Your Chef’s First Year

Your Chef’s First Year

(What your ‘Culinary Evolution’ may look like)

We are often asked; what can I expect when my new Chef arrives? How long will it take to fix things and correct deficiencies; make menu changes and train the staff? First let me say it’s not going to happen overnight; I would like to dispel that assumption right off the bat. Depending on what needs attention, you should allow at least one year for a smooth and lasting transition.

Yes, I believe the Chef will want to put out fires quickly, make initial changes that the members notice and make their best effort to ‘fit it’ and get along with other team members. However, to get the flavor of all the things this individual will deal with, it is best measured by looking at the entire first year. From a timeline standpoint, I broke the year down in four quarters.

Your Chef’s First Year

Summary: (1st Quarter) During the initial on-boarding process there are numerous areas to evaluate. You might say the first quarter is a time to observe and learn the operation. Before the Chef jumps in and makes changes for change sake, it is important for the Chef to see how things are being done currently. The worse thing a Chef can do is to immediately make changes especially to such things as Club favorites and signature menu items. A smart Chef with get a feel for the Club and its culture and after completely understanding the operation and member needs only than change things that need to be improved. The following is a snapshot of the Chef’s initial year.

  • Insures there is no theft or leakage in the operation and that everything is secure. Cooler and Storeroom locks are changed, security systems are checked etc. Determine who is responsible for locking up and opening the kitchen. Review the time clock and scheduling system to insure employees punch-in when they are ready to work (not as they enter property but when they are in uniform with tools in hand.)
  • One of the most important things the new Chef should focus on is his/her relationship with the General Manager. All personnel need to understand the new Chef has been hired with a clear directive that will be realized by his/her leadership abilities and with the support of the GM. There must be a partnership that is based on mutual respect and trust.
  • If the Club has a Purchasing Manager, this is the time for the two individuals to get together. The Chef needs to learn the products used in the operation and how purchasing is accomplished. If requisitions are used, what is the procedure? How is product received, counted, checked and stored? All of these questions need answers. A good practice and the best way this is learned is for the Chef to take the Food Inventory. Not only will this create the starting point for food cost control, it will allow the Chef to get to know one of his/her important team players as together they check the storeroom and walk-in coolers for cleanliness, product rotation, quantities and where items are stored.
  • If there is no Purchasing Manager, the Chef should follow the same routine to take the initial food inventory but also with a greater emphasis to learn and meet with Vendors. Purchasing of product is constant and the Chef needs to get their arms around this one way or another and quickly. The chef is assessing the existing vendor network, product specification and costs along with sourcing other local products to leverage for produce quality, freshness, diversity and price.
  • Being mindful of member perception and their personal experience standpoint is a priority and one that the chef should focus on Observing the cooking line and watching as items are ordered and processed is very telling. The Chef should be evaluating current/recent menus coupled with observing how the cooks prepare dishes, handle and store food, manage mise en place, waste and more is critical.
  • Effectively this quarter includes an assessment of personnel; defining individual strengths and areas for improvement. Many Chef’s like to take the time to interview each member of the kitchen staff individually and get to them personally and give them the opportunity to interact with their new boss.
  • Teaching, influencing production and communicating a daily message to the team is ongoing. Holding staff accountable to a higher level will be realized by the chef’s presence and this, unquestionability takes time. A staff meeting is usually set with an agenda that begins to outline the new Chef’s approach and expectations. The new Chef has been tasked on a collective and individual basis to work with the culinary team helping them to advance their skills so the program fulfills member expectations.
  • To this point, we emphases the importance of General Management making proper introductions of the New Chef to the Membership (via email announcement or Meet The Chef Brunch or Dinner), the Club’s Food & Beverage Team, and to support the Chef in front of the culinary team.  This messaging should clearly communicate the search process and the rationale that was involved in the unanimous selection of the Chef.  Also, what was learned through the process; the shared member expectations for the club’s culinary program and the Chefs clear understanding of what the membership is looking for.
  • The new Chef will meet with HR (Human Resources) for a personal Orientation. This is vital…as the kitchen leader he/she must know the Club’s policies, procedures even as to where to park etc. so they can be an effective and respected leader for their team. The new Chef must also learn the answers to the What if’s …. Hiring and termination procedures, discipline guidelines, what recognition programs are available for the staff etc. Many things to make sure he/she gets it right.
  • While all of this is occurring in the first quarter of employment, the Chef is working to implement new daily & weekly menu specials that will likely capture membership’s attention and immediately recognize the change taking place. Perhaps the easiest and most effective way for the Chef to influence programing is through features where the Chef works beside the station attendant, sharing new techniques and advancing process.

Changing features is a successful method for chef to mentor and train staff; elevating individual’s abilities, methods and plate presentations.  And, during this period there is often recognition that weakness exist in the ranks and, tactfully, personnel changes are being made as right replacement line-personnel becomes available. Recruiting is a constant at all levels of the club hospitality positions and the market for skilled personnel is very thin nationally.

