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Disharmony in the kitchen......

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
We just opened a new restaurant in a town of about 700 in South Dakota and hired two new culinary school trained chefs, both of who also had experience. The first is an older chef who had left the retaurant business but wanted to return. The second is just a year out of school but has a variety of experience. We hired the older chef just days before we opened because the chef we had hired was injured and required months of therapy. He really helped pull us out of a tough situation and I want to be fair but he is making the lives of the kitchen and wait staff miserable.

My expectation (which was expressed in specific terms before he started) was to hire him in the Head/Executive role and for him to have full responsibility for the kitchen. I created the menu (given the timing) and while I have asked repeatedly for his input and suggestions, he has declined. He is having the other chef do all of the prep work except for the meat cutting. He has even had her create and place all of the vendor orders.

The biggest issue is how he treats the rest of the staff. He is generally angry and condescending making uncalled for remarks and being just generally rude to all of the staff. They are afraid to ask him questions or approach him about issues. I had hoped for a generally happy kitchen but have gotten one that is fraught with stress and angst.

To give you some background, we do not have any restaurant experience but have run an upscale hunting lodge for 5 years with good results. I am also a partner/owner in a national consulting firm and work with high powered physician and hospital executives on a daily basis. Neither of these ventures have nearly the stress or drama that we have in the new restaurant in the kitchen. As an aside, we do good bar business and we don't have any of these issues with our bar manager and the staff in her area.

Are we being unrealistic to expect him to treat the staff with respect and fairness and to actually take responsibility for the job he is being paid to do? We have had alot of compliments on our food but even if the kitchen was running smoothly and getting food out in time (it isn't), I don't think his behavior is appropriate. We have had almost daily discussions about our expectations but it seems to be getting worse rather than better. During a meeting this morning, he told us that the kitchen had to be a dictatorship we told him if that was the case then it had to be a benevolent one.....not a tyranical one. He disagreed. I have had about enough and am looking to find someone else.

Does anyone have any experience working with someone like this and if so, what has worked to make things better - or are we better off just moving on...Any input would be appreciated.
post #2 of 21
He himself is an unhappy person. For your own good start interviewing but not at your place. Hire someone else, pull this chef aside and tell him it is not working out. For your own good document everything he does or says to staff. You say things are getting worse, sure because other staff is saying to themselves "why should I kill myself for him" Possibly the younger chef can do the job? If you feel he can give him the shot, he will work hard to prove himself. Good Luck
CHEFED
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CHEFED
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post #3 of 21
if the other chef is already doing everything but the meat cutting - fire the trouble maker. the unrest in the kitchen isn't worth it. eventually anyone you have that is worthwhile will quit as they don't need to put up with that crap. ask the other chef if she wants the position - even if just for the interim period while you find someone else. if she's already doing the job well, then hire a good sous.
kathee
post #4 of 21
Having owned a hunting lodge you will know what "cull the herd" means.

No one wants to work for a jerk.
Fluctuat nec mergitur
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Fluctuat nec mergitur
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post #5 of 21
Gawd knows I've been on both ends of "the Boot" so I say this with that in mind. :rolleyes: You've got to give the person an honest to goodness chance. And if you've done that and tried and tried to get that point a cross and it's just not taking it probably never will. "So.....If you're tired of the same old story.....turn some pages";)
post #6 of 21
our current sous chef is the same way, nobody likes him. we have probably lost about 10 people over the past 3 years because of him. BUT....the chef knows that he isn't going anywhere, so he can use him however he wants. i have tried to get used to him, but when he corrects you every single time you make a tiny mistake, and he can screw up 3 batches of sabayon (while I'm covering his station while he makes it) it tends to get a little frustrating. so yeah, off my soapbox now, if the guy sucks and you risk losing good people because of it, it might be time to side with the needs of the kitchen.
Life's too short to eat bad food and drink bad wine.
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Life's too short to eat bad food and drink bad wine.
www.marcomacon.com
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post #7 of 21
that kind of person in the kitchen is toxic..i don't think you'll be very successful in changing him..that's who he is, miserable and small minded..its a self security problem always looking to correct or blame someone else..its hard enough working in a kitchen without the extra stress of a napolean(and i don't mean the pastry)..personally, i'd get rid of him..you need harmony in the kitchen, not chaos!..but, another poster suggested perhaps having a little chat with him first, before you show him the door..it might make things worse if he thinks you are now not satisfied with him..he might hold some kind of grudge and could make things really bad for the staff...btw, is there enough business in a town of 700 to support a restaurant with 2 culinary trained chefs? guess i just don't think of south dakota as being the high end type of place. thought it was all cowboys and indians!..silly me,i guess..what type of fare?
one more thought..somewhere down the line this chefs attitude willroll down to your customers..you are opening a NEW restaurant, so you really need to put 'your best foot forward' at the get go!

