Need Advice on Making a Graceful Exit

Joined Mar 16, 2009
So about a year and half ago I posted here looking for advice as my chef was starting to get older and slip a bit mentally, forgetting names of basic sauces and overcooking food. I was covering for him but concerned about where that would go long term and the advice I got was to confront the situation directly and speak to him, which I did, but unfortunately he wasn't willing to hear it and our relationship has seriously degraded.

Over the course of the year he has slowly eased into an arrangement where he only works nights if absolutely necessary and I cover most dinners by myself. He orders haphazardly without keeping any kind of inventory or even having an organized process for ordering from week to week, and takes it for granted that I will double check everything and correct his mistakes. He doesn't seem able to develop menus or cost out special requests, and the banquet manager just goes to straight to me for those things now, but it's kind of alarming since 1) He's supposed to be the executive chef and 2) he's been doing this for a really long time and I know that at some point he was totally capable of doing it himself. One of the most critical problems is that he can't remember his meat temperatures and has given up on meat thermometers, insisting that he can eyeball when a standing rib roast is done. Of course, he can't, so I am chasing behind him with a thermometer all day and arguing with him about the meat needing to go back in or come out constantly.

All of this is compounded by the fact the owner/GM is unwilling to really act on any of these problems. He's aware of the problems, and actually came to me about them before I came to him, but his plan is to just leave things how they are and have me run the kitchen from behind the chef's back. We basically walk around pretending that he's in charge and then all of his decisions are run by me once he goes home. I am totally uncomfortable with this, and since the chef doesn't realize what's happening, he's constantly overriding decisions I've made and nobody is on the same page.

Clearly, I need to move on. I know that much. But I could really use advice on:

1) How to stick it out without ruining a reference that accounts for the past five years of my work experience. I'm really trying to keep my cool but the stress of having to do the executive chef job without having the power (or the pay for that matter) is wearing my nerves mighty thin. I'm really angry with both my chef and the GM for putting this on me and it's hard not to let it show.

2) How to make the transition from banquets to a restaurant. I've been at a club for five years now, concentrated heavily in banquets, and so I'm getting offers from hotels and catering, but unfortunately in my area that usually means lower quality food. I think this is a good opportunity for me to get more rounded out by working in a different setting and working under chefs who are doing more modern, seasonal stuff, but I don't know how to sell myself for work which honestly is a little out of my comfort zone. (I have spent some time in a la carte kitchens and I'm pretty strong on my fundamentals). I've also gotten my ServSafe and started going to culinary school early mornings, figuring both of those would help.

I really appreciate any advice you guys can give. 
Joined Nov 24, 2010
People I know always have said that they would rather hire someone with good character and train themselves than to hire a person with high skills with unworkable personality.  The willingness to work, I think is a big one.  It seems that you're a good guy who is willing to learn.  I think you'll get the job you want and deserve.

It sounds as though you have already found some chefs whom you want to work for.  I suggest that you let them know about you and your goal.  During the interview, you can explain the reason why you are leaving your current job, which I think they will ask anyhow.  Any good chef would understand the frustration of a cook who want to cook good food under a management who oppose it.

Since you are thinking of quitting, you can write out a formal resignation letter which you can fill in today's date (which is effective date), and the last date of your employment (which usually is two weeks from the effective date) after you secure a job.  It seems that those guys are making your life a lot harder than it needs to, but be professional.  In the letter, make clear of your intent (to quit), explanation (personal, and professional/career goal), appreciation note, offer to help (during the transition, and for the transition, say, train the new guy they hire until you quit), and a good end not (wish your company the best, kind of stuff).

I wish you the best.
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Joined Jul 28, 2001

I'm going to be a real jerk and tell you the way I see things from what you wrote. It appears like you made your own bed.

Taking on the responsibilities and enabling the situation to get to this point.  Probably a good learning experience in

a positive way. I'm going to take a shot and say you are relatively young in the industry. You just need to figure out where you want to be in a couple of years and be happy getting there. This industry is not quite like others. Short tenure and movement

is normal and usually necessary to advance. You can't really worry about references. Youu're the reference. Keep things professional and carry with you you're achievements. Try not to put any of your personal business in the street.  A new chef might not understand your current situation.

You might just be ready to make a bigger jump.

I know I sound like and old fart, cause I am :>D

The best of luck to you.

Joined Mar 16, 2009

I definitely agree that this has been a good learning situation, kind of a crash course in kitchen management. I guess the problem is that there's a lot more stress than learning going on these days. 

