Managing the Management: How Cooks Can Cope

  1. Manager:    “Why didn’t you do the lamb?”

                Me:        “Wasn’t my task, sir. Prep cooks have that on their list.”

                Manager:    “Why did you clock in so early?!”

    Cook or not, those of us who have any experience in the workforce know there are supervisors or managers who have a proclivity for finding flaws in their charges’ performances. I’m not talking about a sup who will call you out on shortcomings when you deserve it (like that one time you forgot to dice a case of tomatoes before clocking out). I’m referring to those who would be happy to carve you a new orifice at any given opportunity, accuse you of some misdeed, maybe even be proven incorrect, and immediately search for personal redemption in some other violation.

    Whatever the reason for a manager's style, employees must learn to cope. If one’s proverbial skin is as thin and brittle as an onion’s, then a first encounter with “search and destroy” management could feasibly lead to a permanent career change. Instead, choose resilience: develop and hone skills that help you respond effectively to unfavorable critique or outright antagonism rather than trigger insecurities or fleeing responses. Whether you are asked cordially or demanded ruthlessly, the aim is improvement-- and there is always room for improvement. Listen. Learn. Remember. Execute.

    How should we respond when confronted by a manager intent on punishing us? The most important thing is to stay calm and remember to not allow your emotions be rattled. To the opening lamb prep and clocking-in exchange, a less-experienced employee may have responded with, “Why do you keep asking me these questions?” A more diplomatic  approach may sound like, “I always clock in 15-20 minutes early, sir. I can start clocking in at the exact hour you’d prefer.” And always remember that how you say it is just as important as what you say; keep your tone in check.

    Working in a professional kitchen is demanding. Whatever tasks have been distributed must be done to the exact standards that have been set by the chefs and kitchen managers. It is useless to ponder over why such things are so important. Just know that they are and that if you are responsible for a loss of time, product, or money, you will likely hear about it. We may naturally obsess over the way we hear about it, but what’s more important is how we respond to it. Before you clock in, leave your sensitivity at the door, especially if you work for a “search and destroy” manager. There’s a job to be done, and a job to be done well.

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  1. chefmannydlm
    PREACH, BROTHER, PREACH!  I need to heed this advice myself more often.
  2. pete
    @flipflopgirl I would have to totally disagree with your take on managers watching for early punch ins.  Having worked in both independent and corporate places, early punches are not such a big deal in independent places, but in corporate places, where overtime is watched very closely, this is a conversation that I have had to have with many who have worked under me.  As a manager in those situations it is my responsibility to ensure that there was no unjustified OT and often, early punches are considered unjustified unless something as come up at the last minute.
  3. redbeerd cantu
  4. flipflopgirl
    Great article.
    IMO the clock in comments usually come from someone who (when they had to punch the clock) would stand around and pick their nose until shift change.
    I clocked in early my entire working life and went straight to work...cleaning and getting ready to slide into my spot.
    If any comments were ever made they came from the clock punching nose pickers.
    Management never said a word.
  5. nicko
    This is a good article and I think in your first paragraph you are really talking about micro managing. Personally I don't think it is something any cook or employee for that matter should "cope" with. It is un-professional and shows a lack of maturity as a leader. Your points on how to handle it are spot on. Remain calm and keep your wits about you.