Hiring A Chef For Your Restaurant: Your Ultimate Guide

Marketing 16 minute read 4th August 2021

Hiring a chef for your restaurant is one of the hardest hires you’ll make as a restaurateur. But when you get it right, it’s just as rewarding.

After all, without a chef, your restaurant isn’t much of a restaurant, is it? The problem is that finding the right chef is pretty tricky. You’re looking for more than someone who can just whip up a good meal occasionally. You’re looking for a hard worker ready to lead your staff and business to success while creating a unique dining experience.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide on how to hire a chef. We cover everything from the process to traits to look for in quality candidates and where to start your search.

How To Hire A Chef For Your Restaurant

Let’s say you have an idea for a restaurant. Or, you recently purchased one and need to do an overhaul. Maybe you’re trying for a Michelin star or have an exciting restaurant concept that could change the market.

No matter your starting point, you’re next step is clear. You need to start the hiring process for a chef with culinary skills to take your dream to reality.

Not sure how to hire a chef for your restaurant? Here are the three central tent poles of the process.

1. Hiring a Chef 101: Write A Job Description

As with any other job, hiring a chef means writing a job description. You might think writing a chef job description is nothing like any other job post. In a way, you’re right. You’re not looking for someone who can just sit behind a desk and take phone calls with a smile.

A chef has to be all things at once: leader, manual laborer, creative genius, adaptable, and public speaker. At least, that’s what you want in a top chef for a five-star restaurant.

When writing your job description, include information about the cuisine and cooking responsibilities. Be sure to include the hours you want them to work and the day-to-day tasks they’ll need to take on.

But don’t stop there. Include information that’ll separate the people just trying to punch in and out from the dedicated career chef candidates. Put together a job post outlining both big and small tasks. Then, clarify that this position is for passionate creatives with a vision.

2. Hiring a Chef 101: Interview Candidates

After penning your chef position job description, you’ll hopefully receive many job applications. Go through them carefully and stick to your criteria to find the best. Once you’ve identified qualified chefs with the potential to take your business to new heights, it’s time for interviews.

This is the time to figure out if the chefs sitting before you are all talk or the real deal. Ask them questions about their experience, their work history, and their approach to food. Don’t be afraid to dig deep into what they love about the field. On top of that, inquire about things that may not seem directly related to cooking.

For example, ask them situational interview questions like, “Tell me about a time when you had to be a leader.” Or, “Describe how you would deliver tough feedback.” Behavioral questions like that show you if this person has the leadership skills you’re looking for. Plus, it’ll indicate if they can be a hospitality industry expert.

3. Hiring a Chef 101: Offer A Competitive Salary

If you’re trying to hire a great chef, you must be willing to offer an excellent salary. The average chef’s salary varies depending on your location and experience level, but the national average is around $51,028 annually.

That said, an executive chef and a junior chef will not make the same amount. Nor will a great restaurant chef in one part of the country make the same as one in another region. The national average is a good starting point. But we recommend checking in with what other establishments in your area pay.

See what their standard is and decide if you can offer something higher. For exemplarily qualified candidates, it’s worth it to push a little more of your budget their way.

A Few Things To Know About Chefs

Before hiring a chef for your restaurant, let’s consider a few facts about chefs you probably weren’t aware of.

For instance, did you know that restaurant chefs:

  • Eat out more than most people (call it market research).
  • Have fiery, memorable personal qualities because they’re relentlessly passionate about their work.
  • Possess a wide range of knowledge on different food preparation techniques, culinary cultures and food trends.
  • Have a favorite knife (and don’t accept anything less).
  • Enjoy making food for customers (even if they don’t always show it).

As you begin interviewing and hiring for your kitchen, you’ll realize that the above traits shine in the industry’s stars.

What to Look for When Hiring a Chef

So, let’s consider eight things you need to look out for when hiring a chef.

1. The Right Temperament

Let’s get one thing straight. You’re not going to find a perfect chef with an ideal temperament. When you read the facts about chefs above, you probably noticed that they’re snappy and outspoken. Experienced chefs are famous for having colorful personalities simply because they care so much about their work.

You absolutely want that. But you don’t want too much of it. The key is finding a chef who can handle pressure and feedback. They can communicate effectively, no matter what’s happening.

You certainly don’t want a shrinking violet for a head chef. But you do want someone who can keep stress at just the right level.

7 Things to Look for When Hiring a Chef - Turnover

2. Commitment

The US restaurant’s turnover rate reached a staggering 130.7% in 2020. It’s a stressful field with rough working conditions, long hours, and often minimal thanks.

