Finding the right chef for a restaurant can feel a lot like searching for a unicorn – you’re trying to discover someone with an almost-magical combination of cooking, people, and business skills, not to mention a passion for creating a place that your customers will love.
It’s not a quest you can approach by trial and error, because frequent chef changes are bad for the reputation and bottom line of any restaurant.
Luckily, there are no magical powers required for finding the best chef for your restaurant. All it takes is a plan and a commitment to following it through. Here’s a step-by-step guide to hiring the right chef.
Finding the right chef for hire has to start with food-specific skills. So begin by reviewing chef resumes: Have they been professionally trained, or have they learned their skills at culinary jobs? Do they have experience with the cuisine(s) your restaurant serves? Have they developed the ability to work in your restaurant’s service-style?
Once they’ve passed this first level of evaluation, it’s time to interview your top candidates and learn what they’re like.
Of course, food prep is just the first of the skills you’re looking for in a chef for hire. Once you’ve narrowed your list to your top prospects, bring each of them in for an interview.
A key objective here is to get a feel for the potential chef’s personality and how they interact with others. Focus on how each candidate approaches the everyday crises of restaurant life – how do they handle stressful situations? Can they build morale and maintain a solid team spirit?
Also ask about how they approach other key aspects of a chef’s job: Are they organized recordkeepers? Do they interact well with customers on the floor? Do they understand how to approach price and value for purchases?
Stage three of the find-your-chef quest is to taste the proof in their pudding (or pasta, or paella, etc.). There are several approaches to the new chef test. You can ask them to prepare an all-time favorite dish, or an item they’d like to add to your menu. You might even amp up the pressure (good for testing those crisis skills!) by surprising them with a dish that you request on the spot, or with a set of mystery ingredients to make something delicious.
You’ve seen the skills and you’ve tested the food. Now it’s time to check their track record. Call their references, and ask specific questions about the candidate’s best and worst traits, their most delicious dishes (and any that have flopped), how they’ve tackled rough situations (get specific about bad staffers and tough guests), and whether they’d hire them back if they had the chance.
Don’t forget to take your search online. Check out review sites for a customer view of their work at previous gigs. You can also take a look at their social media accounts to see how they think about food outside the daily grind and to get a deeper sense of their personality.
If you’ve found “the one,” congratulations! This hire is the start of a long-term relationship. So put together a package that’s right for you and your new hire.
How much do chefs make in your area? Ensure the salary you bring to the table is in line with local standards. But sweeten the deal by adding benefits and opportunities that are customized to what you’ve learned about them in the interview process – that might mean giving specific days off, promising specific gear, or offering a unique path for growth that shows that you care about their success.
Once they’ve accepted, you’ll be ready to make a little restaurant magic of your own – no unicorns required.
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