Executive Chefs: How do you manage support departments who do not meet your standards?

Joined Jan 1, 2017
Hi All, first post....
I've recently been Promoted within my organisation to Exec Chef of a private clubhouse; 3 restaurants + banqueting.
We have our annual HACCP audit upcoming for license renewal and it's proving extremely difficult to get adequate support from the Engineering team. The BOH is in a poor state of disrepair and the maintenance/repair work is of sub-standard quality. Our internal HACCP team agrees that the hardware is below standard and needs to be fixed before the audit.
Director of Engineering complained to the GM that I am pushing him too hard. He stated that his standard is good enough and he won't do more. Not enough manpower , etc., despite 3mo of preparation during which nothing was accomplished.
My GM agrees there is a huge gap between my standard and that of my predecessor but thinks we 'should be fine' to pass the audit.
Of course I understand the need to co-operate with my colleagues but I'm also aware of my responsibilities.
Any tips to bridge the gap ?
Joined Dec 22, 2016
My first post also, although I've been lurking for some time.
Who does your HACCP audit? Is it internal?
I might suggest to your GM perhaps bring in a uninterested party, such as Steritech, to audit plant and processes and convey results to the GM and Board of Directors. If the maintenance head is going to get in the way of you providing a safe and quality operation for members and guests, well, the board may be interested in that info...
But it's always been my policy to work with maintenance, not against them. If they go the extra mile, I'll toss a few filets on the grill for them.
Joined Oct 31, 2012
Here is my late night post New Years' Eve answer.

You don't do anything. You've informed those who need to know of the problems. You've gotten a response. Anything further aggravates the others. So… the audit happens. You pass or you don't. If you don't, you've done your part in informing everyone. 

Post audit, you develop your relationship with support personnel to better understand their point of view and begin working to improve things for the next audit. The situation you inherited didn't happen overnight and won't be fixed overnight. As time goes on, perhaps a filet or two at the right time might improve things. 
Joined Jan 1, 2017
Thanks for the responses ;
We conduct internal audits with our Food Service Quality Insurance (FSQA) Team however the upcoming audit will be conducted by an outside contractor.
It may or may not work in my favour for the auditor to remark on the state of disrepair as it may lead to the release of extra funding for R&M.
At present I can only focus on the food hygiene, record taking , system flow , P&P, etc., ; the hardware will be out of my control.
Post audit I will need to petition for increased funding for R&M, renovation plans , etc., but that will be a long term plan.
Certainly I don't mean to make enemies early in my position; unfortunately the 'can-do' attitude of the kitchen is not prevelant in our 9-5 colleagues !!
Joined May 5, 2010
Welcome to the world of attitudes and politics.

I have to agree with chefwriter.....do nothing more than you already have.

Will the outside audit cause a shut down of the facility much like a health department audit can?

Make sure that the audit does not reflect badly on you as you inherited the kitchen just recently


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
 In the context of playing nice with the rest of the club, I would try and work around their capabilities.  On your part however, do everything you can.  Some clubs shut down for two weeks every year.  Does yours?

Also important question as @Chefross asks, can they shut you down?
Joined Jan 1, 2017
The audit is for an annual license renewal so theoretically they could delay our license until we rectify any shortcomings. Generally though there is an overlap as a safety net to correct any shortcomings after the audit before the license expires.
While we do have a low season (20-30% less business) for 2mo, we still continue running 24/7; partly the reason the property fell into disrepair.
I'm working on a proposal for funds each low season to do smaller renovations over the coming years , i.e., one pot wash this year, one cold kitchen next year, etc.,
I should mention that Stewarding has a 10 day deep cleaning scheduled immediately before the audit so that should help.
It's the whole concept of 'we only need to work properly 2-3 days per year to pass the audit' that irritates me.
I mentioned that we should be ready to conduct an audit on any given day and I was met with blank stares ...
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Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
I would talk with engineering and see how they did last time.  Something is odd here.  How long have you been at the job?  If they've been passing all this time I wouldn't worry about passing, your job is to be as genial as possible to anyone and everyone who walks through the kitchen.  If you can't make it, fake it.
Joined Oct 10, 2005
My thoughts are that the engineering dept. never took kitchen maintainence seriously, and has not budgeted manpower or materials for the kitchen. Now its everything at once.

