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Finding and Retaining Kitchen Staff

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
So last night we lost our head dishwasher after he showed up to work high out of his mind and started screaming at the head chef and I for causing all of his personal problems. This was the finale of several weeks of poor behavior, so we weren't totally unprepared, but we are still in the bad position of heading into the busy season without a full-time dishwasher.

I've taken on the responsibility of finding/screening candidates and setting up interviews with the owner and head chef, and while it's easy in this economy to get people to apply, it's a lot harder to find people who are really willing to do this kind of work, and are at the same time capable of being professional and reliable. It boils down to two problems I think, and I would welcome any advice.

1) Finding staff. How do you find people who are willing to work for low wages, doing difficult work, and having no set hours or guarantee of any minimum hours/week. (We do banquets, so we only work when there's a function, whether that means 10 hours/week or 65/week...) The obvious solution at first was to use culinary students on summer vacation, but every one that I've talked to seems to think they're going to walk out of the classroom and become an executive chef without scrubbing a few pots!

2) Retaining staff. It really isn't hard to get someone who's desperate for work to take the job, but keeping them is another story. No matter how good an employee seems at first, in the end they flake on us and the two of us are left holding the bag.

I worked my way up from the bottom. I raised a kid for a few years on dishwasher's pay. I have tremendous respect for our guys and do everything I can to stick up for them and make them part of the brigade, not just our gophers or mess-moppers. Is it just that hard to find good help? Looking back at myself in that position, I guess the only things keeping me there were desperation (I had a family to feed) and my drive to move up in the kitchen.
post #2 of 26
Low wages, no set hours, hard work? What do you expect. Like in anything else you get what you pay for.
Give consideration to retirees and workig housewives, as this is all your going to get. For what you offer they are better off on unemployment and not useing gas to come to work.:(
post #3 of 26
It's not too often that Ed and I are 100% in agreement, but this is surely one of those times.

Are you listening to yourself? I don't believe that you ever worked under those conditions, nor do I find it surprising that you can't find or retain anyone for that job. I have, in the past, worked at some of the most menial jobs in the country---including spreading manure at minimum wage. When you have small mouths to feed you do whatever it takes. But I can't imagine working for you, given your stated criterium.

I'd also hate to think, given the interview process you're putting part-time dishwashers through, what it would take to become a cook in your establishment.

>Is it just that hard to find good help? <

No, it isn't. But you have to provide a good job to get them. Instead, you want an employee who will give you 110%, but to whom you give nothing back.

I'm sure you believe you're conducting a rational job hunt. But, from what you've said, here's the job description I'm hearing.

1. Menial position offering no steady work and no chance for advancement.
2. Minimum wage offered, with no benefits.
3. Applicant must be available at all times based on our beck and call.

Do you really expect to find a "good" employee who'll put up with that for more than the time it takes to find a real job?
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #4 of 26
I have found the formula for success with employees to be quite simple--pay them well and treat them well.
post #5 of 26
My Old dishwasher is now my vending manager. The thing I look for are givers and not takers. Takers are never happy, and givers are always happy. Hire people with a smile, it they don't smile during the interview, they arn't going to smile during their shift. I would try to find incentives to get this person motavated.There isn't anything exciting going on around the dishwasher, except when the garbage disposal breaks down. Everyone takes advantage of the dishwasher untill he doesn't show up. Then we find out how hard this job really is.................Pay them well and Respect everyone in the kitchen.................Bill
post #6 of 26
It really comes down to keeping your staff motivated, valuing them, and creating an environment people want to work in. Although they are scrubbing pots and pans for little pay, they need to see the value in it.

Of course it helps to hire the people with a strong work ethic to start with but if you continually see high turnover in your business, it is very possible that it is the management style that needs to be altered as all industries face the same issue regardless if it is a restaurant, hardware store, UPS, sales environment or college admissions office.

If you have a few hours, read "The Three Signs of a Miserable Job" by Patrick Lencioni.

It may help you see your situation in a slightly different way. Good luck.
See the truth about the culinary education industry at 
See the truth about the culinary education industry at 
post #7 of 26
Maybe you already do this to some extent, but you might consider having the cooks do dishes.
You could hire a prep/dishwasher, one that is going to gain food knowledge as incentive.
They will also see that no one is above doing dishes, which goes a long way towards showing them that the job is important.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
post #8 of 26
I have had many people over the years that just wanted a job that they didn't have to "THINK". We all think everyone wants to move up and better themselves. The only bad thing is, with moving up you have more responsibility and these people dont want that. They don't want to have to think. They go to work and don't worry about anything. Its just the way it goes, it hasn't changed in years, don't think its going to change any time soon....................Bill
post #9 of 26
Thread Starter 
Whoa, let me clarify here. I am speaking generally about dishwashing for banquets. It is inherently difficult, and relatively low-paying (like all kitchen work) compared to other jobs. Everyone, myself included, has their hours limited by the nature of the business. We actually pay better than the average in our area, but it still isn't a **** of a lot. I can push for people to get raises, but ultimately the pay rate isn't my decision.

