What to Look for When Hiring a Chef

What to Look for When Hiring a Chef

What to Look for When Hiring a Chef banner

If you’re a restaurant owner or manager, you know the importance of having a chef on your team that shares your vision and possesses superior cooking and management skills. In this short guide, you’ll learn the traits, skills, and knowledge to look for when recruiting the right chef for your restaurant.

Chef Skills You Should Look For

When looking for a chef for your restaurant, you obviously want someone with cooking credentials — ideally both in experience and schooling. However, there’s more to being a successful chef than simply one’s ability to cook a delicious meal. You also need a leader to listen, understand, and communicate effectively with your team. Your chef should possess the necessary traits and skills to serve as an effective liaison between the kitchen and management. Additionally, talk to your candidates about stress management. As a restaurant professional, you know the environment can be hectic and stressful at times. It is critical that your chef can handle stress effectively and lead the team appropriately.

As we mentioned, you and your chef should ideally understand and share your collective vision for the future of your restaurant. Discuss your vision during the interview process and take notes to reference later. When you come together as a team with a shared vision, you’re already ahead of the curve.

How to Write a Chef Job Posting

Unless you’re lucky enough to know of an available chef in your area with your desired skills and traits, you’ll need to create a job description and advertise the opportunity to qualified candidates. Here’s what to include in a chef job posting:

Chef Responsibilities

First, create a “Responsibilities” section in your job posting and outline each item you expect the ideal candidate to accomplish. . Depending on the side and the scope of a restaurant, chef responsibilities may vary. For smaller kitchens, a chef may supervise meal preparation and cooking, schedule kitchen staff, and more. For larger operations, the chef may operate in a more managerial role, overseeing a team of sous chefs, developing and testing daily specials and new menu items, and more.

A chef’s requirements will be unique to your restaurant’s needs and size — communicate with your management team and other staff to understand your needs. However, common chef responsibilities across operation sizes include managing kitchen staff effectively, accurate and precise food inventory management, and a creative vision for your menu. Transparently and explicitly communicating a chef’s responsibilities will reduce stress, confusion, and potential internal conflict.

Qualifications and Skills

The right chef for your restaurant should possess combined technical and leadership skills. A chef should think and adapt quickly when presented with a challenge, handle stress effectively, and lead a team of diverse individuals with varying backgrounds. As you develop the job description, include these items and be ready to ask additional questions related to the candidate’s employment history.

Education and Experience Requirements

While many restaurants vary regarding education requirements for chefs, a culinary degree and at least five years’ experience may be a starting point for your business. However, this can be somewhat flexible — keep an open mind. If you’re reviewing a candidate’s resume and they demonstrate 10 years’ experience with restaurants similar to your business —but no degree — you may decide that experience outweighs a degree requirement.

What Should You Pay Your Chef?

Salaries for chefs vary considerably depending on responsibilities, region, and restaurant size. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for a chef in the United States is $58,920 (or $28.33 per hour).

Many chefs also receive a variety of benefits, including group health insurance, paid sick leave, paid vacation, and discounts on menu items.

Chef Interview Questions to Ask

Of course, you’re going to want to meet your candidates — either in person or by teleconference — to determine if the individual fits your restaurant’s needs and culture. Here are a few questions you might consider asking during the interview:

Why did you become a chef?

The answer to this question provides you with an understanding of your candidate’s passion for cooking and the restaurant industry.

What is your signature dish?

When you ask about a candidate’s signature dish, you’ll learn more about the type of cuisine they favor, their passions, and whether this aligns to your current and future restaurant strategy. Consider asking probing questions to identify whether they prefer haute cuisine or home cooking, such as traditional family meals? If the chef’s favorite dishes are a good fit for your restaurant, are they willing to share the recipes?

Why do you want to work here?

Ideally, your ideal candidate will answer this question with information not necessarily included in the chef position description. You’ll want your ideal candidate to demonstrate how they researched your restaurant, what value they bring, and how they plan to work together with you and your team to be successful.

Why are you leaving your current employer?

Unless your candidates are just out of school, they are likely considering leaving their current position for other opportunities — maybe even exclusively with your restaurant. . Ask questions about why your candidate is currently considering other opportunities and listen carefully. With the right questions, you’ll determine if the individual is the right fit — improving your business strategy, culture, and reducing employee turnover.

How does food cost factor into menu creation?

A good chef is also a good businessperson. Ask this question to make sure they understand the relationship between food cost and menu creation — especially as restaurant food costs are often the largest operational budget line item. Improper food cost management can devastate restaurants of any size — ensure your ideal candidate understands how to manage food costs appropriately.

How do you keep labor costs under control?

Labor costs fluctuate widely at any restaurant. On slow nights, you’re paying staff to wait for patrons. On busy nights, managers must consider overtime pay for their staff. It’s a good idea to understand a candidate’s views on how they balance labor costs with delivering a unique experience, superior service, and exceptional food quality to restaurant patrons every time.

What qualities do you look for when hiring kitchen staff?

Your chefs will likely have to hire staff of their own — if not immediately, then at some point in their tenure at your restaurant. A chef’s staff is also your staff —it’s important to understand how your chef evaluates future candidates for their team.

Evaluating Restaurant Chef Candidates

Once you’ve reviewed resumes and interviewed your top prospects, you’ll likely have two or three candidates competing for the chef position at your restaurant. Narrow your list down to a single candidate by asking yourself…

  • Which candidate best reflects the restaurant brand and culture?
  • Which candidate possesses a compatible work ethic for our restaurant?
  • Which candidate would work well with the immediate team, and our team overall?
  • Which candidate demonstrates the leadership qualities we need here?
  • Which candidate not only cooks the best food but also shares our creative vision for the menu and restaurant overall?
  • Which candidate best demonstrates longevity with our restaurant in this role?

Learn about owning and managing a restaurant at Johnson & Wales University

When you establish a foundation in the food and beverage industry with a relevant degree in the field, you’ll come prepared with the tools and information you need to own and manage a restaurant. A good leader and restaurant manager needs to wear a number of hats — from operations to human resources. You’ll need to develop a supportive and aligned team of individuals with a shared vision, transparent communication, and diligent management skills to keep your operation moving successfully. The right team can help make your restaurant dream a reality — keep this in mind as you interview and hire your staff.

JWU College of Professional Studies offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Food & Beverage Entrepreneurship. This program teaches you the basics of restaurant ownership and management. Designed for students with an associate degree, our two-year degree program features courses in business planning, hiring staff, and management strategies, and marketing. Best of all, the degree program can be completed entirely online.

If you do not have an associate’s degree in culinary arts but are interested in our food service management degree, our Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management may be a fit for you. To learn more, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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