With years of experience, Chef Dan Robayo gives us an inside look into his hiring process and tips for hiring solid cooks.
If you’re reading this, you know how difficult it is to hire cooks who not only perform well, but can also show up on time, have a great attitude, are eager to learn, take direction well, and never buckle under pressure
Cooks who meet these requirements are worth their weight in gold.
Even before the pandemic, finding these rare gems was no mean feat, but it’s beginning to feel impossible in a post-pandemic world.
We spoke with Chef Dan Robayo, owner of boutique catering company Pā`ina Pantry and chef de cuisine of a private luxury community near Kona, Hawaii, about how he finds back-of-house employees who are reliable, dedicated, and willing to go the extra mile.
What To Look For in a Resume
“Longevity of jobs” was Robayo’s prompt response when asked what’s the first thing he looks for while going through resumes.
“I look at the dates first and foremost. If somebody has had six jobs in the last year and a half, that’s a major red flag for me because dependability, reliability, and building teams is based around longevity.”
Dan wants to see prospects that have been in places for more than a few months. If there are short stints at multiple locations, it could be a sign that they don’t work well on a team.
“If somebody has listed a restaurant from April 2021 to July 2021—why is that even on their resume? I don’t care if it was the French Laundry; it’s telling me they didn’t work out. I can teach people to cook; I can’t teach them how to be reliable.”
Robayo wants to see a resume as well. He won’t respond to half-assed emails asking about a job he’s posted. He wants to see a resume that looks clean, reads well, and shows him how they stand out.
“That first introduction when someone is responding to an ad is paramount. That’s like the host of a restaurant I’m visiting for the first time; it needs to make an impression. I want it to have a ‘wow’ factor.”
People willing to make the effort to hand over a polished resume are asked to do an in-person interview.
Once Robayo finds a resume he likes, he sets up an in-person interview to go over what he calls WCFs.
“It’s the ‘What Counts Factors.’ I ask them a series of questions that will tell me about their dependability, reliability, leadership traits, and their ability to adhere to protocols.”
If a candidate gives answers Robayo likes, they set up a second interview involving one of the kitchen’s lead cooks.
“I want them to work side by side with one of my cooks. I want to know if they can work with someone who’s already on the team, and it’s usually a cook that I trust, so I can get a second opinion. I might like somebody, but I need my lead cook to tell me if they have a bad feeling about them.”
Robayo is also big on references—he always asks for four but calls a minimum of two, and he doesn’t necessarily call the first person on the list. People always put their strongest reference first, so Robayo will start by making calls further down the list to get a more balanced assessment of his potential hire.
How To Attract Real Talent
When posed with the question of how he combats the struggles of hiring cooks, Robayo gives an answer that embraces the current state of the restaurant industry.
“We have to stand apart as an employer. It’s a worker’s market right now, and it’s the realization that cooks have been getting underpaid for decades. It’s a post-COVID world, and the market is saturated with restaurants trying to hire cooks.”
Robayo goes on to explain that setting yourself apart means providing benefits, creating a reputation as a restaurant that takes care of its employees, and paying cooks a living wage that allows them to live a fulfilled life outside of the restaurant.
“We create an incentives package that’s more than a livable wage, but a comfortable wage. I’m not going to pay them just enough to cover their bills but not be able to go to a beach that’s an hour away.”
Once a cook is hired, they are given a 90-day probation period to see if they can pull their weight with the team. After that 90 days, they are given a raise and are considered a full member of the kitchen staff.
Parting Advice for a Solid Hire
“It has to be a good fit for everybody. I tell people that it’s not just me interviewing them; it’s them interviewing me to see if everyone is going to benefit from working together.”
Robayo says he only contacts about 20% of the people who send resumes, so he’s very selective with who he interviews. He again emphasizes the importance of doing a thorough background check using job history and references and trusting your instincts when you sit down to talk with someone.
“Obviously, I can tell within 90 days whether or not someone can do the job, but I believe in reading a person’s body language and how they speak. You can gain a lot of information about someone in just the first few minutes of an interview.”
Wrapping up, Robayo stressed the importance of showing prospective employees that they are valued if they work in his kitchen.
“If you’re a parent, you get mother or father’s day off, you get you’re birthday off, or your kid’s birthday off—I value people’s lives, and it helps with staff retention. We don’t live to work; we work to live.”
Great advice—the culinary workforce is a small world, and people talk. If your restaurant adopts Chef Robayo’s practices, it won’t take long for your restaurant’s reputation to reach the ears of talented cooks looking for new jobs.
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 restaurant workers nationwide.