Many a young new chef gets into the business, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They think that all they need is a love for food and a can-do spirit to make it. But the challenging work wears down even the best workers.

It’s understandable, but you need consistency if you want a successful, curated restaurant brand. Therefore, you need total commitment from your team to avoid joining those numbers.

If a chef’s employment history is as long as your arm, tread lightly. You need to look for people who stick around when the going gets tough.

3. Attention to Detail

No matter what type of cuisine you offer in your restaurant, you’ll need a talented chef obsessed with the details.

This doesn’t just come into play during preparing and cooking quality food, either. They’ll need to create menus, work with suppliers, manage the kitchen team, and be savants of restaurant operation.

4. Excellent Cooking Skills

This sounds obvious, doesn’t it? You’d think the first line of a head chef’s job description would be: outstanding cooking abilities. But you’d be amazed by how many restaurateurs try hiring a chef without first trying out their food quality.

The proof is obviously in the pudding (or starter or main). So make sure you request a selection of dishes from the chef to try out their work. If it means giving them a day to experiment throughout the entire kitchen, even better.

5. An Eye for Excellence

A successful chef knows what excellent food looks and tastes like. It lets them immediately spot fresh ingredients and determine how to best present their meals.

When hiring a chef for your restaurant, it’s also essential to look beyond the food. Your right chef will probably recruit kitchen staff. Therefore, they also need to know how to spot excellence in people.

For instance, do they know what a wasteful ingredient approach looks like? Do they know how to control costs without letting food quality slip? Or how to spot latent talent in a young sous chef? Once again, ask for examples of their work and quiz them on what they look for in team members.

6. Technological Savvy

Restaurant technology never stands still. Naturally, most kitchen duties use age-old tools and time-tested equipment. (We don’t see pots and pans going out of style any time soon.)

But an increasing number of technologies can make your kitchen more efficient and capable of a consistently evolving guest experience.

Ask prospective chefs about their experience with your POS system and new cooking tech. Before you speak to them, do some of your research on emerging kitchen devices, software, and tools.

7. Industry Experience

An experienced chef is vital to any great restaurant. We’re not saying that the person who answers your job listing has to graduate from a top culinary school. Or have tens of years of experience working in every department, from head cook to pastry chef to head chef.

After all, everyone has to start somewhere. But hiring a chef with a proven track record will save you time, money, energy, and a headache.

If they’re going to lead your establishment to the top of a Zagat guide, they need to be seasoned. They need to know how to collaborate with a restaurant owner, delegate daily responsibilities, and navigate the ebbs and flows of the industry.

8. Creativity

Last but not least, the right candidate for your restaurant chef needs should be creative. They don’t just eat food and enjoy it for what it is. They think about what made it so delicious and how to reinvent it.

When hiring a new chef, don’t stop at what’s on their resume. Get to know their personality and see if it comes through in their culinary creations.

How To Find a Chef For Your Restaurant

Now that we’ve covered what to look for when hiring a chef, let’s talk about how to find a chef.

Hiring a Chef Through Online Job Boards

The first place you should start is by adding your job postings to an online job board. Make sure the job title is clear and accurate and that your job description has all the necessary information.

Hire Internally

If you already have a restaurant with talented kitchen staff, consider hiring from within. Don’t waste time on a job ad if you have a junior chef willing to work to level up.

An advantage of hiring internally is that you’ll have a good chef who already knows your staff and system. That’ll save you training time and money.

Hiring a Chef Through References and Recommendations

There’s nothing wrong with using your personal network to find a solid hire. In fact, when it comes to the restaurant industry, it’s the smartest thing to do.

Past references in the restaurant industry are vitally important when building a stellar team. After all, how do you know that the person sitting before you is telling you the truth?

You may love their approach to team building and the quality of their cooking. But one call to a candidate’s references may change all that. Their employment history and reasons for leaving prior establishments may be a hidden danger.

Ask other restaurateurs, chefs, head cooks, culinary agents, and staffing agency workers for help putting together the best team possible.

If you’re opening a restaurant and hiring a chef, look into hospitality staffing solutions as well.

You’ve Hired a Chef. Now What?

You’ve found your perfect, experienced chef and ensured they’re a good fit for your workplace culture. Now it’s time to think critically about the rest of your business. You want to ensure your staff is well-trained, your dishes are top-notch, and your small business online reputation is impeccable.

A way to do that outside of the kitchen is through the little things. Like making sure you offer free guest wifi to your customers. That way, they can feel right at home no matter what. Learn more and begin growing your business with a free trial of Beambox today!

Grow your business and customer loyalty with guest WiFi!

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