TJ Garrish, CEC, Executive Chef of L’Hirondelle Club of Ruxton, discusses the current labor shortage and encourages club chefs to set a new trend by evolving what they offer cooks.
Recently, I placed an ad on a major job board. Weeks passed and I still hadn’t received any applications. I posted on Facebook and saw just as little success. In the post, I included the wages, tasks involved, what benefits we offer and vacation. Still, we saw zero applicants. I had to start cold calling old contacts to see if they or anyone they knew might be interested in a job.
I completely understand that a line cook today that was laid off because of covid makes more on unemployment than most establishments pay hourly. I completely understand why those people would rather stay home to have their weekends and holidays with the family. I don’t blame them.
I always asked myself this important question when hiring: What can I offer that another establishment can’t? I strive to provide a work-life balance, fair wages for skilled cooks, as well as mentoring and continued education opportunities. To date, none of those differentiators have mattered. So now I asked other questions, like how has our industry come to be in this current situation? These problems have been brewing for years.
No one wants to work weekends, holidays, and nights for low pay. Our industry also believes staging is normal and that asking a professional to come in and work for free, so that we can evaluate his or her skills, and then asking that same person that just worked for free to settle for a pay well below other industries, is acceptable.
Not only have we asked way too much for the amount of pay, but we also ask these cooks to put family aside and to always be ready to work long hours. We have glorified the yelling chef who would throw things back at you. The war stories are endless. So, when we struggle to find employees, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Something must change. What those things are, I can only ask myself and others around me. Pay is one great motivator. I understand the customer/members’ views on this may be greatly different from mine as no one wants to see a rise in prices or dues, but how do we increase wages? Is there a creative solution for this problem? The next would be work-life balance. How can we achieve a semblance of normalcy for our staff, keeping them to a 40-hour week? Is it even doable? Do we try alternating weekends off, maybe alternating holidays as well? Achieving a better work-life balance is an easier task to solve than the wages, but still important.
For me, the kitchen staff is my family. I see them more than my own family. We may fight and argue, but I respect their passion and drive and would do anything for them, much like I would for my own family.
Members, guests, and customers all expect us to perform at our best on any given day at every hour open. Our careers are lined with burns, cuts, and long hours of standing, bending, and lifting, just to put a smile on a member’s face. The industry is filled with people who want to make an impact on a person’s life and create a memory they will think about for their entire life. That is passion. That is the dedication to the craft and it is unmatched.
We cook because we love what we do. We must evolve these labor challenges to create a better situation than the one before. We must recruit new talent by evolving.