Perhaps you’ve read the recent articles about the kitchen staffing crisis in America including: “Not Enough Cooks in the Restaurant Kitchen” (New York Times article by Julia Moskin, 10/2015) and “Where Have All the Cooks Gone” (Chicago Tribune article by Kevin Pang 8/2015), among them.

It was a recurring theme this year when I spoke with executive chefs at C&RB’s Chef to Chef Conference and the ACF conferences, as well the numerous phone calls we’ve received from executive chefs around the country. There is a growing crisis in our private club kitchens across America: a shortage of qualified kitchen personnel from line cooks to sous chefs.

With a record number of restaurants opening and other culinary employment alternatives (upscale supermarkets, catering facilities, upscale retirement and assisted living communities, and even food truck ownership, etc.), the competition for qualified kitchen labor is fierce.

Also, with the economy picking up there are more job opportunities available that pay higher rates than traditional private club kitchen wages and offer more work/life balance.

Add to this the growing Millennial workforce who is more interested in: work/life balance, knowing more about the business they work for, autonomy, as well as having been raised to believe “everyone is a winner.” ( article “4 Tips to Engage a Millennial Staff” by Megan Rowe, 11/2015).

Julia Moskin in her New York Times article wrote: “Cooks joining the profession now are more particular about the kitchens they want to work in, better equipped to move from job to job and from city to city, less willing to work long hours for low wages and more impatient to rise.

So how do private clubs attract, engage and retain qualified kitchen labor? It seems obvious to me that investing in the staff from a compensation and personal development standpoint is an important strategy. Pay your team higher wages than your competition, offer them benefits, and offer them more work/life balance. And get that word out.

What is that you say? You can’t afford it? I don’t think you can afford not to if you want to deliver the quality F&B experience that your newer, younger members demand.

Is your club known as a preferred employer in the area? If not, why not? Look into what it takes to develop community approval and make it so. Check out the employer awards that the Detroit Athletic Club has earned over the years: “Detroit’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For,” “Crain’s Cool Places to Work,” and “Detroit Free Press Best Places to Work For.” The DAC advertises this on their web site as well – they get the word out.

We’re not just talking about increasing compensation for line cooks and sous chefs either. Private clubs now more than ever need to “compete with the streets” to engage their members and attract them to dine at the club rather than area restaurants. Private clubs need executive chefs who bring leadership, talent, creative menus and presentation, financial expertise, compassion, empathy, mentoring and vision to their culinary programs along with a personable demeanor and a “the answer is yes” attitude towards member and guest service.

Often we are contacted by private clubs who want to “raise the bar” in their culinary programs because their newer, younger members are eating out more often at trendy area restaurants and everyone is a “foodie.” The F&B programs at private clubs are vitally important to member engagement because everybody eats. F&B and fitness are the new main attraction for the whole family – even more so than golf.

Clubs will not be able to attract talented individuals at the same compensation rate as their previous chefs. If employers want to “raise the bar” on their culinary program they need to be willing to “raise the bar” on compensation for their culinary team.

Private clubs today need to invest in their executive chefs and their culinary team. The time has come to put your money where your mouth is.

SAVE THE DATE: Save the date now for our first annual Culinary Leadership Summit February 4th and 5th (right before the Chef to Chef Conference) in Atlanta. More details coming soon!

minihead-3Lisa Carroll
Lisa Carroll is a Search Executive and Consultant at KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE, recruiting GMs and Executive Chefs. She is a faculty member of CMAA’s Business Management Institute (BMI) Club Management at Georgia State University, is a Fellow of the Culinary Institute of America, and speaks at CMAA and ACF conferences and chapter meetings around the country.