Hiring ain’t easy – especially when you need a new Executive Chef. Here’s some advice from Recruiter Agatha Kavanaugh, President of One Haus, on how to start your candidate search.
Your Executive Chef is more than a talented cook – they’re also the face of your business. Much like hiring a head coach for a football team, this person is going to set the tone of your kitchen internally and externally. When this position isn’t taken seriously, it leads to nothing but trouble – if you don’t hire well, you’ll be hiring again while your business struggles with quality control, turnover and a dire lack of profitability.
The first step to hiring an Executive Chef could be a job ad on Poached (where else?). But often times you’re going to have to recruit talent. We talked with Agatha Kavanaugh of One Haus, a recruiting firm specializing in finding and placing top talent for the restaurant industry.
“Hiring an Executive Chef is much more complex than one may think,”
“Hiring an Executive Chef is much more complex than one may think,” Kavanaugh pointed out. “It’s far deeper than ‘can they cook? Is their food good?’ Executive Chefs are very visible internally and externally and often are synonymous with the brand. The kitchen is the heartbeat of the restaurant, because, let’s face it, great service and good ambiance can’t compensate for sub-par food. Who you hire to run your kitchen is critical to the overall success of your business.”
Kavanaugh suggests having a clear goal in mind when recruiting your Chef. Is your goal to collaborate with someone to build a new brand? “You will need someone who can not only create a culinary vision and an environment and service style to match that vision, but one who can also curate an environment to attract, develop and retain talent”, Kavanaugh advises. “Chefs who scream, berate and demean cooks and staff make for a hostile environment and a high attrition rate.” Which can ultimately lead to quality control issues and a bad dining experience for your guests.
Or is your goal to maintain and grow an existing business? “If you are a chef owner looking for support and someone to execute your vision then the direction would be a Chef who has less external visibility and more of a focus on strong managerial training, standard operating principles, implementation and adherence skills,” says Kavanaugh. “This person is still very much involved in setting the tone for how things are run internally.”
Even if you have a clear idea of what kind of person you’re looking for, there are still some mistakes Kavanaugh sees owners making over and over. “It’s easy to underestimate the scope of the Executive Chef role. This is one of the common mistakes owners make when evaluating candidates. Avoid measuring candidates against a generic or outdated job description. Sometimes the best hire comes from thinking outside of the box, taking a calculated risk.”
Another common mistake is to focus too much on salary or budget as a way to weed out candidates. “Sure if someone’s expectations are way outside of budget for the position then it’s likely that the delta can’t be narrowed with a creative comp structure,” Kavanaugh said. “But you’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen compromise work out in favor of both sides.”
Now that you’ve thought about who you’re looking for and what pitfalls you’re trying to avoid, how do you get started? Speaking from her experience at One Haus, Kavanaugh advises a three step process to recruiting an Executive Chef.
The Three Step Process to Recruiting an Executive Chef
• Take stock of what your business needs and how this position will support those needs. “Put pen to paper and write out a clear and specific job description. Yes this can be time consuming, but it will greatly benefit you during the screening process and thereafter.”
• Establish a timeframe and work backwards to set up the proper cadence of the recruitment process. “If you need this role hired in 4-6 weeks, then work back from that date to establish a targeted timeline of things like interview schedules (who needs to be part of the process and their general availability and any related conflicts like travel or PTO), tasting schedules, etc. Having guideposts will help keep you on track and alert you when you need to put more focus on recruitment endeavors (or hire a recruiting agency to help). Depending on the level of candidate you should anticipate starting the process 60-90 days out.”
• Look to your networks for talent pools. “If this is not a confidential search, utilize your social/professional platforms to get the word out and build momentum. Share it on your company website, social media, professional websites, and internally. Post your position on job boards like Poached, LinkedIn, Indeed, etc.”
Recruiting a chef is a lot of careful planning and execution.
Sometimes, it can be easier to let a professional handle the hiring process for you. Some owners, especially when they are hands-on with day-to-day operations, don’t have time to execute a thorough candidate search. For a hire as critical to your business, Kavanaugh suggests “engaging a recruitment agency at the beginning to help supplement your efforts. Often times there are no upfront costs as many contingency recruitment agencies only receive a fee when a candidate they presented is hired.”
Additionally, you can do yourself a favor and post your jobs on Poached. As a job site dedicated to hiring in the restaurant industry, we have tools to streamline your hiring process and connect your jobs with a network of skilled executive chefs nationwide.