Don't Hire Another Cook This Year

Don't Hire Another Cook This Year

What would it be like if you didn’t have to hire another cook the rest of the year? If you didn’t lose a star employee and need to start over from scratch? It’s hard enough to run a kitchen without recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training new team members all the time. And it’s even worse in today’s labor market, where applications barely trickle in and few of those are from experienced, qualified applicants.

In a world where good people are hard to find and hourly wages are increasing, talent and labor can quickly sabotage your restaurant. Every time you lose a cook, you’re faced with hiring an “unknown” who expects more money and doesn’t know your menu. Can they cook? Do they handle food safely? Do they play well with others? Even a great interview won’t answer these questions completely.

The best way to stay out of those situations is to avoid having to hire in the first place. You need to keep the people you have — and not just keep them, but elevate their performance.

You can break down a kitchen team into 3 performance levels: A’s, B’s and C’s. They may all perform differently, but it can still be disruptive when anyone quits. So why do they leave?

The A’s and B’s? Don’t let them leave. Instead of recruiting from outside the restaurant, recruit from within. Turn the B’s into A’s and the A’s into your next leaders. How?

Let’s start with the A’s. High performers get bored. There are no more surprises, nothing more to learn, no shift they haven’t worked. So they’ll keep plugging away for a few more months, maybe a couple years. They’ll deliver, and you’ll be glad you have them. And then one day, they’ll give notice.

You have to go beyond managing them and instead teach them what it takes to run a kitchen, not just cook in one. Meet with them and find out what their goals are. Ask what they want to learn. Find out if they started learning something new but never really went all the way with it. Then, challenge them. Don’t just teach them technical skills like placing orders and writing schedules, teach them how to lead others. Managing people is a lot harder than managing food, and if they don’t develop those skills, they’ll never move up.

Now for the B’s. Chances are, they make up 80% of your team. Right now, they’re typical cooks: they show up for work (usually), do what they’re told (mostly), and clock out. The one thing they don’t do is stand out. They’re not the ones who: show up early, stay late, treat the FOH as friends, safely handle food consistently, carefully craft each plate presentation, and look for ways to help others. They’re the ones who take shortcuts and need to be managed constantly. But by developing them, you’ll improve every aspect of your kitchen operation. They make up the majority of your team, so every positive change they make is amplified. Coaching them to become A’s will improve the accuracy, speed, and presentation of your food. It will reduce mistakes and comps. It will lower food cost and labor cost. It will build trust among teammates. And most importantly, it will keep you engaged with your team and give them a reason to stay.

C’s leave because they either find another job for even a tiny bit more money or get fired.

Matt Nelson is the author of The Renegade Cook and CEO of Modern Training & Development, Inc. For more insights on developing BOH teams, contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on LinkedIn at /in/mattnelsoncolorado.


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