  • During this period the chef is getting a feel for the flow of the kitchen, testing kitchen equipment and refrigeration, layout and needs; all key factors that influence menus diversity, plate composition and the time it takes to fill order. All this assessment has direct relationship to how new menus will be organized, assigning more complex production/items to correct stations personnel and more.
  • The chef is also forging relationship throughout the organization including with membership as time allows. Specifically he/she should be working closely with peer management tweaking systems, developing new approaches and reinforcing changes through weekly management meetings and daily line-ups/pre-shift meetings sharing and reinforcing changed standards and their forward vision.

Summary: (2nd Quarter) – You might say the second quarter is a continuation of the review and initial challenges encountered during the first quarter.

Forging solid vendor relationship at this juncture is essential so vendors clearly understand new standards, timelines of receiving orders and more. Reliable partners are to be defined at this early stage, and always, and this too takes large chunks of time.

  • Focus is on staff training, interpersonal skill development, cross-training for effective scheduling and value added image for culinary staff. By now a certification incentive for kitchen employees should be in place to promote self professional discovery and higher skill levels. In house competitions with recognition can be delightful events for the membership while offering an opportunity to showcase and inspire in house talent.
  • The chef should have a good feeling of what types of food offerings the members and guests like; a review of previous menu goals should be weighted whenever feasible to guest needs and desires. New menus begin to be created. Also, the Chef may wish to set up a filing system for holiday events and banquets that reoccur every year. A good system that reflects the menu production schedule and actual food usage can save hours of time and dollars year-to-year.
  • The staff meal program is evaluated and whenever feasible, upgraded with nutritional offerings, healthy snacks and motivational materials. Action posters, self-improvement, etc. (often the HR personal can provide materials) are displayed. A bulletin board makes sense here too.
  • If the Chef has been on property for six months and have not established solid, respectful relationships with key managers, the Club President and other prominent individuals in the decision-making process, he/she better do it now. Learn to promote associates and Club President and they will in-turn promote the Chef.
  • Spending time in member areas is always strongly recommended especially when the operation is running smoothly and timing is right. Until program gets on track it is hard to spend time in member areas but it is necessary. Seasoned food and beverage personal know that purposely cutting thru dining rooms, member public areas, etc. allows quick interactions, pleasant greetings with guests creating awareness of their presence. This is a natural way to gain the members confidence and let the members know you are there.
  • Overall, change is happening and taking root yet much more work remains. As we say, a “Chef must Inspect what he/her Expects and be Present to do so!”

Summary: (3rd Quarter) – Work is ongoing with more of a focus on finances. Menus prices are evaluated, kitchen equipment is accessed and thoughts begin to think about the new fiscal year budget.

Chef begins to work with Catering Staff to develop new Banquet Menus. Benchmarking with the Clubs closest competitors and testing new items with staff tastings. Pricing is evaluated. The Chef may help with creating member events that focus on food or wine.

  • Vendors know most clubs are limited on the amount of effort and hours spent on purchasing. A new chef will bring new ideas, new needs to the purchasing element. There should be some new vendors, some reasonable complaints about the new chef in town from some vendors, or you just haven’t exposed them yet.
  • I would expect to see some new purchasing, inventory, scheduling and financial history computer system, in place, up and running and most importantly effective as a cost control tool by this time.
  • In preparation for the annual budget process, all small equipment needs, capital expense items, big three inventory replacement-requests for bids should be out, to have necessary information in planning.

Summary: (4th Quarter) – This is a time for follow-up especially when it comes to building a dynamic kitchen team. The Chef should take time to sit down with each member of his team and conduct a Performance Review. This is time consuming but vital as an important part in building a team.

  • Participates in the budget process with the guidance of the General Manager in tune with the membership vision.
  • At this point, there should be some level of pride, excitement when a member brings his family, associates and guests to eat at the club. This should be evident as a realistic, overall satisfaction across the board. If there are certain areas receiving constant service and food complaints there may be facility or equipment problems and now is a good time to acknowledge, identify and correct those deficiencies.
  • Realistic overall satisfaction is NOT perfection in every area with everything. Here is where the real value of a solid manager is seen. Often, clubs will get into consensus committee overdrive, discouraging key employees and insisting on the impossible.
  • In one year, after several key holiday events which put a lot of stress on the entire staff and have high expectations by the members, there should be excitement and anticipation for the next event. Specialized culinary skill should be evident, beautiful, Ice, sugar, chocolate, gingerbread, food for kids-food kids actually like and tell their parents about,
  • You may notice local press, TV or a nearby school has promoted your chef for community or professional guild ACF, Chaine, Food executives, etc. He has been in town for a year now and most chefs reach out to these groups for employees, contacts, etc.
  • If the chef has been on property for a year now, he may still be overwhelmed with the details of improvement, change and staffing. But there should be a healthy desire for him or her to want more discovery, professional development, travel and expansion of their food knowledge. It is the only way to stay current, get out of the house and see what is going on elsewhere.

I hope you will find this first year analysis helpful. Not only should you get a better understanding of your New Chef’s First Year, you know have a tool you can measure his/her effectiveness if your Chef is touching all bases. Let us know how we can assist you.

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