Executive Chef Jeremy Leinen, CEC, believes there is an important place in this industry for cooks who only want to be accountable for their own work and that these individuals are just as valuable as others with huge culinary aspirations.
A popular topic of discussion of late is the consequences that enhanced unemployment has had on hiring. Government benefits have absolutely made it more difficult to hire as they have made it unnecessary for people to get a job. We all share in the frustration there.
Where I disagree with many is in the sense of optimism for when these benefits go away. Yes, these benefits will end, and that will necessitate people getting back to work. That doesn’t mean people are going to be flocking back to foodservice and hospitality. People seem to forget that hiring was difficult before the pandemic. To put the entirety of our current situation on unemployment benefits seems like overly simplistic and revisionist thinking. Many of the people in our industry that got sent home at the beginning of the pandemic are not coming back.
After reading Chef Recher’s recent article, Will Stronger Teams be the Pandemic’s Silver Lining?, I was surprised by one of his points. His Chef friend in Philly said that a positive side of the pandemic is that it pushed people out of the business who shouldn’t be in it. I was a little taken aback by this message. Weeding people out has never been a problem in this business. As a matter of fact, we’re already ruthlessly efficient at doing so. We’re better at pushing people out than we are at attracting and retaining them. That’s the problem. We don’t need more of that, we need ways to make the industry more welcoming, more approachable and more livable for those in it. The problem can’t be the solution. This mindset offers an example of what is broken.
I often hear many Chefs and people in management roles speak of and emphasize the subject of passion. The general message is that passion for what you do is supposed to override everything else in our world. Why does being passionate about cooking have to be at the expense of everything else? Far too many chefs have been so devoted to their careers that it cost them marriages and many other relationships. Being passionate about your career is great, but shouldn’t we be allowed to be passionate about getting to see our families as well? What about passion for hobbies that enrich our lives in other ways? Has anyone considered that the overarching demand for passion and sacrifice perhaps sucks the passion out of people that once were?
People often speak of employees that are “just working to pay the bills and take care of their families.” This is never meant as a compliment. Generally, these people are looked down on. Again, this mindset is exactly what’s wrong with this industry. We simply can’t expect that everyone who works for us wants the top job. I don’t think it’s typical that the majority of people in other industries want their boss’s job. There has to be room for people like this in our world. Having people who are reliable, who want to do a good job, and are content to do the work and be coached along a bit should be enough. The charge is on us to make it work with the people we can find. People aren’t lining up to sacrifice what we did just to have their name and a title stitched on their chest. We have to stop thinking less of people whose primary mission is to provide for their family. Our mission has to be to find a way to make this industry a viable avenue to do just that, with more being available to those who want it.
I look back on my 20s and I don’t think I have a story to tell that isn’t somehow related to work. That’s a little embarrassing to say in print. I think there’s probably at least a few other chefs out there in similar situations. The new generation doesn’t want to look back on a decade of their life and see it that way. The truth is, they’re not crazy. Maybe we were. It’s time to recognize that and try to fix this industry. We can’t do this forever. At some point we have to turn the industry over to the next generation.
How can we do that if we can’t get them in the door?