Training and recruitment: getting the best staff, and keeping them | Kitchen CUT

Whilst staff retention can be a challenge in any industry, with an international shortage of chefs, the retention of back of house staff has never been more important for hospitality businesses; from recruitment of the right staff to implementing training and development schedules, there are steps you can take to not only hire the right people, but to keep them too.  Michelin starred chef, John Wood feels passionately about giving back to the industry he has been a part of for over 25 years.  Here he shares his views on the importance on back of house training and recruitment….

The days of making chefs work long hours in hostile and uninspiring conditions are a thing of the past.  I remember a famous chef once proudly telling me that he had 140% turnover in chefs every year! This is not only bad for dish consistency and customer satisfaction, but also for staff morale and recruitment. It is a crucial part of a head chef’s role to nurture, inspire and excite their team. They need to be challenged, taught and made to feel valued. When you have chefs that make mistakes and are not performing you need to ask yourself: “What do I need to do to make this person perform better?” And the key element of the solution is training. If you do not have structured training plans to excite your team, the harsh reality is that even if you’ve recruited the very best people, they will move on to find somewhere more interesting.

If your staff turnover is more than 10% per annum you need to address it with the following points:


  • Interview selection techniques and forms
  • Proper job descriptions
  • Appraisal systems and dates for all the team

Training and time management:

  • Training schedules/calendars
  • Proper rostering to avoid excessive hours
  • Time and motion techniques to reduce hours (ie make sure you are using chefs’ time logically – don’t waste it)

By implementing these simple things, you will soon become known as an employer who is professional and fair. And you’ll retain staff longer as a result.

Internal or external recruitment?

I would always look internally to find the right candidate before looking at any external candidates. However, it is not always as easy as that. It’s a common misnomer that if a member of staff has worked with you for a set period of time, then they must be ready for (if not entitled to) a promotion.  Typically, the industry promotes internally based on this criterion. The result of this is that managers can find themselves trying to manage over promoted staff members who have been with the business for a decent length of time, yet do not necessarily have the capabilities to carry out their new role.

When chefs and managers used to come to me asking to apply for a Junior Sous Chef or Assistant Manager’s role, the first thing I would do is pull out the Job Specification.  By going through the Job Description line by line, the employee was asked to provide examples of their experience and their ability to carry out the required tasks and responsibilities.  If their experience fit the bill, I would encourage them to apply, if not I’d recommend that they spent the next six months cultivating the required skills to prepare themselves for the role the next time it became available.

My approach to developing teams is very simple. The Manager or Senior Chef’s responsibility is to put structured training and development programmes in place, with regular performance reviews for every member of their team. By nurturing your teams and preparing them for their next role, when the opportunities arise, the internal promotion is a simple and effortless. With a well-structured development and succession plan in place, you will mostly be only recruiting at entry level externally.

“NEVER promote on length of service.  If a team member is not ready, it is your responsibility not only to be honest with them, but also to nurture and prepare them for the next promotion opportunity, and then to recruit externally.”

Training new starters and existing staff too.

Recruitment and Training QuoteSpending time on developing and utilising a structured training/ development and succession planning process is critical for all positions within your team. Each staff member needs to know from day one what your intentions are for developing them. How are you going nurture them and teach them new skills, whilst pushing them to better themselves?

Depending on the size of your team no one single Senior Manager/Chef should have more than 5 people that they are responsible for training, developing and monitoring.  Recording how each person is performing on their Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) is a big task if done properly, so share the responsibilities out and teach people useful and beneficial skills for their next roles. Do not forget financial, managerial and softer interpersonal skills that are required even as a chef.

New equipment and technology training

When introducing a new piece of technology, a new process or a new piece of equipment there is only one place you should start with: “Buy-in.”.

The teams need to first understand what it is, why they need it and how it is going to make their lives better, easier, faster and potentially more enjoyable. It is only when they fully understand the importance of the implementation that you can start to train and coach people through the on boarding process.

If you can break the training down into manageable bite size pieces of a period of time, the teams will embrace this change much better.  Sitting a busy team down and barking manuals and processes to them for 4 hours will never work and in some cases I have seem teams become so resistant, that they have actually tried their hardest not to make something work.

Are there any new skills that back-of-house staff require?

Gone are the days when chefs just needed to turn up and cook for a living. Chefs now need to financially and operationally manage their businesses. Knowing margins, managing stock, controlling new legislations (allergen legislation for example), as well as the ability to train and develop their teams are fundamental skills required for back of house.  Controlling costs and profit and managing the teams effectively is what makes the difference between a Cook and a Chef.

What to look for in a CV?

Recruitment is a minefield for many employers. CV’s today are being written so well, that it is getting more and more difficult to quickly establish who is going to be the most suitable candidates from a pile of applications.

However, from experience I have found considering these key points to be invaluable:

  • Read the CV carefully and examine dates. Do they tally? How long have they spent in each place?
  • Check the positions and ensure they work to a chronological order.
  • Are the businesses they have worked in similar or better than your operation and do their moves make sense in terms of career progression?
  • What were their responsibilities in each of their previous roles and are they realistic for the amount of time spent in each (e.g if they worked as a Chef de Partie for 2 months, yet claim to have written budgets and forecasts and improved the margins by 2% whilst reducing labour costs by 3%- I would a little skeptical!)
  • Once at interview stage, plan your questions and structure them around the individual, with some generic questions so that you can compare answers of other applicants.
  • Where possible always trade test, or ask the applicant to do some paid work in the business for 1-2 days- you can quickly pick out good candidates once you see them in action.

Incentives to encourage staff retention and career advancement

I have never been a huge fan of having to incentivise people to stay and do their jobs. However, if you have a structured career development and training plan in place, (as previously described) people will rise through the ranks and be rewarded with new positions and better pay to reflect those promotions.

The best way to improve retention is train and develop your teams.  For example, one client that I worked with had a huge issue in regard to staff retention and had a turnover of 80% in their kitchens.  The general consensus was they needed to pay more to attract better staff and retain them.  However, after working for over 30 years with chefs (and being one myself!) I know that money is not the main motivator.  So, instead of increasing salaries we put in a proper structured training and development programme, with clear KPI’s and succession plans for every chef. Within 6 months the turnover had reduced to 8% and stayed at that level for the entire time that I worked there. We saved £100k in recruitment costs and reduced inflated casual labour costs, which lowered the payroll by a further £75k.


For more advice and support on training and developing your F&B team, visit our blog.

You can get more information about Kitchen CUT by emailing or calling +44(0)330 113 0050


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