Chefs have an undeserved reputation for being a little grumpy sometimes, which we think is unfair. They are, after all, working in an extremely high pressure and emotionally charged environment, and their output is what their restaurants are ultimately judged on. Most chefs love what they do and are a very happy bunch, but – being human like the rest of us – they do have off days.
If you're getting disgruntled vibes from your chef, have a read of our three tips for restoring them to rays of sunshine.
The front of house team frequently get the kudos of being the face of the restaurant, while the chef labours away in the background, often in a kitchen deep within the bowels of the building. Their work is for the large part unseen until the food emerges and less experienced or more junior waiting staff can sometimes not fully grasp the pressures chefs work under.
Over time, the net result can be a sort of divide; boundaries between front and back of house which team members from the other side are hesitant to cross. As these silos develop, communication can unravel leading to a pent-up sense of isolation, resentment and frustration.
A concerted effort by management to communicate with their chef will help considerably to break down those barriers. As a restaurant owner or manager, make a point of visiting the chef in their domain a few times a day, just to show you care. Join them on a break and have a chat: it doesn't have to be about work, just get the conversation going and a two way dialogue flowing.
Better still, take the chef out of the kitchen and have that chat in your office (and not from behind your desk!), in the garden, or anywhere else. It is amazing how this small thing will make them feel valued.
If you have regular staff meetings, give the chef a voice. These cross-team meetings are notorious for being backward-looking and blame-apportioning opportunities to bash the chef, so make them forward looking instead. Give the chef the stage and let them talk about their plans, their aspirations for the business, what's hot and what's not in their world – the chances are the other team members will find this insight fascinating and feel much more likely to engage the chef in future.
We've all heard the phrase “fail to plan and you plan to fail” and never has this been more true than in running a busy restaurant. Without proper planning, tempers will flare and the blame-game will start, so it is absolutely vital to give chef all the information he or she needs to do do their job successfully.
In many ways, chefs are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Let's take a confirmed event booking, for example: if the chef doesn't receive up to date information about the booking and in good time, the knock-on effect will reverberate throughout the business (and potentially effect the guest experience). The chef may not order enough inventory items, leading to last minute menu changes; he may prepare too many portions because nobody has told him that there have been some changes to the number of confirmed covers; she may not make enough portions for the same reason.
The aforementioned staff meeting is a great opportunity to give chef the forward visibility of the week or month's bookings, but in reality that data is out of date the moment the meeting ends. It is critical, therefore, to give the chef the tools necessary to have instant forward visibility, or an agreed mechanism for delivering updates. A member of front of house discretely adding 100 covers to a booking sheet half an hour before the guests are due is really not a good way to update the chef, but it is a great way to learn some novel new swear words from him.
It would be unfair of us to suggest that front of house staff are often the reason for a lack of communication or provision of useful data – far from it, theirs is a very hectic job, too. In the case of party or group bookings, for example, customers are notorious for missing menu choice deadlines, or those for deposits and payments. In those circumstances, front of house staff are left in limbo and unable to give the chef a concrete set of expected numbers, or even an assurance that the event is actually going ahead. Such a scenario will usually lead to intra-team friction and associated squabbles about culpability.
Technology is your friend here. Rather than chase menu choices, payments and deposits manually (and simultaneously create and lose the associated paperwork), consider subscribing to an online table management system containing functionality to address the issue. The best systems will include online menu pre-ordering, so the party's lead booker will make their menu selections on behalf of the whole group via a dedicated web portal, with the restaurant stipulating specific deadlines for the receipt and/or payment before cancellation notices are automatically sent.
The beauty of these systems is in their portability and accessibility – give chef a tablet and he or she can check in real time how the event is shaping up, enabling better inventory planning and cover control. For those who still like to rely on chef's daily sheets, the software will create those too.
The best, most talented chefs in the world will struggle – and by extension become more than a little outwardly frustrated – if they do not have the right people in place to help them deliver great food. Unskilled, poor quality or disruptive staff tend to place extra pressure on our chefs as they have to constantly inform, correct and coerce the brigade which will lead, ultimately, to the chef throwing in the towel. You really don't want that, because you'll be losing so much knowledge from the business with the departure of your chef, plus have to incur all the inconvenience and cost of re-recruiting.
Hiring good people is tricky in the restaurant industry right now, but that's no reason to set low standards. Hire the best you can afford and if they are as good as you hoped they'd be, do everything you can to keep them. Give the chef the authority to manage the staff as he/she feels fit (within reason!) , to produce a cohesive and productive team. Make sure chef follows an appraisal routine and personally carries out the review meetings, rather than have them taken out of their hands by “management”. Such active engagement will empower the chef, make them feel part of the wider team and give them a huge sense of value.
There's an old saying in the hospitality industry, along the lines of “you can tell if a chef is happy by the food they make”, and although we're not sure of its origins we certainly think there is some truth in it. Certainly, an unhappy chef will find it very difficult to maintain high standards and remain engaged which in turn could impact the restaurant's reputation and trade levels if not addressed.
Even in seemingly the grumpiest chef, there is usually a happy soul waiting to appear. With better attention to communication, team involvement, forward planning, empowerment, technology and resources, there is a very high probability that a ray of sunshine will appear from inside those chefs' whites.
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