Hiring great line cooks is notoriously difficult, and retaining them is no easier. Here is our advice for finding—and keeping—talented, reliable line cooks for your restaurant.
Hire the Right Line Cook
You might be seeking a line cook candidate with specific knowledge, because of the technical difficulties of your recipes. Or you might be open to training an amateur cook with little to no experience. Whatever qualifications you’re looking for, finding a line cook that fits the criteria and shows promise is getting harder and harder.
To find a great candidate, first, post a job description that is upfront about your expectations. List the years of experience or the cooking skills you seek and include informative details about your restaurant. You will still get a batch of résumés from job seekers who don’t read the description, but you will also get more résumés that fit your needs.
There are plenty of excellent candidates hunting Craigslist, Workpop, and other job sites, hoping to snag a restaurant job that will give them the opportunity to excel. For maximum results, choose a few job sites to post on.
Don’t forget to turn to former and existing employees, friends, and family members for referrals, either. While some referrals can be dodgy, a good referral from someone you trust could introduce you to your future head chef.
The résumés you should always consider are the ones delivered in person. Someone who takes the time to visit your restaurant in person is hungry for the job and often has the greatest potential to learn your restaurant’s trade. These job hunters have distinguished themselves as serious about working, a quality that is completely essential in a line cook—and one you shouldn’t overlook.
If you’re not hiring at the time a résumé is submitted, make a note of it and save it for a later date.
Once you pull together a list of qualified résumés and schedule interviews, there are two foolproof ways of weeding out the lazy, the entitled, and the underqualified:
- Give a test.
- Call previous work references.
- Avoid people with attitude.
No one is a fan of an interview test, but qualified applicants who are serious about the job will sit down and finish it. Include questions that cover certain scenarios, like how one would react during a rush of orders, or specific skills (for instance, How do you make a bechamel sauce? Or Do you think a cook needs mathematical skills?) While cooking expertise is preferred, what you really want in a line cook is work ethic. Depending on the answers given during the interview test, you’ll know if someone has one.
That’s why you also want to check a candidate’s work history. Call previous employers and double-check that the information given is accurate. Ask these four questions:
- How did the candidate take feedback?
- How did the candidate work with the kitchen staff?
- Did the candidate show any distressing behavior?
- Would you refer this candidate to another restaurant?
Lastly, avoid candidates with an attitude. There is a type of line cook who drifts through restaurants, spending no more than six months or a year in a location. More likely than not, this person is a difficult team member who has trouble following instructions and accepting constructive criticism. It’s unfortunate, because oftentimes they are talented, with strong skill sets and experience.
Remember: While you can teach technique, you can never teach someone to be humble.
Keep Your Line Cooks, and Help Them Flourish
Once you do find the right candidate, you need to keep him or her. Losing a solid line cook to another restaurant means that your training efforts were wasted, and you’ll need to spend vital resources to get another.
Before we reveal how to keep your new employee, first consider what being a line cook is like at your restaurant. Do you have a hostile head chef? Is the kitchen fast-paced? What is the hourly wage? Do your employees get along? Has anyone from the staff come forward about uncomfortable working situations?
Line cooks work under pressure and are under scrutiny throughout a shift. When working conditions are too stressful or otherwise undesirable, nothing short of a great opportunity or a great salary will keep them at your restaurant for long. And even then, there are no guarantees.
Fostering a welcoming and respectful environment is the single most important way to keep great line cooks.
Respect for your staff will turn into respect for you. Enter your kitchen every day and greet each person by name. Make a point to thank your team for their work; showing appreciation is a key part of being a successful restaurant manager. These moments may be short, but the impressions they give are long-lasting. A simple smile and greeting to each employee can make all the difference in their attitude toward work that day.
Equally important is showing compassion to your line cooks when they come to you with problems. Building a relationship founded on communication and trust takes more of an effort, yet the rewards are well worth it. You’ll have a workplace that employees want to enter, participate in, and flourish in. Unfortunately, too many restaurants foster environments that are the opposite of welcoming and respectful, and turnover rates are high as a result.
Train Your Line Cooks
Once you’ve found the perfect fit for your team, they’ll need on the job training. Give your line cooks the knowledge and experience they need to succeed by implementing a training program. Every restaurant has its own processes, and it can take time to learn the intricacies of each dish. Have your management work closely with new kitchen employees to ensure their success.
Your cook is responsible for the quality of food that your restaurant delivers to customers. Make sure you set them up for success with a detailed training program. Provide the resources your cooks need so they can refer to their training easily.
Try these tips to train your line cooks with ease:
- Create a training manual
- Have training material readily available at cooking stations
- Provide instructions for preparing each station in writing
- Train your managers to coach your line cooks and back of house team
- Offer formal training reimbursement
Your managers and seasoned staff members are an integral piece of your training program. Build up your best staff members, and reward their training efforts. Show your employees how to train employees by leading by example. The best line cook may not be the best trainer naturally, but with a little coaching, you can duplicate your best employee’s work.
Being happy at work makes the trials and tribulations of every job more manageable. Respect your line cooks, and train them well. It’s as simple as that.