Becoming a chef patron – pitfalls to avoid

18 Jul, 2016

Becoming a chef patron

Just as a good home cook doesn’t necessarily make a good chef, nor does a good chef necessarily make a good chef patron.

In our latest blog post we asked a number of successful chef owners what key pitfalls should be avoided by chefs looking to start their own kitchen (and business).

Here is a round-up of what they said based on their own experiences.

Lack of training

We’re all aware of  the much publicised chef shortage that’s gripping the UK at the moment, but it’s essential that you hire the best team you can and then use your expertise and experience to train them, not just at the beginning but continuously. Many, many businesses fail to recognise the importance of on-going training of staff despite the fact that it’s the very people you employ that make the difference between success and failure. Ignore continuous training at your peril!

Poor communication

Sounds obvious, but can be a real business killer. If you’re running your own kitchen there needs to be constant communication between chefs and front of house, as well as effective dialogue between your service staff and kitchen. Achieving and maintaining good lines of communication will keep everyone on track and minimise issues that can cause disruption and damage customer perceptions.

Mental readiness

Are you mentally ready to manage a kitchen and the wider business? Are the rest of your kitchen team in the right mental state to function at the level they need to in order to achieve success? Many chefs overlook the mental strain that running their own kitchen and business can have on them personally and others in their network, especially if things don’t go to plan, so make sure you have a plan in place to help your mental well being and that of your staff.

The Ned Hotel - Hiring Chefs 2017

Togetherness

There truly is no ‘I’ in team! And there is very little point in you being match ready if the rest of your kitchen team isn’t. Every chef needs to be raring to go and it should be everyone’s responsibility (especially yours), to make sure this happens. Thriving kitchens are more often than not underpinned by great communication and observation.

Customer management

If you have a poor system (or staff) in place to manage customer intake and reservations then no matter how good the kitchen is, you are setting yourself up to fail. A dining room that fills up immediately at 8pm is always going to result in a slow service, un-happy customers and your kitchen looking to take shortcuts to cope with demand – something that ultimately never ends well for either customers or owners.

Poor equipment

No chef should be expected to work through a busy service with equipment that is not functioning properly. Putting off equipment maintenance or replacing kitchen equipment is a complete false economy – you won’t save money – you will however frustrate members of your kitchen team and end up serving your customers with below par plates of food. Chefs depend on their tools working well, so make sure you’re making sufficient budget provisions for maintenance and replacement.

Poor menu development and balance

The dishes that form your menu also act as the main control device for your kitchen and team. Planning a menu is as much a science as it is an art. Yes, as a chef patron you want your menu to reflect your philosophy but that aside, it needs to be designed with function and service in mind. Balancing plates between stations, thinking through cook times, understanding how menu prep might be adjusted to accommodate those nights when you’re at your busiest and ensuring all your kitchen team know the dishes and there prep inside out are all crucial if you want to succeed.

Lack of adequate Mise en Place

Simply put there is no excuse for poor Mise en Place. If you can’t nail this, then being a chef patron is not the right move for you (at this time). Well-designed prep sheets based on sound projections, a sense of urgency on the part of all your kitchen team, and the appropriate oversight will help to ensure your success. You also need to make sure that you keep accurate sales / demand records to allow your chefs to predict, with reasonable accuracy, what the sales patterns will be for items on the menu during service throughout the week – giving you even greater efficiency while also helping to drive down waste.

Being a chef patron is a hugely rewarding but demanding career move so make sure you’re prepared! Good luck.

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