Reflect, for a moment, club chefs, on the time you spent in the trenches as a sous chef. Remember the relentless hours, the balancing act between passion and compensation, the intense pressure, the adrenaline rush of a successful service, the physical reminders of a hard day’s work, and the emotional journey that came with them. It was a grueling time, but the rewards and the growth were worth the exertion.
During our 2021 season, it became clear that our team was stretched too thin despite our best efforts. The solution was obvious—we needed to hire an additional sous chef. Persuading club leadership to accept this change was no minor feat, given that the club had never had an additional sous chef on the team before. In season, it was impossible to be everywhere at once. Winning over our GM and CFO was a game-changer; we hired an additional sous chef. This enhanced our team’s dynamics and efficiency and significantly elevated our members’ experiences. Now, one chef handles the à la carte line, another manages the plate-ups or the buffet, and another oversees an entirely different restaurant on the property.
The 2021 season showed us how important it is to have the right staff, and made clear a big challenge: finding great sous chefs when everyone is competing for them. You’re pursuing a professional who leads by example and exhibits humility, urgency, and adaptability. This person must also be capable of handling multiple tasks while fostering camaraderie and culinary strength.
While the search for such an individual is demanding, it’s equally crucial for prospective sous chefs to exercise due diligence, researching the club, its culture, and the executive chef. They should be prepared to ask the hard-hitting questions: Will they work 50-60 hours even in the off-season? Does the compensation match what the market is paying? Will they have time to spend with their family? Can they attend their child’s important school events? Does the executive chef often lose their cool during the dinner rush? Is the chef approachable?
These considerations are not just legitimate; they’re essential.
Over the last couple of years, I have built a strong network of chefs in the Naples area that I can contact. Several have graciously invited me into their clubs and given me tours of their kitchens. Many of these chefs have been willing to share best practices and vendor recommendations and have been transparent in discussions about compensation structures for their team members. This has been an important part of how I advocate for my team.
Armed with this information, I share these market insights with my GM and CFO. I present a compelling case for why and how these standards should influence our operations. I also acknowledge that each club’s needs and capacities are different, and a one-size-fits-all approach is not necessarily realistic.
Here are some effective strategies we have used for attracting and keeping top-tier culinary talent:
- Offer a sign-on bonus to incentivize commitment
- Regularly evaluate and realign compensation packages with local industry standards
- Treat your team with respect and maintain a positive kitchen environment.
- Demonstrate flexibility with scheduling, recognizing the importance of work-life balance.
- Provide complimentary professional memberships as an investment in your team’s development.
- Encourage creativity and ownership by featuring sous chef’s or line cook’s dishes on the menu.
- Create an educational budget for continuous learning and professional growth among sous chefs.
With these strategies, we’ve leveraged opportunities like industry conferences and workshops to further inspire our team’s creativity. In March, my Chef de Cuisine, Clifton Morrison, joined me at the 2023 Chef to Chef Conference in Miami. Last year, we attended Rich Rosendale’s barbecue workshop in Virginia.
These experiences aren’t just educational; they’re inspiring and expose us to innovative ideas that we’re excited to bring back and implement within our club.
Continuous improvement, proactive leadership, and relentless advocacy for our teams are not just goals but imperatives for success. Let’s do our best and advocate for our teams.