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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post #8 of 21
Yeah, go with the prevailing sentiment...86 the bastard. He's a cancer and, despite the fact that he can make nice food, he will end up costing you more in monetary and human costs in the long run. Unless the guy's a budding Ducasse,throw him out unceremoniously on his ear. Happy kitchens are the only way to go.
post #9 of 21
Nothing will sink the ship faster, than trouble among the staff. This is particularly true if the disharmony is between decision makers.
If you allow this to continue, you will lose control of your kitchen, your investment and your goals.
The time to intervene is now.
post #10 of 21
**** skippy Mannlicher...And he may just achieve hero status in the kitchen for slaying the dragon and bringing order back.
post #11 of 21
I would like to add there is and should be a distinct difference between true disharmony and the typical staff rotten eggs.

From what grandciel stated there seems to be a very real lack of communication/understanding between the powers that be. But I have been subject to and often seen where the staff, because of the Chef trying to regain control or inprove the situation/standing/systems/operations etc....meets a great amount of resistance. It usually starts with one and then cascades from there. That has always been a very disturbing fact of this business and one that will probaly never be eliminated.

I just wanted to make sure this was mentioned.:bounce:
post #12 of 21
Sorry but culinary trained doesn't mean what it used to. All the late night TV ads I see for cupcake school crack me up. It's like bartending school or business college. What the heck is business college anyway? Isn't that where they teach you to become a secretary? You need to go to school for that?

Most kids I've worked with fresh out of school had little clue how to actually perform in a real kitchen. Oh, but they thought they did. Don't get me wrong I know there are some great schools out there who are turning out some great chefs. But I see a trend of inferior schools trying to cash in on the rock star chef thing.

I had an applicant write on his application that he wanted to be a chef. But he didn't have the money for culinary school. He was passionate about working in a restaurant environment and said he would do so until he earned the money for culinary school. So in my cynical mind I'm thinking, by the time you earn enough money, by working in a restaurant, to pay for culinary school, you won't need to go to culinary school.

Sorry for my rant. I guess I could have just said many culinary school graduates end up in places like South Dakota.

No offense to South Dakota. Custard Park and MT Rushmore blew me away.
post #13 of 21
While the meaning of "full responsibility for the kitchen" might be obvious to most people, it is kind of vague and open to interpretation. He might see "full responsibility" as a license to delegate everything to underlings. It would be helpful to you and him to be more specific in your expectations. I'll get to why it's better for you in a minute.

This behavior is a good indicator that he's really not that interested in managing and controlling the whole operation as executive chefs are expected to do. While chefs may or may not do the prep work, it certainly falls under the general job description to develop menus and maintain stock par lists to generate vendor orders, thus controlling inventory and costs.

One phrase that appropriately is bantered around kitchens is "There are no stupid questions, only stupid mistakes." If the staff is afraid to ask him questions, you can be assured that the latter is happening frequently, and costing you money as well. If he doesn't want to hear questions or deal with issues that affect the job the rest of the staff is doing, clearly your chef is just marking time while pulling a paycheck and again, is not interested in controlling the kitchen operations.

His view of kitchen operations and lines of responsibility is outdated, ignorant and ineffective. Even the most tyrannical chefs (effective ones, that is) that I've worked for led by example-they were there longer, worked harder and accomplished more in a shift than any of the rest of us. In an effective and efficient kitchen the staff is a collaborative team-where all people are encouraged to bring their best to the team effort. The chef takes responsibility for focusing and developing the good ideas toward the overall goal (timely service, efficient operations, cost controls) and redirecting the efforts that veer the brigade away from it. Your chef appears to be unwilling to do any of this and seems to be there only to feed his pathetic need to feel powerful. As others have stated, with this situation, you risk driving away truly talented people who are willing and able to the job he's shirking.

Back to the need for job specifics-you should have clear job descriptions for every member of your staff, from the chef down. If you don't, get thee to thy computer and generate them. These descriptions must be clear and specific with daily, weekly and monthly duties spelled out. Give everyone two copies, have them sign it and keep one. This way, fair evaluations can be done, redirection can be focused and lack of compliance can be documented.

Don't just do this for the chef you are having problems with, because it will make him feel singled out for disciplinary action (which he is, but he doesn't need to know that.) He will probably object to your imposing controls in this way, but it's your only way of fairly documenting his lack of cooperation with your requests. Document, in writing, every meeting you have with him to discuss his actions, show him the documentation and have him sign it. If he refuses to sign it, make note of that and have a witness sign. This way you can, if need be, terminate him without fear of him going to the labor board and file a suit for back pay and unemployment. This happens a lot and many employers find themselves shelling out money to a former "deadwood" employee because they failed to document problems before firing.

One optimistic note-there are lots of talented culinarians out there who are able to run a harmonious kitchen-you may already have one in your kitchen. Some might even be willing to move to the beautiful state of SD just to do a good job for you.

