Relieve the Kitchen Pressure

The high pressure of the hotel kitchen environment means hospitality has one of the highest staff turnover rates in the country – but with a smart recruitment policy, Michelle Mellor of Chefs Jobs UK explains how kitchens can ensure a more stable environment and achieve consistent quality from the kitchen.

Maintaining quality in the restaurant kitchen is undoubtedly a huge challenge for many hoteliers. Restaurants provide one of the great opportunities for hotels to boost their profit margins by expanding spend per hard-won guest, while also providing an opportunity to gain income from local customers too.

But in order to keep guests onsite and draw in diners from the local region, it’s essential that hotel restaurants offer food of the very highest standards to compete with the often multitude of alternatives in the surrounding area.

As hoteliers know all too well, maintaining those high standards can be hard. Very often, it really boils down to the talent and commitment of the head chef and his or her team to provide inspiring menus at the consistent quality that will attract and retain guests and, hopefully, draw in diners from the locality too.

It’s no secret that chefs are some of the hardest working people on the planet. Only in a workplace driven by passion would you find people regularly putting in a 50 to 60 hour week in a high pressure work environment. But sometimes it seems, for chefs to be at the top of their game, they are almost punished by these excruciating hours. The passion for the job comes at a detriment to work-life balance, and nowhere more so than in the hotel restaurant kitchen.

Without proper handling, the long hours and high pressure can make for an unpredictable working environment and high staff churn – often coming at the worst possible time when the kitchen is at its busiest.

But with a good recruitment strategy, hotel kitchens can maintain a steadier environment and ensure a more consistent customer experience.

From over 25 years providing temporary and permanent recruitment solutions to the hospitality industry, Chefs Jobs UK has earned an unrivalled insight into who gets it right and who gets it wrong in ensuring a stable and successful kitchen. Key to getting it right is planning ahead.

Most kitchens are seasonal to some degree or another. Successful kitchens look back at their previous busy times, then plan their recruitment ahead using a mixture of a permanent staff throughout the year, supported by good, interim staff at the busy times. A pre-planned approach, where everyone knows what they are doing ahead of times, is far superior to simply waiting until the kitchen gets too busy and putting in an emergency call to a recruitment agent and accepting whomever is first available because you have no other choice.

While a good recruitment partner should always be able to provide the right staff in the occasional, inevitable, emergency situations, it’s best to reserve that need for actual emergencies, not the busier times that can be predicted ahead of time. Planning ahead to support permanent staff prevents stress and potential burnout of the valuable and talented people who are essential to maintaining quality in the kitchen.

Successful kitchens also take the right approach to interim staff. A poor approach is to see temporary staff as an expense rather than the asset they are, and worse still to disrespect the skills they offer. Relief chefs today are, in fact, highly skilled. Working in a range of environments means they are highly adaptable and have a massive range of experience that potentially puts them ahead of many permanent staff. We place relief chefs at three levels, Elite, Team and Premier. The most successful outcomes are achieved by working closely with clients to match the right kind of interim staff to each kitchen’s individual needs.

Hospitality has one of the highest staff turnover rates in the country at around 62%, which is 20% higher than the rest of the private sector. While you could argue for days about the reasons for this, many would agree that work-life balance is a major factor. And any chef will tell you that one of the greatest enemies of work-life balance is the split shift. In our experience, kitchens that use split shifts tend to have a higher staff turnover than those who can avoid them. But if you work closely with your recruitment partner, there are ways even the smallest teams can keep split shifts to a minimum. It all depends on the individual kitchen, but again it comes down to smart use of permanent and temporary staff to achieve an even and sustainable working environment.

The truth in the hospitality industry is that chefs are in demand. While the work they do is demanding, the availability of jobs is very high. So if the kitchen they are working in is putting them under too much pressure they often face a stark choice between burnout or walk out – none of which is good for a hotel looking to achieve consistent and renowned quality. Kitchens that seek to provide jobs with straight shifts, decent hours, flexibility to job share and two days off a week are more likely to be able to retain the talented chefs they need. Planning ahead and taking a strategic approach with your recruitment agent will help you develop a relationship with them, which has the added benefit that they will be better placed to provide the best matched staff to your needs at short notice in emergencies too.

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