How to Hire a Chef for Your Restaurant
The restaurant industry has faced unprecedented challenges in 2020. While the end of the pandemic is still unknown, there is both the renewed promise of government assistance and the possibility of a working vaccine. With losses to the industry resulting in many separations, part of rebuilding in a post-pandemic world is restaffing. Building the perfect team is a challenging but worthwhile pursuit. At the heart of every restaurant is the kitchen. Knowing how to hire a chef is an integral step in reimagining what comes next for your restaurant.
What Makes For a Good Chef?
Many factors go into being a great chef, no matter what restaurant segment you work in. For example, if you work in a quick-service restaurant, customer expectation is different from working in a fine dining establishment. In a quick-service restaurant, skills like creativity may not be as valued as consistency, which drives consumer interest. Let’s examine a few skills that may help a restaurant manager running a small table service operation better learn how to hire a chef.
Patience is a Virtue
Restaurant work is stressful, and being a cook has proven especially so. As a manager, you already know these stresses and need someone you can rely on to help you stay the course. Picture a busy weekend night, the dinner rush is booming, and you have orders coming in and going out quickly. You need a chef who’s quick on their feet but can focus on the task at hand. Some chefs work long shifts, starting early in the morning with prep work, well into the evening. Look for endurance and grace under pressure as valuable assets in your hiring strategy.
No matter what segment you operate, a chef has opportunities to create. For a small table service operation, that creation manifests in two separate ways: daily specials/limited-time offers and replacing menu items. Both examples are exceptional cases that may not recur all that often, meaning that your chef will need to focus on the day-to-day meal prep, usually of the same dishes. In this instance, you need someone who can focus on consistency from meal-to-meal rather than on experimentation in the kitchen.
Any new staff you bring in will need to know how to use your various tech, from your kitchen display system to your table management or waitlist solution. It’s possible that you even have the tech to train staff, like a recipe viewer. Your chef will have to be savvy enough to help prepare the incoming team on the tech in your stack, so make sure that you put that on your to-do list.
Now that you know what you might search for, what questions should you ask? Establishing a strategy ahead of time is essential in learning how to hire a chef.
Where to Look
There are many excellent resources to explore in your search for the ideal chef. You may consider posting job openings on sites like Linkedin or Indeed, which are both useful in seeking general candidates. While both are easy to use, you might consider utilizing an aggregator site like Better Teams to cast a wide net in your search. Alternatively, you can look at Poached Jobs, a site specifically for people looking for work in the restaurant industry. In doing so, you will find candidates who are explicitly interested in what you have to offer.
Before you promote your position online, ask around. Word-of-mouth hiring is expected in the restaurant industry problems and could be a valuable asset to singling out the perfect candidate.
Ask the Right Questions
Before sitting down with your interview candidates, make sure you have a list of questions prepared to ask prospective chefs. An easy tip to get started is the Five Ws, which can help layout a simple rubric on which to base your questions. Consider asking the following:
- Why did you become a chef? What drew you to the restaurant industry? Invite your candidates to share their stories and interests in the culinary arts.
- Where did you learn your trade? This is an easy way to ask if they went to college, or if their education was on-the-job, earned experience.
- Who has inspired you the most in your profession? This question gauges the type of chef they’re interested in becoming. Are they Gordon Ramsey, a razor-sharp, take-no-prisoners leader, or are they like Guy Fieri, comparatively cool, calm, and eager to represent their profession?
- When are you most at ease on the job? Here you can get a little insight as to what they value the most professionally.
- What have you learned in the kitchen, and how would you apply that to managing staff? You want to know how they’ve evolved their skill set and how you can that knowledge can be applied in your back-of-house.
Of course, you’ll have more questions, and likely questions specific to your particular style and segment. You likely want to know how they handle inventory management or budgeting, so put those on your list too. Ask quantitative questions that give you specific insights into their experience, but also qualitative inquiries that help you better understand their character.
How to Narrow Down Your Search
At this point in the process, you’ve likely interviewed a handful of candidates, and have some ideas of what worked and what didn’t. Now you’re faced with the task of narrowing down your search from several to the exact right fit. Whether you make your selection alone or as part of a team, develop a basic hiring rubric that can help you score candidates based on their responses. If you’re part of a team, then take the median for each answer as your score.
Knowing the guidelines on how to hire a chef is only part of the equation. Keep in mind that even though you have a rubric, you should always trust your instincts. Is your candidate a good fit for the restaurant culture you want to foster? Is this someone you’re prepared to spend extended time with as needed? Once you determine who you want to go with, make sure you call up any references you can find.
Setting Salary Expectations
Conversations about salary are at the core of any hiring process and are vital to securing your candidate. Are your expectations in line with your candidate of choice? Do you have the means to pay the average salary? Sites like the aforementioned Indeed or Glassdoor can help you identify median wages in your area. Use the Bureau of Labor Statistics site or your regional equivalent for a top-down view of the national average.
Establishing your salary is an effective way of weeding out candidates. If someone wants too much, you know that they may not fit with your operation. Gauge each response accordingly and work to find a reasonable salary that matches both your expectations and comparable salaries in your part of the world. If you’re still in doubt, consider reaching out to other restaurateurs to find out what they pay, so that you can remain competitive in your offerings.
Always Have a Backup
Now that you have a plan for how to hire a chef, keep more than one candidate in mind as an option. It’s always possible that the chef that you’re interested in may either elect to work somewhere else or that they may, in some other way, fail to meet your criteria. Finding the right chef is imperative to your success, especially in securing your operational efficiency from a personnel standpoint. Your hire should be someone with whom (you believe) can work well, train staff, and run a tight back-of-house. When you make your final choice, remember the words of Anthony Bourdain, “Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.”
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About the Author
Syd was a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot. At home, like the rest of the world right now, he’s finding time to play with the kids and create art.