Education, flexible management ease the challenges of Generation Y
The last decade hasn’t been the easiest time to run a professional kitchen. Between increasing food costs, regulatory wage hikes, shrinking pools of talent and even phone apps sucking up dining room business, restaurants must take a hard look at every detail to maximize time, effort and ROI.
Now kitchen staffs are turning over to larger percentages of millennial workers, with all the preconceived notions that go along with them. How the industry adapts to a generation—often characterized as entitled and opinionated—affects team morale and prepares a much-needed workforce for the realities of the line.
“The main considerations I look for when hiring is one, does the candidate have any kitchen wherewithal at all, and two, how well might they get along with other personnel?” says Rodney Stanton, executive chef of ALK Steak Bar at Chicago’s Hotel Julian. “Whether they are millennials or not, I still have to find employees that are self-motivated and that can motivate each other.”
Though the golden age of television celebrity chefs seems to have faded into the background somewhat, the perception of the rock star lifestyle of glittering culinary events and cookbook signings still draws in young people. According to Miles Mitchell, chief academic officer of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, it is the responsibility of the cooking schools to provide a realistic portrayal of what life in the kitchen is like.
“Our faculty are all former working professionals from the industry and represent all sectors of hospitality and culinary arts, including hotels, restaurants and foodservice companies,” he says. “Because of their backgrounds, our faculty [are] able to share personal experience about what it’s like to work in a professional kitchen, including hours, work demands and expectations.”
Still, it’s no easy task once cast into the heat of the fire. Stanton is constantly gauging expectations and adjusting his management style to fit this new generation.
“The fragile, sheltered nature of some of the kids coming through the kitchen has forced a change in the industry, which is a good thing,” Stanton observes. “You can’t run a kitchen with a blanket management style anymore; it’s very individualized. Some people will respond to more demanding direction, while others need that arm around them.”
In a climate where line cooks might suddenly decide to leave their position to switch gears and drive for Uber, for example, understanding the motivations of millennials is key.
“Millennials are not unlike many people entering professional careers,” Mitchell says. “Yes, they may want to progress at a fast pace, but their future is heavily dependent on their work ethic, drive and ability to work in a team environment.”
And, of course, team environment always starts with guidance from the top.
“I love young chefs. They're hungry, they're eager and they want to try new stuff out,” adds Stanton. “The benefit and responsibility for me as a chef and teacher is helping them find self-confidence and explaining that not every idea is gonna stick, but they shouldn’t be scared.”