likely, much better results if you work with them this way.

  • Alana Moore

    Though chef recruitment is really an important issue especially for the catering businesses but I never thought of hiring any chef recruiter for my catering business. The way you have explained the importance of chef recruiter, I will take advice from chef recruiter before hiring any chef in future.

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