Incentivise your chef - Stop your chef jumping ship

Related tags Chefs Gastro pubs Chef Sous chef

Keeping a happy team in the kitchen is essential to running a successful food pub. Mark Taylor looks at how pub owners encourage their chefs to stay...

Keeping a happy team in the kitchen is essential to running a successful food pub. Mark Taylor looks at how pub owners encourage their chefs to stay

The rise and rise of gastro pubs has meant that skilled, reliable chefs are in greater demand than ever before. With more and more food-driven pubs winning Michelin stars and other awards, cooking in pubs has become an attractive prospect for chefs, with a growing number moving from top city restaurants to rural gastro pubs.

But while there may be an explosion of quality food pubs, good chefs are increasingly in demand and competition between businesses is rife. With this in mind, pub licensees and small gastro pub companies are having to come up with numerous ways of motivating and providing incentives for their chefs.

Being head chef of a big gastro pub, possibly serving as many as 1,000 covers per week, is a tough job and one that deserves to be properly rewarded.

If chefs feel overworked, undervalued or underpaid, they are certain to start looking around for better conditions and alternative employment. Restless or disgruntled chefs may be poached by competitors or they may start to approach other businesses in the area - so what are the best ways to hold on to a gastro pub's most valuable asset?

According to Ed Turner, operations director of Geronimo Inns, a pub company with 14 gastro pubs in the London area, it's paramount to keep your chefs on side by offering regular bonuses. "It's a great time to be a chef because they're in demand," says Turner, whose pubs include the Builders Arms in Chelsea and the Morgan Arms in Bow. "There's always a shortage of chefs and keeping hold of them is a very difficult thing."

Chefs involved in marketing plans

Chefs working for the Geronimo Inns group don't just get involved in the kitchen but in the whole marketing of the pub, too. They have incentives on their performance in the kitchen and also get involved in cost management. Says Turner: "Our chefs get bonuses on GP (gross profit). A basic bonus would be 8% to 10% of their basic salary for achieving their targets and a lot more for beating them.

"If they get to see those sort of figures on a regular basis, that spurs them on even more because everyone likes a bit of cash in their pocket." He adds: "There's a broader number of chefs who can apply for chef positions in gastro pubs these days, but there's also a lot of competition with people looking for chefs.

"In gastro pubs, the lifestyle and hours are a lot better than they are in restaurants. The chef can finish slightly earlier, it's more flexible and because of the size of the businesses, chefs are more their own boss and I think they enjoy that. A few of our chefs have gone off to run their own gastro pubs and we have a few who have made the move from chef to manager, but we've also got a couple of chefs who recently celebrated working five years with us. We took them out for a big dinner and gave them a long-service award."

Start with a generous basic salary

Pub entrepreneur Paul Salisbury has five successful gastro pubs in the Midlands, including the Orange Tree at Chadwick End, Warwickshire. Each of his pubs has an experienced head chef and sous chef, with a small brigade beneath them. Salisbury says that his policy is to pitch the chefs' basic salaries at a reasonably high level to start with, simply because of the competitive market, but he is happy to reward them with bonuses as well. "I think you have to look after the chefs in other ways," he says. "We give them a bonus linked to the overall GP, but we also give them a straight bonus, based on how much profit the business makes.

"This works out at about 10% of our bottom-line profit, which we would anticipate sharing between the key managers and head chefs - usually 5% each. That can work out at about £10,000 to £15,000, which is quite an incentive. But if we're making that sort of profit, I think key members of the team deserve a share in it."

Kitchen staff share gratuities

Another way in which Salisbury's group of gastro pubs differs from others is that the kitchen always gets a share of the gratuities. He says: "We found by doing that we avoid that front-of-house versus kitchen situation. Everyone gets a part of the tips, including the head chef and sous chef." Stuart White is head of food for Ha! Ha! Bar and Canteen, which has 25 sites across the UK, each with its own head chef and a minimum of five other chefs. The food is fresh and cooked to order, something that White sees as an incentive in itself.

Fresh food earns loyalty to brand

"When they come to us, chefs are concerned about working for a brand, but the fact we only use fresh food and don't use microwaves is a great motivator for them. If you can offer a chef a job in a fresh-food environment, that's a great incentive, and they also like the reassurance and security of working for a brand because of the training and support. "We bonus our chefs on GPs. We have a theoretical sales mix and the actual sales mix. If a menu gives us a theoretical margin of 75%, we bonus the chefs on keeping their actual margin within a 3% gap of the theoretical margin on a weekly basis. If they keep a 3% gap, they'll receive a half-yearly bonus. For a head chef, that can work out at around £5,000."

Another ways of encouraging chef loyalty in the Ha! Ha! Bar and Canteen chain is by running competitions. Although the menus are centralised, the group has started to ask chefs to put their own original dishes forward. If they're short-listed, they get a bonus of £100, and if their dish gets on the menu, they get a bonus of £500, with their name going on the menus. If they sell a certain amount of dishes, they'll get a further £500 bonus.

Chefs like being part of community

Ha! Ha! Bar and Canteen has also just introduced a "Market Board" menu, focusing on local suppliers and regional dishes. White sees this as another big incentive for chefs. "They get motivated working alongside local suppliers. Although we're a brand, we're independent and chefs like to be working for a bar which is part of a local community."

The group also runs a bonus scheme on each kitchen's food-safety audits. Says White: "If the audit hits 100%, each chef in the kitchen receives a £100 bonus and then the operations team covers the kitchen for the chefs when they go for a night out."

House helps keep staff on board

Apart from the lure of bonuses, there are other ways of incentivising chefs and staff. The Bell at Sapperton has long been one of the most popular Cotswolds gastro pubs, doing between 750 and 900 covers per week. Because of its rural location, staffing has been a problem, but co-owner Paul Davidson, has come up with some ingenious ways of keeping them once they knock on his door. He says: "Our staff tend to be South African, Australian and Polish. Because we're busy seven days a week, we need to have people on a consistent basis and what we can't risk is having staff who will let us down. We need something more than people in their late-teens and early-20s who are only doing three or four sessions a week and would rather go to a party on a Saturday than work at the Bell. We have 15 members of staff, all of them full-time, and we house them either above the pub or in a cottage we have in the village. Most are here for six months and they want to work and earn some money."

Car available for staff days off

Davidson has found his overseas staff want to spend any free time seeing the countryside. "It's a pain for them if they are on a day off and the bus doesn't turn up," he says. "So we bought a staff car, that we maintain, which keeps everybody happy. If they're here for six months, they know the five days a week they're working and they know exactly what their hours are virtually to the day. They know that when they get their two days off, they can go wherever they want to. We get that commitment from them, and

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