Ask those who have worked a kitchen job, and the majority will tell you the same thing; it’s not as glamorous as social media makes it out to be. The hours are long, the schedules are tough and the kitchen is your life. For some people, when food and creativity are your passions, this might be great. For those who simply need to work, it’s not ideal or attractive.
Laurens Defour, CEO of Les 3 Brasseurs, is trying to change the image of the kitchen job to make it more appealing to individuals, as well as building on loyalty and passion. According to Defour, “there is no quick fix, each company will choose its strategy according to its own needs. Les 3 Brasseurs have chosen to work around a key theme, passion: the passion of the job, the passion of good eating and the passion of the customer.”
There is no restaurant or hotel that is immune to labour shortages in the kitchen. Not everyone is cut out for this hectic and demanding job;,the turnover rates are typically high. Hotels and restaurants are regularly faced with the problems of recruitment, retention and loyalty. A lot of times, even the individuals who have received training from specialized schools will tell you that they have chosen a path in foodservice by chance.
The turnaround rate is perhaps highest amongst kitchen staff, Defour explains, because often working conditions for kitchen staff are unattractive, in addition to the long and unusual schedules. “No wonder the industry is struggling to find recruits willing to train or to retain the existing ones,” says Defour. He suggests that operators and chefs should start with upfront, clear expectations and explain to potential staff that the job, like any other, will have its set of rules and restrictions and returns, including the promise of an exciting job that can offer a great career path.
Les 3 Brasseurs is working on building loyalty and commitment. Are they doing anything different to set themselves apart from the rest? “Above all else, we put the passion of the profession at the top of fundamental values which are the basis of our profession and that we sometimes tend to forget because of an endless race to reach the performance of our industry,” says Defour.
It might also come down to supply and demand; the restaurant which offers the highest salary will often win the labour game. However, this does not always build loyalty, as another restaurant might move around in six months time and offer just a little more.
Les 3 Brasseurs has chosen to take the approach of instilling passion in their employees to foster a culture of commitment, loyalty and pride in the work that they do. They have taken the direction of “recruiting passionate people and inspiring those currently working with them through the love of work that is done well.”
While some might think working in the kitchen offers the most creative outlet, restaurants have standard recipes “that don’t always give way to the creativity aspect, but we are at the service of the customer experience, and we join together around a very simple concept, to make people happy around a beautiful plate, to put love in our dishes.”
To change the game, Les 3 Brasseurs is an industry pioneer working to retain and attract employees; they began looking at and paying attention to certain values that may not always be a top priority. “Cooking is a passion,” Defour emphasizes, and, therefore, “we must put the business back in the spotlight as a key element of the company’s strategy and success.” Yes, maintaining a profitable business is essential, however, if you do not have the employees to help you run this business,
you are out of luck. Being able to maintain a roster of talent via motivation is a challenge, however, “in small and medium-sized businesses, a sense of belonging to a business is essential to keeping employees. This pride of belonging is also a way to make people accept more difficult working conditions.”
It’s important to note that while a commitment to the job is important, it is balance that will lead to a happier team. You must be able to offer something the competition either cannot or is not willing to offer. Les 3 Brasseurs has come up with a list of things they are trying to implement to build this passion to the job, as well as loyalty. A “balance between personal and professional life, by proposing more flexible schedules,” is one key element. They are also looking to offer opportunities for people to improve their skills by offering not only proper training when starting the job, but the chance to earn diploma certificates, as “continuing education secures, values and retains employees.” And certainly, having pride in the work you produce, whether you are part of a chain restaurant or a five-star dining experience, is key. Les 3 Brasseurs offers events that promote the fresh produce that they use and the chance to visit the farms and producers that supply them, as well as take part in the harvest, allowing staff to work hands-on and understand all that goes into the making of the food they work with. Dedicated staff do not want to “simply open a bag of frozen product,” but rather cook from scratch and put their skills to work.
When asked why someone would choose his restaurant over another, Defour says, “the economic profitability of a company does not always make it possible to be able to pay certain levels of wages and to offer a plethora of advantages. One must thus reconcile the financial aspect with the human aspect, to find the right balance especially for a network like ours, which currently has 19 restaurants.” He also points out that each business offers it’s own variation of benefits so while it is hard to stand out from the competition, “it is the sense of belonging that we can create vis-à-vis our brand, taking precedence even over the financial benefits.”
It takes time to change an industry that is very much set in its ways. However, “results in terms of reduction of turnover are already perceptible, cooks are more committed, more proud of what they cook and serve our customers, a feeling of practicing their profession, a sense of work” can be found in their employees. Defour says it best, that “the employee is at the heart of the company on a human scale.” And your employee is your greatest ambassador. “For this, we know that we can also count on our current cooks, and for some that have been in our company for ten years and who are our best ambassadors. They will allow us to accompany this transformation and new vision of the job at home.”
It is an ongoing task that has proven to yield positive results thus far, though Defour points out that “the road is still long, but we are convinced that putting the job forward through the pride of a job done well and around good taste will help to retain our employees and attract new ones, it is for us a step in the right way.”