Fast paced restaurants require a kitchen crew with a very specific set of skills. Whether your restaurant seats several hundred patrons or serves the neighborhood as a small café, you need a good chef or kitchen manager. Both high-volume and casual establishments make money and build a reputation on the ability to supply a consistent, high quality product, in a timely manor, at a reasonable price. The client base is predominantly composed of repeat customers. Because of the way your patrons rely on your restaurant for consistency, no glitch in service will go unnoticed. Customers may be forgiving in the beginning, but if the food and service goes south, so will your business.
A good cook in a high-volume restaurant is a skilled tradesperson conditioned by necessity to work harder and faster than almost any other professional. Because of the strain of this profession, even many of the competent and reliable cooks don’t stick around for the long haul. And because the work can be so strenuous, chefs are notorious for playing as hard as they work. So when you’re screening candidates for the job, you’ll need to review not only their cooking credentials but also their maturity and demeanor. It’s imperative that you look for someone who emits a solid sense of stability — there is nothing worse than welcoming three hundred customers for Sunday breakfast only to find that half the kitchen crew has called in sick from a rough Saturday night on the town.
I cannot stress enough how important consistency of product is in this type of operation. By the time you’re hiring your chef your establishment will likely have already developed a set of recipes, which will include costing and ingredient extensions. If this is the case, all you need is a chef who can follow your vision to the letter, and supervise his or her kitchen crew so they do the same. Culinary finesse is not the top priority at high-volume restaurants; what is important is that your chef and crew can consistently and expertly produce the items on your menu, rapidly and with a strong sense of cleanliness and efficiency.
The next most important quality to seek out in a chef applies to any type of kitchen: organization and cleanliness. These days Health Department information about your establishment is easily accessible on the Internet, and potential customers like to check up on that kind of information. So your chef needs to be the kind of leader who can keep on top of the crew to ensure that your kitchen is spotless and well maintained. And if your kitchen is well equipped and maintained, with the proper tools to help your crew produce high quality food, it will also do wonders for the morale of your kitchen staff.
When you interview candidates, look for a chef whose skillset and availability match your business profile. Also look for someone with a proven track record running quick-service kitchens, and take the time to check references that each candidate provides. When you’ve selected a few candidates who meet these initial qualifications, use these following techniques to identify the best fit:
- Have prospective chefs cook in your kitchen in order to observe how your current staff functions. Even if morale is low because of current changes in staff, a confident leader will be able to win over your crew. Employees appreciate a well qualified professional and will work hard for them.
- Have candidates develop and cost out a small menu and set of correlating recipes, using your existing computer programs, in order to test their business and computer literacy skills. (Be prepared to compensate your applicant in some way for this effort to assure that they will give you the full extent of their expertise.)
- If you feel good about a prospect who does not have all of the skills required (but is willing to learn), offer to support them with proper training and assistance in acquiring these skills.
- Negotiate with your final prospect clearly and specifically, including the drafting of a full job description, financial incentives, and overall expectations.
Most importantly, take your time in picking the right candidate. If you do this, you will save a lot of time and money in the long run. If you are new to the business, as many restaurateurs are, a well-qualified chef will be able to participate in some of your major decision-making processes to help guide your operation towards greater success.
Remember that quality of leadership and good morale start from the top. As the owner, you have to be willing to lead your entire crew with the same strength, compassion, and professionalism that you would expect from your management. A restaurant owner who can lead a management team efficiently with a strong focus on proper business strategies will have a good chance at success and profitability over the long haul.