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7 Ways to Reconnect with Your Kitchen Staff

7 Ways to Reconnect with Your Kitchen Staff

When I was a line cook, I often noticed how much more comfortable the managers were with the front-of-the-house than the kitchen. Servers, hosts, and bartenders attended pre-shift meetings, won sales contests, had friendly conversations with managers near the POS before service picked up, and got most of the support once the rush was rolling.

The truth is, it felt like we were on our own most of the time. Conversations between managers and cooks rarely went beyond refires, scheduling, and paychecks. If a manager stood at the end of the line and timidly asked if we needed help, we always answered, “Nope,” and the manager usually walked away looking relieved as we tried to get out of the weeds.

If that sounds like your kitchen, your cooks probably don’t feel like part of the family. Without that feeling of inclusion, it’s a much easier decision to go work somewhere else where it isn’t “just another job.” No one wants to lose a good cook, and you won’t – at least not very often – when your cooks feel like they belong. Want to get the family feeling back? Turn that culture around in no time by reconnecting with your team.

#1 Speak to every cook, every shift

I’ve heard parents say they sometimes have their favorites, but they would never tell their kids that. You might have favorites on your staff, too, but when you walk by Jimmy to catch up with Johnny and Joe on their weekend, he’s going to feel left out. Say hello to everyone, every shift. Have a conversation and catch up. Do you have to be friends? Nope, but you can and should show interest in everyone.

#2 Include the BOH in sales contests

It’s no fun to cook all the food and watch servers get the rewards. If you run contests, pair every BOH team member (yes, including dishwashers) with a FOH team member. If the numbers don’t match up, make teams. The cooks will be more motivated, and with everyone on board, the contests will perform better.

#3 Provide the same training to the BOH as the FOH

I get to see a lot of training programs from a lot of restaurant companies, and the BOH training almost never matches up to what the FOH gets. It’s usually some combination of menu knowledge and food safety, a tour, and that’s about it. Ramp up BOH training (especially on culture), and watch their engagement soar.

#4 Treat team members of different backgrounds equally

Kitchens are made up of a lot of variety, to say the least. It’s tempting to give someone with different interests than you the cold shoulder. Just because you don’t relate to someone doesn’t mean you can’t connect with them. Got a language barrier? Look at it as an opportunity to learn. Make sure cooks who speak another language have opportunities to ask questions and share ideas.

#5 Deliver performance reviews on time

Even if formal reviews seem like a burden to you, team members look forward to them. They crave feedback on their performance, and their raises are often tied to reviews. They’ll know when they’re due for a review, so stick to the schedule.

#6 Make everyone feel important

All kitchens have a hierarchy, whether it’s veteran and rookie, chef and sous, or line and dish. Yet every role is important, and everyone is part of the family. Two easy ways to make everyone feel important are to ask for ideas on what the restaurant can do better and celebrate milestones with the whole team. Imagine everyone joining you in the dish room to bring the dishwasher a cupcake on their first anniversary. Those simple moments of appreciation can go a long, long way.

#7 Set clear expectations and support their growth

Everyone likes to get better at their job. It’s a lot easier if they know exactly what they need to improve. When you clearly communicate standards, give timely feedback, and reinforce positive behaviors, people develop much faster. Successful restaurants grow their people’s skills and always have someone in the pipeline to take over the next leadership position. Even better, your cooks will appreciate your investment in their development.

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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