If you have diplomatic "wriggle room" you get together and do a monthly "hit list": This month you do maintainence on the walk in compressors, next month its the steam kettles, next month half of the freestanding fridges, etc., etc.

Just my thoughts...
Joined Feb 8, 2009
I had a foodservice management company that did in house corp and employee cafeterias and catering. It was up to me to fulfill the requests of my clients and also follow, meet and succeed contract goals. In many cases the health dept would come to me and ask " Is there anything you want done in the kitchen that I can help with". The idea being if the health dept speaks, upper management reacts. I used this method on many occasions. This put the pressure on my client/ management and off of my back. If management didn't take it serious I would explain to the health dept on the next inspection to bring it up again. The health dept knows how to get the point across. I also had to work with all other departments that put me in a situation of trying to get something done being an outsider. The maintenance dept would look at me saying " Your wants and needs are at the bottom of our list". I learned early to pick and choose my battles. I had my employees cater to the maintenance dept taking good care of them with food, fast service and so on. This way when my in house manager and employees wanted something done, maintenance took good care of us. It's a lot like, you scratch my back,I'll scratch yours. In your case I would write up a report with everything that needs to be accomplished by the other departments in other to get a high grade during the HAACP audit. This information puts it totally on the GM's back. If the audit isn't good, who does he have to blame????? You can't change what you can't change. Pass on the info to the people who can accomplish  it and move on. This happens all the time when your dealing in a large operation with many different department's. The Engineering Dept looks at this audit thinking " The kitchen has been like this for years"  now the new guy has to make waves. Go with the flow, be happy and learn that your not going to change this attitude overnight.......Happy New Year.......ChefBillyB
Joined Oct 31, 2012
All excellent suggestions. Scheduling repairs, health dept. involvement, taking care of what you can as you go. 

I'd follow all of them.

     As a former self employed person, the biggest learning curve for me has been learning to listen and understand others point of view in a corporate environment. When I owned the business, money and opportunity were my only barriers to getting things done. Money for parts and tools and the time to get it done.

     Which is to say that the engineering/maintenance staff may be lazy and useless. Or they may, as was suggested, not have the budget, the money for tools, lack of communication, the knowledge for specific repairs, or get shut down by management when they make a recommendation for specific jobs, the need for parts, or more money.  All you really need to do is to quietly, nicely, firmly and continually communicate your ideals and the standards you wish to see. When possible and effective, show through action or explanation. 

     Eventually, everyone will get on board. Good employees want to take pride in their work place, they typically either don't know how to get there or are given no support from management. Typically because management is poor or because management doesn't know how to get there either. So over time, you can outline the goals and a plan for achieving them. 

Interestingly, I've found that the lazy, poor employees who don't find an atmosphere conducive to their poor, lazy style will often quit on their own once they see changes coming. Positive, hardworking employees will work harder and do their best to get to and maintain the new high standards. 

So this audit is just the beginning of a long, eventually successful process. 
Joined Jan 1, 2017
Thanks everyone for the warm welcome and excellent advice.
I'm tending to agree with the 'let it flow' approach at this point. My concerns have been raised to the correct parties and are documented in black & white.
Engineering feels their standards are good enough and see no reason to improve. My predecessor didn't seem to mind so of course I look like a troublemaker for pushing to meet a minimum standard.
As mentioned , I may find the auditor to be helpful if he shares my views on the hardware and includes it in his report.
Thanks again everyone;
Some pretty knowledgeable and helpful folks on here :)
Joined Oct 31, 2012
      After some reflection on your situation, I'd like to offer this advice. Take the blame going forward. 

What I mean is that you should not tell others that their standards are too low.  No one likes to feel bad about their work, whether or not they deserve to. The old chef is gone and whatever he did or didn't do is done. Whether he should or shouldn't have is no longer relevant. The engineering department held to the standard they were given and so did everyone else. 

     So going forward, you express what it is you want to accomplish, and enlist others help in getting there, making clear that it is something you want, not something that should have been done already or isn't good enough. So in essence, you take all the heat. "That new chef is very demanding." "The new chef has high expectations." "The new chef is always fixing/changing things". 

