Build the Best Team: Finding and Managing Your Restaurant's A-Team

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From creating a concept that will succeed, to finding a killer space, to decorating and equipping and training. Starting a restaurant involves a lot of work, and a lot of moving pieces.

By far one of the greatest challenges would-be restaurateurs face is finding a superstar staff that will flawlessly execute their concept, all while making great food and providing top-tier customer service. The restaurant simply cannot run without a staff. But just any staff isn’t going to make your restaurant flourish. You want to best talent possible. Here’s how to find (and keep) them.

restaurant annual employee turnover rates

When it comes to staffing your restaurant…

First, some general tips for getting a high-quality staff in place — and then keeping them there.

You’ll never win on salary. You may think you’re offering the best salary around, but there’s always somewhere that can pay the same or even more than you. And that somewhere else is also probably able to offer better hours or perks. Don’t believe it? Give it time, and your turnover rate will prove it.

Instead of trying to beat out your competition on salary, focus on your culture — that’s what will keep good talent under your roof and away from your competitors. How can you foster team engagement and culture? How can you reward your people in non-monetary ways? How can you provide helpful coaching and feedback to your staff to help them grow as they work for you? These should be your first considerations.

One of the main ways you can foster a culture that will lead you to loyal employees is to give your staff autonomy. Give them guidance to steer them in the right direction, but then let them figure out how to be successful on their own. They’re on the floor every shift. They know best. And if they’re talented people, they’ll create procedures that will have your restaurant running smoothly in no time.

An added bonus to this is you won’t end up with dependent employees. When you fill your restaurant with people you trust, who are empowered to do good work, you have the freedom to let them run the show, with or without your presence. Win-win.

top reasons employees quit

What’s important when it comes to retaining staff is to treat them well. Once you have a well-trained staff in place, especially if you hire people with experience and talent, there’s always the risk that they’ll get poached by another restaurant. The good news is that in the restaurant industry, many workers face long hours and low wages. You can beat out much of your competition for good staff just by offering a living wage and flexible hours.

What about the chef?

Yep, finding your chef is one of your most important jobs when you’re getting your restaurant up and running. And it’s one of the hardest.

It’s expected that some servers, line cooks, dishwashers and other lower level staff are going to come and go. Ideally, though, your chef should be a long-term employee. This is the person who is going to take your concept and turn it into actual, delicious food. You should do everything you can to hire the best and then keep them under your roof.

One of the first things you should look for in your chef is experience and education. Certification isn’t required for all chefs, but if you can find someone who is certified, you know you’re getting a chef who has put in some serious time and work.

But certification is not all a good chef should possess. You will also want someone with:

  • An excellent palate for tasting and distinguishing flavors accurately

  • Creativity for inventing new dishes and plating designs

  • Close attention to detail for accurately following complex recipes

  • Excellent teamwork skills for working well as a team member in the brigade de cuisine system

  • Leadership abilities for advancing your position and leading others working in the kitchen under them

  • Clear and effective communication for constantly communicating to ensure that the kitchen runs smoothly and dishes get out on time

  • Multi-tasking for handling various components of a dish or recipe all at the same time

  • Level-headedness for keeping cool under pressure and time constraints

Starting to see why a great chef can be hard to find?

So where do you even start looking for someone with all those qualifications? A restaurant-centric job board is probably a good place to start, but the most qualified and talented individuals probably won’t be out of work and looking. You can consider hiring internally by promoting a sous chef, looking for personal or private chefs who might be interested in running a restaurant kitchen instead, scouting for soon-to-be graduates at cooking schools, or even going to a recruiting agency to help you entice a chef to make the jump from another restaurant to yours.

While your culture is going to be important when it comes to landing and keeping a quality chef, it is important to pay your chef competitively. A lot of factors go into setting an appropriate salary for your chef, including his or her level of experience, the working environment and your geographic location.

To give you a starting idea of what to budget for, though, Government of Canada statistics gathered between 2014 and 2015 showed that the national average salaries for full-time chefs ranged from around $16 per hour (about $33,280 annually) to $25 per hour (about $52,000 annually).

Remember though that those are merely averages. They don’t take into account the differentiation between different types of chefs — for example, executive chefs average salaries between $57,000 and $80,000 annually, while sous chefs are paid, on average, $40,000 to $53,000 per year. You also have to take into consideration whether your prospective chef has any advanced training or certification, the cost of living where your restaurant is located, and the hours and environment in which your chef will be required to work. A restaurant in a rural town with a low cost of living might be able to get away with a salary on the lower end of that range, but a restaurant in, say, Vancouver, B.C., where the cost of living is much higher, will have to pay a chef much more to compete with other restaurants and entice the best talent. And if you plan on poaching a personal chef, you may need to be prepared to pay more — personal chefs’ salaries average between $35,000 and $45,000 per year (but can be much higher) in addition to schedules that often include several days off each week and vacation time each year. It’ll take an attractive salary to lure a chef away from a position that has those kinds of hours.

average chef salaries by position

Your staff is the backbone of your restaurant. Staffing is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as you get your establishment up and running. It’s part of what makes staffing (and staff retention) so difficult. But once you have a high-quality staff in place, it’ll pay off in spades with good food, excellent customer service and a restaurant that can run efficiently and autonomously.

Sean Hurley
Sean Hurley
VP Marketing
ChefHero