Not every restaurant needs a chef. In fast-casual and quick-service establishments, the chef is sometimes called the kitchen manager. Since fast-casual establishments do not usually have a complex menu, a culinary degree is not always required. Upscale or fine dining establishments, however, have complex menus and meal presentations and will require a skilled culinary professional to manage the quality of the menu.
One of the most important roles in the restaurant is the chef. The chef, or executive chef, is in charge of all of the kitchen operations. They train kitchen staff, oversee all of the cooking processes and help develop menu and marketing initiatives. The chef has to be familiar with every stage of the cooking process and know how to use all of the restaurant equipment.
What to Look For in a Chef
When interviewing candidates for your executive chef position, you will want to take the following into consideration:
- Common philosophy. Employ a chef who understands your concept and has a similar philosophy on customer service. This will enable you to create a unique, enjoyable dining experience for your patrons.
- Credentials. Check your potential chef’s background. Make sure they have gone to a reputable culinary school and know how to prepare foods that fit your concept.
- Experience. Inquire with references to ensure that a potential chef can handle the volume of orders expected during a typical rush.
- Leadership skills. Look for a leader as your chef is the captain of the kitchen team. You will want someone who can supervise, help train others, is confident and commanding, but not a tyrant.
- Cooking ability. Give each of your top candidates a menu item (the same item for each candidate) to prepare and see if it meets your quality standards. Credentials and leadership are all well and good, but you want to make sure your candidates can actually cook.
- Speed and consistency. Preparing large quantities of food in a short amount of time is the name of the game for food service establishments. Be sure that the chef you choose is fast and efficient in their cooking methods and is able to deliver a consistent product every time.
- Cost optimization. Give your chef a “paper work test” with different food cost scenarios. See what kind of dishes they can create for a sale price that does not erode your margin or turn away frugal customers. An experienced chef will be able to produce a tasty meal without breaking the bank.
Where to Look for a Chef
New restaurants can use any method including, internet job board postings, word of mouth or newspaper ads to find a chef. However, existing restaurants will want to exercise a little caution when replacing a chef.
If your current chef sees a “new chef wanted” advertisement for your restaurant, most likely he will quit before you find a replacement, and if you do not have a backup, your meal quality and preparation speed will suffer. When replacing a chef, you also want to try and hide the fact from your competition. If they find that you are without a chef, they may attempt to exploit your disadvantage. Try the following alternative avenues when replacing your chef:
- Use a recruiting agency. Though often frowned upon, “head hunters” may be the best option for finding a replacement chef without your current chef or competition finding out. Most recruiting agencies only get paid if they find you a replacement.
- Hire within your restaurant. Maybe some of your line cooks or sous chefs will be eager and qualified to fill the top kitchen spot. Most sous chefs have culinary school degrees and are just looking for a chance. Hiring from within is also a great way to boost overall company morale.
- Advertise anonymously on an online job board. Utilize sites such as: Indeed, Chefjobs, Hcareers, Monster or CareerBuilder. Keep your restaurant or company name confidential and create a generic email to receive applications, such as firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to list the metropolitan area where the job is located.
- Talk to your suppliers. Your food suppliers or local equipment dealers may know of chefs that are looking for work. You may want to be cautious of confiding in your food dealer though, because it is most likely that the supplier also sells to your competition. They may tell competitors about your situation.
How to Retain Your Chef
Finding the right chef for the job can be a time-consuming and stressful endeavor, but you want to make sure the person you choose will be able to deliver a high quality product while increasing your clientele. Superstar chefs are worth every effort to find and keep. The following suggestions will help you retain your chef:
- Let the chef help develop your menu. When starting a new restaurant or adapting an existing concept, you have an idea for a menu already written down. But every professional chef has his or her own cookbook and specialties. Work with your new chef to develop menu items that fit both your concept and the chef’s expertise. This will allow the chef to add his or her own personal flare to your restaurant.
- Allow the chef to bring people in. Executive chefs, much like professional coaches, can have their own sous chefs (much like assistant coaches) with whom they have worked before. Rather than forcing your chefs to take on an entire new staff of apprentices, allow them to bring on some of their own people to help make your kitchen run smoothly.
- Pay for what you get. A bonus system or other incentive plan will let your chef know how much you appreciate the customers his or her expertise brings to your restaurant. >>More on Employee Wages and Benefits
- Promote their name. Customers rarely see the chef because he or she is on the other side of the kitchen doors. However, if your chef does an excellent job or has local fame, give him or her public notice. You can feature your chef in marketing materials or on the menu, so your customers know the name of the person that helps create your delicious cuisine.