Also, not only have I worked under these conditions, but I have worked under these conditions at THIS restaurant. Not only that, but under the original management that was there when I started, I made a dollar less per hour than we're currently offering, and I was treated *much* worse by much less competent managers/chefs.

I have done everything I can to make the job better, and I understand that it's still a hard sell. That said, it's a good place to start in the kitchen and the owner is great about giving raises to people once they've shown they deserve it. The economy sucks. And the argument that no one will ever do it is pure BS; I did it for more than a year before moving up. There are people willing to work, the question is how to find them and what can I do (short of changing the minimum wage, which is out of my hands) to help them stay.
post #10 of 26
Xjm---not sure what your interview process is but you may want to add pre-employment drug screening to the process.

The job that is being offered from a pay perspective is not worthwhile for most people--its just too unreliable.

The position itself is one that is typically looked down upon by other staff both FOH and BOH. The poor lowly dishwasher ends up having to serve many masters and becomes severely over burdened, some would say abused, for the lowest pay in the place.
post #11 of 26
What is the inherent value in a job as dishwasher?
post #12 of 26
Thread Starter 
Everyone from owner and head chef down does dishes when necessary, and we always try to involve the dishwashers in prep and move them up if they show any talent or initiative. I do agree with a lot of what's being said, dishwashers *are* very important. I don't think it's fair that they make so little money, but it's a reality I can't change.

On the other hand, I don't have a lot of sympathy for someone who has less expenses and better pay/conditions than I did as a dishwasher, but can't be bothered to show up on time and/or sober, then complains about the pay or how we treat them.
post #13 of 26
Thread Starter 
I totally agree. I've had to take a hard line on how both our staff in BOH and the FOH treat dishwashers; they quickly fall into the habit of barking orders are them. The problem I've had, is that even when using raises for incentive, or arranging for cleaning/maintenance days just to give them more hours, it doesn't seem to yeild any reliability.

The guy I mentioned in my original post, for example: He was late more than an hour about a dozen times, and did 3 no-shows in a row. Taking into account how well he worked when he was there, we decided not to fire him or yell at him, but for me to sit down and talk to him to see what the problem was and if we could work something out so he'd commit to being there when we needed him. In the end I was able to get him $2/hr over the minimum, a guarantee of 30+ hours/week, and a plan to train him to work more on prep and to oversee the other dishwashers, which would lead to another raise.

Long story short, he misses the next day because he's hungover, comes to work the day after high out of his mind, and leaves in the middle of 2 parties, one of which added 50 people at the last minute, because he needed to get out before the package stores closed.

Are the job conditions partly to blame? Sure. But I'm not buying that this is all our fault.
post #14 of 26
I have a few requirments for the Dishwashing position. Two arms, two legs. don't put your hand in the garbage disposal, know the difference between hot and cold. Don't show up drunk..............Thats about it, what the heck do you thiunk your going to get for $9 bucks an hour, this isn't rocket science.................Bill
post #15 of 26
Thread Starter 
The last guy was getting $10 and giving me less. And I used to wash dishes *and* cook for $8. I didn't like it, but I needed to take care of my kids and I figured it was better to getting experience and crap pay than collecting unemployment and putting a blank spot on my resume.
post #16 of 26
The sad thing is there are few people like you any more. Most people WOULD rather collect's almost like they think they're too good to wash dishes.

Sadly....dishwashing seems to attract a troubled lot of people. And when you find someone who is dedicated and does a good job invariably they end up all of a sudden not showing up to work for a week or so and you find out that they have a serious drug problem. Or money starts going missing from people's handbags....and tip pools.

I agree with you about most culinary school grads...not all for sure....but most in this area...they come into my shop and grill me almost as if to see if I'm good enough for them to grace me with their presence and the pleasure of giving them a paycheque every week. And you're right--washing dishes is out of the question. OR if they agree to it they'll want to do it for two weeks and then be promoted automatically. Again--I know this is not the case with ALL culinary school students...I'm merely speaking of the experiences I have had with some here.

I'm an owner and a pastry chef....I wash dishes...all day, every day. I have a part time dishwasher who comes in a few hours each night....but all staff in my shop wash dishes. Sounds like it is the case where you work as well.

It's an age old problem...and in your position there really isn't much you can do. As an owner I opted to pay more money to attract a different type of person who would be loyal to me and my business. But I understand that you're not able to do that. Hang in there....I hope the right person will come along soon. I feel your frustration....I went through it too when I was a pastry chef at a fine dining restaurant. It's tough.
post #17 of 26
Is this a serious question?

