Keeping Chef Recruitment Costs low isn’t a “thing” it’s a strategy, a set of tactics, and most of all a state of mind. Some catering and hospitality businesses do this very well, and for others it is a constant struggle. The more noteworthy or outstanding your business, the less you are likely to struggle with Chef recruitment.
Yet even noteworthy kitchens, and restaurants, are finding that the going is becoming tougher over time. Being noteworthy or highly praised as a destination dining business, while helpful, isn’t a passport to the land of the chef abundance. But chef abundance doesn’t begin and end with chef recruitment, the most important component is chef retention.
If your chef retention is bad then there’s a reason for it. You need to find out what it is and fix it. Do you pay under the odds? Have you underinvested in plant and equipment, leaving your chefs to struggle in an inauspicious working environment? Has a bad working atmosphere been allowed to develop and perhaps fester? Is the work interesting and rewarding? Have you kept your promises to your chefs? Any one of these, and more, can, or could be, a root cause for endemic chef flight from your business. If this is so then it’s most certainly not a case of “it’s me, not you” because it’s almost certainly “you” who’s responsible and it’s you who needs to address the problem. If you’re unavoidably in the market for Chefs then before going to look for a chef make sure you’ve properly defined the chef vacancy. If you’ve already hit the stage where you’re scheduling chefs for interview then read our guide to chef job interviews before you go any further.
Chef Recruitment Costs: 5 Ways to Lower Them
This point hit home with me today while I was listening to a MAD Symposium from New York featuring Lee Hanson, Riad Nasr, Gabrielle Hamilton, Bill Buford, and Mario Batali. Buford, being a civilian, was the cuckoo in the nest but it’s what Mario Batali had to say that caught my attention.
For those of you not plugged into the mainframe of US Gastronomy Batali is one of America’s most famous chefs and successful restauranteurs. Recruiting chefs wouldn’t be a problem for him, you’d think, but you’d be wrong.
Here’s Batali on staffing his kitchens with Chefs:
“You have to offer (your chefs) something than no one else can offer…It used to be that the only thing that was important was customer satisfaction, at this point it’s 50% customer satisfaction, and 50% staff satisfaction. If I have a dissatisfied staff[sic], or someone who doesn’t feel that their needs, or their goals, are as important in my world as mine are, then they’re going to work for somebody else”
That’s how things are in the world of Mario Batali, why should they be any easier in yours? Chances are they’re probably not and, to make matters worse, chances are you’re not Mario Batali. That’s why it’s not going to hurt to keep reading.
1. Keep your existing Chefs longer
Recruiting chef talent is great, and often necessary, but if that’s your default goto solution for staffing your kitchen then you’ve got a problem. Improving chef retention rates should be your first priority when you get up and your last before turning the key in the door at night. Be ruthless in identifying the triggers that make chefs leave you. Exit interviews can be a help here, but prevention is often better than cure; so sit down, regularly, on a one to one basis and collectively, with your chefs to discuss work. It’s simple and you should be doing it already, if you’re not then start tomorrow.
2. Promote Chefs from within, when possible
Unless you’ve a pressing need to shake things up in the kitchen make internal promotion your default. Obviously if you’ve no internal Chefs ready to step up then you will need to look outside but suppress that instinct unless you’re sure outside talent is needed.
Here’s legendary New York Restauranteur Danny Meyer on the subject:
“It had always been a priority of mine to develop leaders from within, both for the sake of team morale and as an assurance that we’d always begin our new restaurants with as much of our preexisting DNA as possible.”
3. Gain Chef Referrals
If you’re taking our advice you’re keeping things tight with your chefs, meeting them regularly and discussing the business. This is an opportunity to network with your own chefs and it’s they who can tell you who’s good and who’s as asset that can be moved from another business and brought to yours. This only happens if they think they’d be doing old friends, or acquaintances, a favour by introducing them to opportunities in your kitchen. If you’re not getting this sort of intelligence from your chefs it could be a sign that something’s wrong. Find out what it is and fix it. If your Chef Value Proposition (CVP) is strong then your chefs should WANT their friends to work together with them for you.
4. Advertise Your Chef Job Cheaply
When the unavoidable happens, because everyone moves on eventually, and you’ve a chef job to fill think carefully about how much you want to spend on advertising your chef vacancy. We know about this because as a recruitment agency we advertise chef positions on an industrial scale, always pushing our vacancies under the noses of a greater number of chefs than hospitality and catering employers are able to match on their own. And yet, and yet, even we can’t rely on advertising to generate suitable candidates in more than about 50% of chef job vacancies.
We’re in an age of critical chef shortage. Couple that fact with another, even less appealing one: at any given moment only about 10% of the workforce are actively looking at job ads. So it doesn’t matter where, or how widely, you place your job ad, it can only be seen by a relatively small subset of that 10% subset, of chefs, who are looking for a new job, that leaves the other 90% of Chefs unaware of, and indifferent to, your chef job vacancy. A sobering thought, isn’t it?
Fret not. We’ve an offer for you that’s simply too good to refuse. Use our specialist chef job board to post your chef jobs for free. But before you do we’d like you to read about a really bad and ineffective way of drafting chef job ads. Once you’ve read that then you might find it helpful to read some ideas about writing chefs job ads that at least stand some chance of success. When you’re done, reading both, then all you have to do is visit here to sign up to use our chef job board. Please bear in mind that if your job copywriting doesn’t make your position appealing then your chef job ad will perform as badly here as if you’d spent hundreds advertising it elsewhere. On the plus side you won’t be down any hard cash.
5. Predict the future – Chef Succession Planning
This is a refined and proactive version of promoting Chefs from within. Try to imagine you’re a talent scout who’s been sent out to, ahem, scout the junior leagues for talent. Well that’s the mindset you’ll need for this chef retention strategy, except you’ll be scouting your own kitchen, both for talent and potential. When you find it you’ll need to nurture it. Ask yourself “what is this person missing” is it a resource we can equip them with in-house, or is it something we need to outsource? Either way begin to flesh out the skill levels of your best in-house chef talent so they’re ready to step up as another chef steps out.
A Chef Succession Planning strategy isn’t risk free. Your little bet on the future can, at any time, walk out your door and with them goes your investment in them. But the risks of not investing in the culinary talent, that you already have, are far greater.
Remember this isn’t a one shot deal. Listening to, and collaborating with your chefs, promotion from within, referral gathering, and succession planning, constitute a system designed to make your business a better place to work, a place where chefs add value and gain value both for themselves, your business and their careers. It’s a non-zero sum trade where everyone wins, at least more often than not. And at the end of the day what’s the alternative? If you’ve got a better one then please tell us about it in the comments section.
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