chef shortage employee engagement

How restaurants can overcome the chef shortage

By Karen and Ross Horton

The chef shortage in Canada is impacting restaurant owners from British Columbia to Newfoundland. Though, “shortage” might be the wrong term – there are many fiercely talented, hard-working chefs all across Canada wishing for change. The bigger problem is that with long hours and pay that is usually lower than other skilled trades, experienced chefs are beginning to look outside the industry for new career opportunities.

But there are steps to take to hire and retain top talent. First and foremost, a big complaint from chefs is that they need to make a better wage. If there is any wiggle room in your budget and you can offer your key chefs and cooks a salaried or higher hourly wage, that’s the quickest way to cure your own chef shortage. However, this may not be doable for many restaurant owners.

Here are some tips if you need an alternative route to recruiting and retaining chefs, from some of our clients who are innovative restaurant owners/managers across North America:

Create great culture

Staff will stay in jobs longer when they feel valued. Make sure to include back-of-house leaders in your regular management meetings, and ask their opinion on how the business can be improved. You can help attract young talent by offering an apprenticeship or mentorship program. Work with your seasoned veterans in the kitchen to create a program for growth and development. Entice fresh cooks by pairing them with a dedicated chef and providing them with a path to becoming a chef. Some restaurants are providing staff with tuition support for obtaining their Red Seal designation and paid days off for exams, in exchange for an agreement to stay for a least a year after completion. A graduation gift of a set of knives is a special touch that will be remembered.

Finding balance between work and life outside of work is becoming a priority, particularly for the newer generation of workers. Where possible, offer two consecutive days off per week. In an effort to set themselves apart, creative restaurateurs are offering new benefits, which have included perks like gym memberships or even pet insurance.

Offer unique benefits

Depending on the type of restaurant you own and where you are located, you can get creative with the benefits you offer to qualified cooks. They can be small benefits (based on Key Performance Indicators) that allow your team to grow and stay educated, like a bi-weekly or monthly trip to other successful restaurants in your town. This will give your back-of-house team time to bond, keeping morale high, and expand their knowledge of different types of cuisine. An added bonus is that it also supports other local business owners.

On a larger scale, you can keep retention high by offering your stars a fantasy food trip comparable to a sabbatical.  Cooking is a passion-based career, and by appealing to the most passionate chef’s desire to keep on learning and fulfill lifelong food dreams – offer a performance-based long-term goal of a food adventure travel incentive! Modify the program to work best for you and your business.

chef shortage

Work with the resources available to you

While running a restaurant, hiring and retaining back-of-house staff is clearly important, but it is not the only thing on your plate. There are several resources you can lean on to help you fill empty positions. First, consider working with a recruiter. They are trained in both crafting job listings that showcase how enticing and beneficial the position is, and in bringing you a pool of the best available candidates earlier – so your vacancy doesn’t affect business. Second, get the job posted on all available avenues. Talk with connections you have in and out of the industry, post it on social media, and shout it from the rooftops. Lastly, get involved at the beginning: work with a local culinary school. Ask them if they need a guest lecturer or create opportunities to mentor students. Check in to see when they have a graduating class and how you can get your open position in front of the students. Passion and enthusiasm are contagious – share your love of the hospitality industry and create positive change from within.

Remember, success in the business is achieved over the long term. In the words of award-winning franchise owner Darren Flintoff of Mr. Mikes Steakhouse Casual, “I suggest looking at leadership as a significant investment that you make over time. It’s not just the pay… it’s the coaching and recognition of achieving wins together. A restaurant is a long term investment so coach expectations, take care of your people and your bottom line will take care of itself.”

About the authors:

Karen and Ross Horton are Regional Developers with Patrice and Associates, commonly referred to as the gold standard in hospitality recruiting. Based in Niagara Falls, the Hortons work to recruit full-time hospitality employees in Eastern Canada, focusing on Ontario, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Prior to becoming Patrice & Associates’ first Canadian Regional Developers, Karen and Ross had illustrious careers in hospitality facility management and fundraising & event management, respectively.

2 thoughts on “How restaurants can overcome the chef shortage

  1. Basically, another “consultant advice” that brings nothing and deepens the suffering of Chefs. I myself gave up the industry after 16 years of slavery and disapointment. I make 3 times what i use to coming home every afternoon feeling energize to see my familly instead of heading to the pub at 10.30pm after work. Angry, tired and desperate. These kind of articles are written by Chefs. I know there are under educated but they are also a threaten species…

  2. What an astonishingly bad article!!…

    Do you know what chefs and cooks really need??
    1. We need to be paid a decent living wage that let’s us pay our bills and maybe, just maybe, even save a few bucks as rent comes due.
    2. Give us REAL benefits, medical and dental, not some made up “unique experience”. We have teeth and eyes and maybe kids too, that matters!!
    3. Decent Tip-out for the back!! Ca you imagine how offensive it is for educated trained chefs to see servers already being paid $13.00 per hour or more to take out another $100.00 plus per shift when the back gets JACK!?
    4. Predictable time off. Don’t make your inability to get/keep staff our problem by jamming us! We deserve the odd weekend off, or at least a few days back to back off. Hope Depot/Loblaws is hiring too, same money and no burns!
    5. Pay us for all our overtime. We get that you have a business, but we have a life and we deserve to be treated as the law prescribes and don’t give us the whole “when I was your age, what I did” crap, the law is the law…

    It’s only going to get worse until BOH starts getting both the respect and the rewards that are far overdue.

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