Screamer chefs' days are numbered even though the notion is continuously perpetuated by the likes of Gordon Ramsay. Constant stress and drama abound in professional kitchen work without the staff creating it.
Good luck!

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Liquored up and laquered down,
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Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

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post #14 of 21
You need one chef, and one breakfast/lunch cook, maybe one cleanup helper for the kitchen and dining room.
post #15 of 21
Thread Starter 

Thanks to all....

Thanks to all who answered. I appreciate the responses and honesty. It was hard to put everything we are dealing with into the post but it appears that you all "got it."

In reference to the two culinary trained chefs, the youngest is just that - young - and while culinary trained, she needs a mentor. We hired her not so much as a chef but as a lunch cook and prep person. Her training was definitely not "top of the line." The chef has delegated her the other duties....and, each of their duties are defined and written out - he just felt that some of the duties assigned him were apparently beneath his status (although he accepted them when we hired him).

And for all of those "South Dakota" comments, you might just be surprised what we have out her. Yes, a town of 700 can support us because we are the only good dining option within about a 75-150 mile radius. People routinely drive 45-60 minutes for a good evening out. There are "lots" of good restaurants in big cities - why should we enjoy less out here in the country. I just got home today from Chicago, as I travel frequently, and after spending hours on the freeways there, I'm glad to be home again where life is a little more balanced. There are many of us that have come back from cities to regain our roots (and our sanity) - and we like a good meal out once in a while as well as a good drink. We are also in a prime hunting venue and our lodge and others near us regularly host parties that fly in on their own corporate jets which gives us a very upscale clientele 4-5 months of the year. :cool:

Thanks again for your input. It confirmed what I believed, that I can have a harmonious kitchen, given the right people and instructions.
post #16 of 21
I was visiting a friend who is opening at least two if not three places, the first is a casual 6am-midnight place with beignets, sandwiches, salads, etc....independant version of Panera. My buddy is the exec chef, designed the menus, will train the staff and move on within 6 weeks to the next project. The twenty something GM apparently has gratitude issues, he's angry demanding and generally bitchy....my buddy said kitchens are like cows they sense discontent either words said or unsaid.....and that flows ever so quickly from the open kitchen to the dining area. People won't eat where they aren't comfortable. Just seemed relevant to the topic, I like the way he explained what one malcontent can do to a place.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #17 of 21
Grandciel, glad you got the advice.

Though I've never been to S.D (although I grew in Saskatchewan...) I'm curious as to how your State's labour board rules are, in particular the "grace period"

Here in B.C. the one thing that employers do have that works in their favour is the 3 mth "grace period". You can fire anyone-in any position- within 3 mths from hiring without fear of retaliation. One day over that 3 mth period and you want to get rid of slackers, you've got a whole mess of paperwork and cheques to write...

However this works both ways, many times I have noticed a "behavioral change" in employees once they pass the 3 mth period.....

Sounds like you've got a nice business going there otherwise
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #18 of 21
Again in reference to your state's labor laws, you really should check. It is also possible (although not necessarily advisable) to "legally" fire him without documentation. For instance, Illinois is an "At Will" state, meaning that an employee or employer can terminate the employement at any time for any reason. However, you are still better off having documentation if only to help reduce the possibility of a lawsuit.
post #19 of 21
I know that you need one chef in each position all with the same rights. Your the one that calls the shots not them. They need to know that.

And ive found that if you have once a week a meeting where you have everyone from the restaurant meet in one place to play idk a soccer game wiffleball game or something of the sort.

Just something to keep the competition to a game and fun. It also helps people get along.

Good luck! ;)
"Some of us Cook. Some of us Grow. All of us Eat."
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"Some of us Cook. Some of us Grow. All of us Eat."
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post #20 of 21
Thread Starter 

Labor laws

I'm pretty familiar with the labor laws here as I have another business that employs a fairly significant number of people and had a labor lawyer review the state laws prior to moving here. SD is also an "at will state" which means you can terminate for just about any reason except some type of discrimination. The issue is that as an employer, you pay unemployment tax based on an experience rating. The more employees you let go (for whatever reason), the higher your tax. There is also a 90 day "no fault" option if it was discussed at the hiring point (it was) so we have 90 days to make a decision but we are not going to let it go that long. My biggest concern is not labor laws as they apply to him but as they apply to some of the other staff. I have now had kitchen staff describe the kitchen environment as "hostile" and "angry" and believe me, I don't want to get into a situation of having to explain and defend THAT to a judge or jury.

I appreciate everyones help. We have two other options which we are pursuing at this point and I believe we will be in a better place in a couple of weeks. :)

Julie
post #21 of 21
Thread Starter 

Thanks for everyone's help

I just wanted to thank everyone for their help. We did let our EC go and hired a new one (with ties to the community and great ideas and attitude). It has been a great win for everyone. The staff is flourishing under new leadership and we are excited to go into our busiest season. Thanks again for your comments and support
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