Keeping Great Employees


  1. Keeping the best people on the team is critically important. Take a bit to think about the gravity of having good kitchen kin at the most vital times. When the printer is vomiting tickets onto the cutting board and the GM is freaking out about the gluten-free demands of table 21, who is best to be standing by? Does loyalty want to be questioned at that time? Or does the discussion about a pay raise make for a jagged moment? What about not getting the schedule just right for the line cook that needed off for his kid’s birthday? How is this band of brothers and sisters kept happy, engaged and moving forward?  Take a look at what keeps the cult stationed behind the line and away from the dangerous juice that leaves the kitchen short-staffed or operating at less than its best.

    To start, it always comes down to money. As much as being part of the creative process and delivering kick-ass food is a respectable calling, it does not pay the electricity bill to do it for free. Starting a key player at a fair wage is always a delicate balance. Too much up front and the next raise may be far down the road. Too little compensation at kick-off and other opportunities that come with more money will rip talent away. So, be fair. Pay on experience, yes. Pay on performance, yes. Pay on conduct, probably. Pay on positive energy and problem-solving, absolutely. The starting wage for cooks varies from restaurant to restaurant, region to region. So a battle over money does no good. Do what is right. Is there more? A bonus for a particularly tough stretch is always a welcomed grace. Timely and significant are key elements for bonusing. It comes with a cautionary tale, though. Too frequently and bonuses become an expectation. A little bump for added responsibilities or stepping up when Dave and Tim called out last Saturday is a nice way of saying thanks. Cash is great.

    Hugging the crew with gratitude does not always have to be expensive. It has to be meaningful, so it should take some effort or it is a shallow notion. iTunes gift cards, a talked-about cookbook, gift certificates to a restaurant nearby, all feel nice. Work out a deal with a manager at a restaurant to partner on a voucher exchange so their aces can dine in the restaurant while the team goes to that restaurant for a special night out. The fabled “employee of the month” picture hanging by the kitchen door is a little bit of a dated concept. But, a dedicated parking spot for “This Month’s Kitchen King” is a way to draw positive attention.

    Listening to ideas is a cost-free way to dose the staff ego with tenderness. Often, the best ideas come from within, from the problem-solvers already in the kitchen. Whether it be a menu idea, a process that streamlines clean-up, a marketing flash, listening to… actually listening, not just hearing… those ideas can make anybody feel good about their role. And it costs nothing. Should the brainstorm get put into place, it does well to publicly recognize the staffer that birthed the idea. A round of applause makes even a dark day a bit sunnier.

    The kitchen hooligans treasure the feeling of being part of something. So bolster that feeling with some unifying element; a shirt or a hat that bares the restaurant name; a night out for bowling and beer (gotten with a discount by exchanging the same night out with the manager of the bowling alley!); recognition on the menu of the contributions by the crew.

    There are no magical solutions for solving every malady that ails curmudgeons. What works well in one kitchen may not work at all for another. Danny Meyer of Union Square Cafe, among others, remarks in   , extending the notion of hospitality to the staff before ever doing so for customers. A novel idea that really makes for a practical approach to keeping the best members on staff. Recruiting is a time-absorbing and frustrating process. Training is costly. Working with a difficult staffer is even more costly when the bad vibes start to spread. So, starting with the right people is always the best first step. Everything after that comes down to keeping them grounded in fresh ideas, solving issues and caring. Care is a tough gig to teach. Alas, if care is shown to them, perhaps it will be contagious.

    Keep the conversation going: Comment below, share your thoughts @ChefTalkJim on Twitter #HappyKitchenCrew

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  1. jim berman
    @MY Hickman - I completely agree. The simplest of gestures, a gracious "thank you" or "job well done" can often be a huge pay-off.
  2. my hickman
    sometimes just being appreciated is enuf