Over the past 20 years of coaching restaurant owners, one thing has not changed: the challenge of finding the right kitchen manager or chef for your restaurant.
It’s pretty easy to convince yourself you found the right person to later find out they’re a disaster of a choice. Let’s first talk about common things that happen in a restaurant that lead you to hire the wrong person as your kitchen manager. Then let’s talk about the seven things to look for when interviewing restaurant managers for the kitchen.
First, why is it so easy to think you found the right person only to be disappointed over and over? Sometimes you’re in a bind, and you need someone today. You’ve already been running short staffed, you’re going into season, whatever the reason, you need somebody right now. In this bind you’re able to ignore some warning signs or not ask questions that will reveal something that would make a person not hirable. Instead, you get distracted by the problems it would solve to have someone hired.
Sometimes you’re just tired. You lost your kitchen manager, and you’ve been in the kitchen for 80 hours. Maybe the kitchen isn’t even what you’re good at! You don’t want to be there anymore, and the first person that can fog a mirror that says they will accept the position is the one you hire.
Sometimes you’re looking for a lifeline. It’s just, oh my gosh, there’s chaos, no one has the right culinary skills – even you. Maybe you’re like me in the kitchen: no talent or skills for cooking. You just need a culinary pro because no one else in the restaurant can do it.
Sometimes you just really want to find a person quickly. You’re impatient and want someone hired today. You’ve been doing this long enough and think, “How could I do any worse than the last person?” So, you hire the first person that walks in the door.
More than often that not, you pick the wrong person because of one of these circumstances. But if you can get yourself out of that cycle, allow yourself time and patience, you can find the right person.
What should you look for in a kitchen pro when you’re going to go through the interview process?
1. Somebody with a great attitude.
Somebody who fits your company culture. Culture is extremely important.
2. Somebody with the culinary knowledge that’s right for your restaurant.
Culinary knowledge is going to be very important or less important depending on the concept you have. For example, knife skills could be important, but maybe not a full knowledge of French cuisine or how to break down a chicken completely. Whereas if you’re a fine dining restaurant, that’s a part of the art. What kind of culinary knowledge matches your restaurant?
3. This person should have knowledge of numbers and systems.
They need to understand food cost, recipe costing cards, how to manage inventory, able to calculate yields, scheduling on budget and controlling labor on budget. It is very important that your potential kitchen leader either has a general understanding, or is willing to learn.
4. They should have experience training other team members.
Training is very important and the higher you move up in the food chain, the less you’re going to touch a knife. As a kitchen manager, the job is to manage and train people.
5. Are they willing to learn?
It might not be so important, depending on your concept, how deep their knowledge is if they’re willing to learn. You can provide them the right training, especially on the systems and numbers.
6. Are they willing to do things your way?
All too often culinary professionals come in and say, “It’s my way or the highway.” Well, they should go open their own damn restaurant. Whoever you hire has to be willing to follow your systems. That doesn’t mean they can’t bring improvements, and you can’t bend, but they can’t throw your stuff away. They can’t change things without your permission.
7. Make sure they understand it is your restaurant. not theirs, and the buck stops with you.
This is for everything from budget to all the major decisions. You can give them the authority to make certain decisions, but anything that’s not in their authority, they have to check with you.
All things being equal, I often want to hire the person who’s willing to learn, who will do things my way and is looking to move up. When I say looking to move up, instead of hiring the seasoned chef, I want that sous chef looking for the opportunity to move up. Instead of that kitchen manager, I want that line supervisor looking for an opportunity to move up.
Why? Because ultimately, I can teach them my systems my way. I want the person who gets excited about the opportunity to move up rather than the person who’s stuck in their way saying it’s my way or the highway. Look for these seven things when interviewing restaurant managers for the kitchen, and you won’t have to settle.