Eduardo Castillo, CEC, Executive Chef of San Antonio Country Club, weighs the pros and cons of promoting from within vs. external hiring.
Over the last few months, we’ve seen bookings increase dramatically here at San Antonio (Texas) Country Club. Many of our members and staff have been vaccinated or are scheduled to be. We know bookings will continue to increase. Our catering department has been busy scheduling meetings and they’ve asked more menu questions in the last four weeks than they have over the past year.
The biggest growth sector on last week’s job report was hospitality. With restaurants, bars, and hotels picking up pace, there is more pressure on us to find trained staff for every outlet. Our season has not even formally started and we’ve seen our numbers increase dramatically for in-house dining along with pool grill areas and carryout. Year-over-year, we are seeing an almost 10% increase in pool grill sales which is our most active outlet.
During the COVID year, most club chefs reduced team sizes or did not replace people that left. Some even had to furlough or layoff team members. Luckily, we did not have to do either of the last two. We did reduce our team by about 10% by not rehiring for any of the people who left. We wanted to keep the team lean. Here at SACC, over the last 12 months, our executive sous chef along with 3 cooks, 2 banquet cooks, 2 pool grill cooks, and 3 stewards left.
For the sous chef position, I mistakenly thought that it would be wise to not refilling the position and instead divide the administrative part of the role among myself and my management team. This worked well when we were not busy. But as we’ve started to see increases in business, I had to move fast to fill the position.
I reached out to fellow chefs. I placed ads on LinkedIn and elsewhere. I explored every available option. Ultimately, we decided to promote from within. We promoted our restaurant chef to executive sous chef. We also redesigned the role to make it a very hands-on position with clear expectations that he is to spend at least fifty percent of his time on the floor, cooking with the rest of the sous chef team or as expo for a meal period.
We promoted our banquet sous chef to restaurant sous chef. This role will allow him to improve his ability to manage staff and develop a la carte cuisine. He will now oversee the lunch and diner crew—a team of ten—and he will have the opportunity to create menus and features while also managing daily production for a la carte.
The last piece of the puzzle was to hire a new banquet chef. In the end, I wanted someone with a fresh perspective, someone external. This is where having a strong chef network comes in very handy. I reached out to a good friend who offered a recommendation. It took two weeks and a few interviews to hire this person, but it worked out. This hire comes above one of our chef de parties. I know it will take time for the two of them to get used to work together, but I trust they will adapt well. Breaking the previous long time structure will force professional development for all.
We are aggressively hiring, placing ads for all open positions on each possible job board. We continue to reach out to schools, chefs, associations and so on. The market is tight and the labor pool is weak. Anyone that applies gets an interview regardless of skill set or job history. We trust our ability to train and keep people engaged.
The club performs full background checks. However, we all know some labor comes with baggage. This makes the process very slow. After completing the background check, our success hire rate is about 50%. We get no response or an “it took too long and I got another job” type response. This is very common and puts pressure on my staff. I find myself every week asking who wants to work an extra shift either in the main kitchen or pool, who want to come early or who wants to stay. This is not considering PTO time requests.
For our main a la carte positions, we invite potential hires for a stage and mystery basket. I am no longer surprised to find out how many cooks cannot portion a chicken or debone a whole fish. We now provide chicken breast and salmon filets instead of whole chicken or fish, and evaluate for ability to season and properly cook. Our guidelines for the basket trial are attached here.
We want to have a full team in place before the end of March as we are expecting to be relatively normal by July 4th. I am cautious optimistic that we’ll be ready and that the team we’re assembling will be able to move us forward into a whole new era.