Five ways to improve the chef experience in your restaurant

The customer experience is a priority for every restaurant.  But as an industry, do we give the same consideration to the chef experience?

Katie Mellor, director of Blackburn-based specialist recruiter CJUK, offers her five tips for improving the experience for chefs in the workplace.

katie mellorWE all know that the hospitality industry is tough; the hours are often long and unsocial. So as an industry we need to be doing everything we can to nurture and retain talent, and ensure that the chef experience, and overall journey, is a positive one.

There is a chronic chef shortage across the country, and People 1st reported average staff turnover rate of 75% in the hospitality industry, so something clearly isn’t right.

The approach to work, across all sectors, has the workforce placing a greater focus on a positive work/life balance. So do we need to do more to adapt and change?

A positive work experience can lead to a more motivated workforce, and a more productive team, and greater levels of staff retention.

As an interim chef recruiter we speak to chefs on a daily basis about their experience, whether that is in their previous perm roles, or in the jobs we place them on. Ensuring our chefs have a positive work experience is a big focus for us, and influences which kitchens we work with.

From our experience, these are the five key things that help improve the chef experience:

Encourage breaks

Many kitchens fall in to the culture that you just work through breaks and that this is just the industry accepted ‘norm’. But this isn’t going to get the best out of the team, and will ultimately leave them feeling tired and overworked.

Make it part of the culture to encourage breaks, and wherever you can, reduce split shifts.

Also, objectively look at where chefs take breaks. Is it fit for purpose? A comfortable staff room with facilities for making refreshments, somewhere to sit and a TV will really allow a chef to make the most of their down time.

Value their opinion

Make sure that chefs are asked their opinions, whether that is about the current systems in place, their role and professional development, and wherever possible encourage creativity.

Introduce annual or ideally quarterly reviews, ask them how they think they are developing in their role and potentially identify areas for professional development and training.

After the busy Christmas season sit down with the team and have a debrief; what worked and what didn’t, was the produce up to standard, what could be done differently?

Making a switch from salaries to hourly pay

Hours, shifts and pay play a role in the overall work experience, one of the biggest complaints that we hear from chefs is working overtime on salaried pay.

If chefs are salaried and regularly work way above their hours, either look at the rotas and see where and when an extra person might be needed, or consider switching to paying by the hour.

Pay by the hour and ask chefs how many hours a week they want to work, then build rotas around that.

In our experience when chefs feel like they have some say and control over their hours, and get paid for every hour they work, it makes a significant difference in their overall working experience.

If you are considering making this change we would recommend consulting your chefs first. Some might not want to go for it for varying reasons, but feeling consulted will also help build positive experiences. 

Reward and recognition

Everyone likes to be recognised for good work or for going the extra mile. A big gripe in any workplace is when people feel like their good work or extra effort goes unnoticed, and they feel taken for granted.

Introduce a ‘chef of the month’ that can be shared on social media pages, it can give people a really great boost.

Or give chefs vouchers to go out and eat, maybe sending them to check out the competition – they feel rewarded, and you have some competitor research!

Show respect

Kitchens can get very heated, in more ways than one, and it is easy for tempers to flare. But showing respect for the team working in the thick of it can make a real difference. A simple thank you after a really busy shift can go a long way.

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