Also, I'm not saying I don't have any responsibility for enabling my chef, but just to be clear, I'm following orders from the GM. I have been directly instructed to second guess the chef and disobey him when I think his judgement is off. And as soon as I realized that the GM was going to allow this to continue indefinitely I've been making every effort to find something better, but I have two young kids and my state's hospitality industry is struggling at best right now. I realize that it's common at my age to move around a lot while gaining experience, but I'm just reluctant to burn bridges. However frustrated I am with these folks, I still wouldn't feel good about screwing them over...though if something doesn't change, it seems inevitable that they'll do it to themselves with or without me.

Thanks though, I always appreciate honest advice, however brutal.
Joined Aug 21, 2009
Make sure that you leave on good terms and when you give them  your letter make sure you include that you are moving on for career development reasons and that you have enjoyed and learned alot during your time there.  I have always left jobs on a positive note (even ones that I hated with a passion) and from that I have always  strong references I can call upon if I need to.  Mind you alot of the jobs I have left were not in this business as this is a second career for me, but even the ones I have left in this business the managers have always been willing to speak as a reference for me.  The only exception to that is the hospital job I left for my current place.  I worked nightshift in the cafeteria that was run by the volunteer association.  My immediate superior had NO foodservice experience whatsoever and the big boss was a bully also with NO foodservice experience.  She tried her tactics on me and well it did not work.  I had many talking to's from her and on my last day there she came in to "talk" to me and the end result of the "talk" was me telling her that "I have tendered my resignation so your words have no bearing on me and since you felt it so important to correct me on my last day you can finish my shift for me" and I got my bag, signed out and left.  Needless to say I don't think I will get a glowing reference from her but it is a place I'd rather forget anyway. 

At the end of the day you need to do what is best for you and if leaving your current place is what is best then you need to take those steps and  move on to something else.  This has been a good experience for you and you have shown that you can manage a kitchen so you might want to use that experience to your advantage in your job search.

Best of luck to you and keep us posted as to your progress
Joined Jul 28, 2001

I'm still a little confused. How is finding something better and giving notice  going to screw them over?  These are just my thoughts and not advice. As an employer, I am more interested

in what you have achieved during your time at the club., and what you can bring to the table.  Seems you've learned quite a bit. I'm not interested in what drama went on.

What's the best case scenario for the future there? The GM offers you the Chefs job? The current situation is a result of a poor management decision on his part. Keeping an unproductive

department head and not addressing the problem leads me to believe he would not have much to offer you. Is this a country club? They are kind of a different animal. Usually member driven

with budget funding coming at one time in the year. Might also want to formulate a list of learning opportunities there and grab any free knowlege. A/P, A/R, inventory. payroll etc. Might reduce the stress.

brutal is not even in my thought process.


take care of those kiddoes and spend time with them. Before you know it they will be grown and gone.
Joined Jan 19, 2011
Everything that must be said has been said by others already. I'm an executive chef now but I was a cook for something like 10 years, I've faced your situation too more than once (or a very similar), and now I have people that quits in my restaurant, not very often, but they do for genuine  reasons, I've been on both sides of the situation that you're mentioning.

Something that I appreciate (And the chef's that I've worked with appreciated from me when I was leaving their kitchens) are the following 2 points:

1) Leave on a high note with positive attitude. No matter how much you dislike your job, be polite, clear and professional on your resignation (Both, verbal and on writting)

2) Quit with at least 2 weeks in advance to give them the chance of hiring somebody else, and mention that you'll train the new guy to do your job if they want .

For me it worked 99% of the time... Of course I worked once with a real b"[email protected] that somehow enjoyed humilliating the staff, and thay guy didn't deserved any courtesy from me, of course I didn't get a good reference from this guy, but I didn't care at the time and I still don't care.

In my place when a guy quits like a professional, we write a good reference for him/her and we tell them that in case that they want to come back and if we have an opening, they will be very welcome  if things in the other company don't work out  well for them... And I stick to my word.

Looks like you're a guy that has some experience under your belt, you'll be fine/img/vbsmilies/smilies/thumb.gif  take care and keep us updated /img/vbsmilies/smilies/chef.gif
Joined Mar 16, 2009

The GM has made it clear that he's expecting me to take over the Chef job. It is a country club. For a variety of reasons, I'd rather move on elsewhere as a line cook of sous and keep learning than make this place my final destination. I just got a call today for a second interview with an Irish gastropub which is trying to incorporate farm-to-table, and I have a good feeling about that. It's totally different than what I'm doing now, but I got a really good vibe off the Chef and I think it's a good opportunity for me to round out my skills a bit. 

Thanks everyone, it's just good to hear that everyone else has gone through something like this and got through it. It looks like there's a good chance I'll have something else this week, and the next two weeks at the club we have several nice functions I wrote menus for, so if all goes well I can leave on a positive note at least! 
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