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

It’s been a recurring theme this year when speaking with executive chefs at conferences, as well the numerous phone calls I’ve received from executive chefs around the country. There’s a growing crisis in our private club kitchens and in restaurant kitchens across America because of a shortage of qualified kitchen personnel from cooks to executive 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 that pay higher rates than traditional private club kitchen wages, and offer more work/life balance.

Add to this the growing Millennial workforce that’s 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).

Moskin in her Chicago Tribune 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 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 food and beverage 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 website as well – they get the word out.

We’re not talking just 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” now.

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” with compensating 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.

About the Author…

Lisa Carroll, as a search and consulting executive, specializes in Executive Chef, General Manager, CFO, and HOA/POA Manager searches with Kopplin Kuebler & Wallace. For over 30 years, she has built relationships and connections in the private club industry. She has been a regular speaker at Club Management Association of America (CMAA) chapter events and world conferences, as well as American Culinary Federation (ACF) chapter and conference events. Lisa can be contacted via email at or by phone at 561-596-1123.

THE BOARDROOM MAGAZINE – January/February 2016