EVERY position is important in every business. With any job, the value is created when they understand why it is important. That's up to a good manager to convey that whether it's a dishwasher, a landscaper, a receptionist. That goes for white collar jobs too. I have met people that are miserable. They make good money and they do what they always wanted to do as a job. Sometimes it is them, but I would bet money that they have a terrible boss that doesn't know how to motivate them.

In a food industry business, if there is no one washing dishes, you have dirty silverware and utensils.

That effects the cooks and the servers. Dirty utensils, if unnoticed by the staff, is given to the customer and do you ever have a happy customer when they have filthy forks, glasses, knifes, etc? No, they become upset and then FOH has to apologize and fix the situation. This doesn't allow them to service the rest of the customers because some "lowly" dishwasher is setting them back by not doing their job.

As others have stated, give that dishwasher the incentive of the chance of moving up. Find the people with the drive but don't have the experience to warrant a position doing prep or cooking. Dangle a carrot in front of people and they start to work harder.

I just got done meeting with a 20 year old that saw the value in working his way up from the bottom in a restaurant because he wants to know how to do everything and see if he really wants to go to culinary school. There ARE people out there that will do the dishwasher job. There are people who will let you down on that job as well.

If anyone creates an atmosphere of a dead end job, regardless of the type of work, the employees will see it as a dead end job. All companies will have some situations that don't work out, but if the situation of high turnover comes up often, then it is usually the business at fault.

Now I don't know the original posters situation with the banquet hall. For all we know, maybe it's the dishwasher position that only has turnover but most of the employees stick around and are generally happy.

xjmrufinix, is this just a situation where you can't find a good dishwasher or is it coming up in other areas of the business too?

Lastly, your dishwasher just sounds like a loser. The drug and drinker. Without knowing anything else about the business, it sounds like he will be a loser no matter where he goes until he wakes up. Do you ask any of your staff for referrals? That may be a good place to start with hiring people that will stick around.
See the truth about the culinary education industry at 
See the truth about the culinary education industry at 
post #18 of 26
Indeed it is a serious question, as is evidenced by your very well reasoned response to the question. Too many people completely overlook the value that each position plays in a business no matter how "lowly" it may seem.
post #19 of 26
Thread Starter 
We have pretty reliable staff elsewhere. The entire FOH has been there for 5 years or more. There's been some turn around in the kitchen, but mostly because we were restructuring. Even the dishwasher we just canned was a *great* worker, hands-down the best I've ever seen to be honest, until he started getting high again. We're in the midst of rebuilding the business after years of struggling under bad management, but I think overall it's a great place to work and almost everyone takes pride in what we do and works as a team. Even our fill-in dishwashers are good, it's just the one, more full-time position which we struggle to keep filled. We just need one person who can be there whenever we have a function.
post #20 of 26
It looks to me like the business is doing what it can to make the job worth having. I would agree that all of this is not the fault of the business. I would still suggest that drug and alcohol screening be a pre-condition of hiring. You'll have less riff-raff to wade through in searching for someone reliable.
post #21 of 26
Looks like your Chef takes better care of his dishwashers than his bread and butter cooks. Thats a bunch of Bull. He better figure whats more important the quality of his food, or the quality of his garbage. He may be in the Garbage business real soon....Bill.. P.S I commend you for doing what it takes, thats what being a man is all about.
post #22 of 26
It sounds like your business is in a good situation. Good job. Does anyone else have suggestions? Now that we can see the big picture, it looks like it is in good shape.
See the truth about the culinary education industry at 
See the truth about the culinary education industry at 
post #23 of 26
Perhaps a career changer who desperately wants to learn? I know when I was first learning I would have worked as a dishwasher for free for as long as it took if I was told I would be given the opportunity to work my way up the ladder.
post #24 of 26
Maybe even put an ad in the paper or on Kijiji or whatever stating that you are looking for a dishwasher who has a passion to learn to could even articulate that the person would start out washing dishes and over time would be given small prep tasks to do and as they advanced in skill and ability would be given more responsibility. That sort of opportunity outlined in an ad might attract alot of people who would love to get into this industry but can't necessarily go to culinary school due to life circumstances.
post #25 of 26
Thread Starter 
Former chef. The man who was paying me $8 an hour to cook eventually lost his job to his sous chef, which is how I became the sous. So he got what was coming to him! And when he was here it was sometimes difficult to tell the food and garbage apart, so it really was for the best...
post #26 of 26
Hey Sous, Having a good grew is a process. you start off with one good person and hope and pray you could find more like them. If you are a good person to work for it will pay off in time. You will go through many dishwashers, its just the name of the game. Be the kind of person you would like to work for........Good luck........Bill
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