That's right. Yesterday is over. 

   As things improve, be sure to publicly thank and compliment those who have helped. By which I mean, when Frank passes by, don't be shy about saying clearly and directly in front of others, "Hey Frank, Thanks again for all your help in doing….". 

Frank will be pleased at the acknowledgement and those in earshot will get the message that you aren't always a negative nelly. 

Once your vision becomes clearer, others may offer ideas of their own. Be sure to have open ears and an open mind for that. 

Like I said in the previous post, poor employees will grumble and mumble but will eventually get out of the way and good employees will step up. But essentially it is now all about you. 
Joined Jan 25, 2013
As a maintenance professional with over 40 years in the field, a Director of Engineering who says stuff is "Good enough" needs to be replaced.  There is no good enough when you are talking food safety.  You have made your feelings known to management.  Now you need to document any equipment issue that could cause a food safety issue.  I'm saying every loose bolt, bad freezer seal, leaky pipe.  write it up, copy to big boss, dir of E, and one for yourself.  I hate the "cover your as*" mentality but you have been forced into that situation.
Joined Aug 26, 2016
A change in culture is never easy. You basically need to ride the line between your expectations & what your staff was used to. Give some leeway, but move the culture.

As for discipline, I would start with verbal (still document the verbal for your records). After a verbal, I would formall document a repeat situation. Also, never discuss an issue with a staff member without a witness (another manager).

It is common to lose staff during serious culture change
..so be prepared to replace people.
Joined Jan 1, 2017
Great responses ;
I've changed my tactics to be a bit more genial. I feel I've stated my case and it's recorded in black & white. Maintenance requests are recorded, superiors have been informed. I know I can be very direct and some find it disconcerting to face issues head on.
We generally need a shift in attitude ; Engineering has stated that the building is 'too old' (35yrs) so it's not really his problem that it's in poor shape. This is annoying. I wonder what the end game plan is , burn it down and put up a new building ???
I informed him that in Europe it's quite common to work in buildings 100+yrs old that are in excellent condition. The key words being 'repair & maintenance'...
As it's been mentioned, a change of mindset won't come overnight so patience and planning seem to be on the agenda for the moment.
Joined May 5, 2010
As many as 36 years ago in culinary school, there was always a emphasis on maintenance management.

To make sure that equipment and surroundings were always kept in tip top shape.

I worked in several places that had,in place, maintenance plans, where records were kept.

Such things as walk-in cooler and freezer temps, steam table wells, fryers, and ovens were all recorded as to their maintenance and upkeep.

When some piece of equipment went down, a phone call brought the service guy in. I believe the place paid a yearly fee to contract this company.

The company only dealt with restaurant and food service equipment. The guys knew their stuff. It was gratifying to have such a service.

And like this thread, I have worked for places that were run down and equipment lacked proper care. The engineers were clueless about restaurant equipment, and gave attitude and finger pointed when it came to having to confront the situation.
Joined Jul 28, 2001

Didn't know you were so young:>).  Long before that I was also educated on the importance of maintenance.

  I made the decision early on that the responsibility of maintenance was not going to be a part my job description if there was an engineering department

on property.

Reasons: to many negative responses from engineering as stated above on reports." No labor for that", "it's fine" "when we get around to it" "probably needs to be replaced" etc.

At two properties, one club, one small private hotel, I requested, in writing, "was the engineering department  responsible for maintenance or just repair". I feel maintaining equipment and such, require preventative maintenance

   .I would witness engineering conducting preventative maintenance on rooms, all public areas, building, grounds,etc.

I'm not saying I would not make routine observations of equipment. but even if I had complete knowledge of the workings of a piece equipment, why is it presumed a Chef would have that knowledge.

Shouldn't that be engineering knowledge?

   I left the hotel for this reason but grabbed the attention of the GM at the club. She had engineering develop a preventative maintenance program with the support of my kitchen. After 6 months, kitchen repair requests/reports went from 100+ to 15.

Just sayin

After beginning conflict, I am still friends and routinely talk with that engineer 36 yrs. later.

Please don't interpret this as "not my job"

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