Posted by DC1346 at 08/24/13 10:46:38I tried posting a reply but it was too long. Having anticipated this, I've divided my reply into two parts.
I'm a vegan chef living in Arizona. I've visited Scotland before and enjoyed the experience but I'm heading up to Vegas for a job interview and will most likely be employed by the end of this coming week.
Since you've asked about how to hire a chef, would I be wrong in assuming that you have no prior restaurant experience? If you don't have experience, are you quite sure you want to do this? Restaurants are more likely to prosper if the management have prior experience. Competition can be fierce and those restaurants which survive are those which pay close attention to their profit margins.
An experienced manager will keep costs down while maximizing food quality and service. An experienced manager will also know how to market his or her business.
Four of the biggest mistakes I've seen in the restaurant industry are:
1) Inexperienced owners/managers (which affect operations)
2) Insufficient funding (in general, it may take as long as a year for a restaurant to be well established which means that sufficient funds have to be available to bankroll the business through the lean times)
3) Insufficient marketing (There is a misconception that if you open a restaurant, people will come ... but this isn't necessarily true. You could have the great chef in the world, but if nobody knows you exist, you won't get any business.)
4) New restaurants consume an inordinate amount of time to start up which can put a strain on families, relationships, and marriages. Inexperienced owners who aren't familiar with how time consuming a restaurant can be have sometimes been faced with some rather difficult choices ... keeping the restaurant open or keeping a relationship or marriage afloat.
On the subject of restaurant operations, it is absolutely critical for the owner/manager to know what he/she is doing because if you don't know what you're doing, how can you properly evaluate job applicants? How can you supervise them? How can you train them?
A common mistake that's made by novices in the food service industry is the assumption that anyone can serve. Although anyone can be TRAINED to serve, it is important to train staff.
The first impression any customer to your restaurant will have after stepping into your business and seeing the decor will be made by your front of the house staff i.e. the host/hostess and servers.
These people should know the menu backwards and forwards. They should know the ingredients used to make each dish. When asked what's good, they should have a constructive opinion.
I've been in restaurants where servers have ignored me as a customer because they've been too busy chatting on cell phones or talking to each other. I've had servers so poorly trained that they delivered appetizers AND main entrees at the same time ... and after having delivered these food items, their lack of training has extended to the advertisement of food i.e. "Who ordered the chef's salad and cream of mushroom soup?"
Servers should know how to suggestively sell without seeming overly pushy i.e. on a cold day, the server might ask the customer if he/she would like a bowl of French onion soup or Cream of mushroom to start. A server might suggest beverages to accompany a meal and after the customer has dined, the server might offer a selection of desserts.
Not only is it in the server's best interests to suggestively sell food items because it maximizes gratuities, but suggestively selling food will also maximize your profits.
If you build a restaurant operation with effective communications between the kitchen staff and wait staff, so much the better. The chef can reduce wastage by using fresh ingredients before they expire and the servers can promote specific items (either menu items or daily specials) to assist the kitchen in using these items before they expire and have to be tossed out.
Related to this thought, in designing a menu do you know how to calculate your food costs and to price a menu? Do you have standardized recipes to use that incorporate appropriate portion controls? Do you have a vision for how a given menu item should be plated? Do you know anything about ordering wholesale food supplies or how to receive, inspect, date, label, and store in-coming food shipments according to FIFO and general food safety and sanitation standards? Are you familiar with the health and safety codes for your area?
As a chef and as a former restaurant manager, I subscribe to the belief that management should be able to do any job in the restaurant. It is not necessary for you to be 100% proficient at any given job ... but you should know how to do it.
If you know how to do it, you know what the job entails and can then supervise the person or persons doing that job. You will also have the skill set needed to train other people to do this job. Since restaurants are notorious for having relatively high rates of employee turnover and/or no calls/no show, having a manager who can fill in for any unanticipated vacancy would be a positive boon. In a newly established restaurant, this could well mean the difference between that business's success or failure.
On the flip side of the coin, if you can't fill in for a given position, the employee(s) in that position will have you over the proverbial barrel. I've seen restaurant owners literally intimidated by mere line cooks because the line cook has known that if he/she walked off the job, the owner would have to close the restaurant for that shift since no one else could fill in for that critical slot.
(To be continued)
Posted by DC1346 at 08/24/13 10:47:04PART TWO
Since you asked about how to hire a chef,you have many options.
1) Advertise in a newspaper.
2) Post an ad on an internet food services job board.
3) Talk to a whole sale food or equipment supplier.
4) Use a recruiting agency.
I hope you won't assume that all chefs are the same. Anyone can dress the part by donning a white jacket and toque. When the kitchen is "in the weeds," (popular slang in the states for being really busy), will this chef be able to handle the pressure while still turning out highly quality, attractively plated, and properly portioned meals?
What to Look For in a Chef
When interviewing candidates for your executive chef position, you will want to consider the following:
Do you share a common philosophy? Employ a chef who understands your concept and has a similar philosophy on customer service. You need someone who's a team player and will share your vision of the restaurant. If you don't share a common vision, you could be butting heads down the road.
Credentials. Is your chef really a chef? Has he or she gone to a reputable culinary school? Does he/she have appropriate work experience? Will this person be able to handle a high volume of business within a relatively short time frame or will this person crack under the stress? (Verify the credentials by contacting the references.)
Leadership skills. The chef will be the leader of your kitchen. Does this person have leadership skills? Can this person supervise and train others? Is this person an effective communicator? What is this person's leadership style? You ideally want someone who's firm, fair, and consistent - not someone who acts like a bully or tyrant.
Cooking ability. Once you've screened your applicants, select the top 3 and have each candidate prepare a menu item. Choose the same menu item for each candidate. Communication and leadership skills are all very fine and well but can this person cook? Can this person use appropriate seasoning? Can this person plate a meal that looks appetizing? Did this person prepare this meal within a reasonable amount of time? (Pretend that you're a customer in a restaurant. How long will it take for you to get a meal once you've ordered it?)
Cost optimization. When testing your chef, include a paper test with various food costs problems. See what kind of dishes this person could create for a sale price that doesn't kill your profit margin and/or turn away customers because the dishes are too expensive. (To do this, you'll need a price listing of cost per kilogram for various commonly used products. It would also be wise to provide the applicant with paper, a pencil, and a pocket calculator.)
The best advice I can give you is this. If you don't know anything about restaurant operations, DON'T OPEN ONE. If you insist upon opening a restaurant, I would suggest that you first find a job with a well established restaurant. Work at this place for at least a year to develop some valuable insights as to do's and don'ts for a successful business.
One of the biggest don'ts? Don't used processed foods. This is yet another novice mistake. The use of processed foods such as frozen potato pancakes and frozen mashed potatoes is convenient and reduces your need for a trained kitchen staff. This is all well and good but whenever you use processed foods, you're surrendering control over food quality AND you're paying for the convenience of using this processed food item.
Not only will food taste better when it's made from scratch but your overall food costs will be lower.
There's a local diner where I live that's slowly dying. During its hey day, everything was made from scratch and the business thrived. At some point, the restaurant began using canned vegetables instead of freshly made vegetables. They began grilling frozen 3.5 oz. premade patties instead of hand pressing fresh ground beef. Their soup is canned. Their chili is canned. Their gravy is powdered. Their salad comes pre-cut and premixed in gallon sized plastic bags.
Is it any wonder that their business has fallen off?
Casa Manana, a Mexican restaurant just down the street does a thriving business largely because all of their food is made from scratch. During lunch and dinner, I've seen this Mexican restaurant have a waiting line of customers that literally goes out the door. In contrast, the diner I wrote of earlier has 2 tables occupied while the rest sit empty. The absentee owner is slowly going out of business because the service is pathetic and the food is ghastly.
Discerning customers can of course, tell the difference and when you think about it, why would anyone pay you to serve them processed food when they can just as easily purchase similar products in a supermarket and cook them at home for a much cheaper price?
If you insist upon opening a restaurant, I've done my best to give you some constructive pointers in this rather long post.