“How long can we expect a new executive chef to stay at our club?” That’s a question search committees always ask.

Club general managers and members typically want an executive chef who will work for 10 years or more at their club. While there are no guarantees in knowing how to keep an employee for 10 years or more, there are certain steps a club can take to define the club culture and foster career growth, which will help extend an executive chef’s tenure.

According to the company Club Benchmarking, 53 percent of clubs reported that their executive chef was employed five years or less in 2016 and the median number of years of employment for an executive chef in 2016 was five years.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median years with a current employer for employed wage and salary workers in the leisure and hospitality industry in January 2016 was 2.2. To break that number down further, those employed in the food services and drinking places segment dropped to 1.8 years.

Two key factors that affect employee turnover are developing a positive and supportive club culture and preventing job stagnation. A club with a defined culture that supports its employees and promotes career growth will go far in attracting and engaging staff. Cohesive alignment must exist between the board, the management team and the staff. And the club should have a well-defined identity that is communicated through core values and mission.

According to a report in the Harvard Business Review, “allowing workers to stagnate in their current role”, is one of the key factors that drives turnover. According to the article “Why Do Employees Stay? A Clear Career Path and Good Pay, for Starters” (Chamberlain, March 6, 2017), “stagnating in a role for an additional 10 months raises the odds that employees will leave the company for their next role by about one percentage point, a statistically significant effect.”

So how do you prevent job stagnation? First you need to know what motivates your executive chef. Next, offer opportunities for growth within the club. Here are seven ways clubs can prevent job stagnation by offering opportunities for growth.


Support and encourage professional development for the executive chef and their team. This includes certifications as well as membership in a professional association such as the ACF, and travel and participation in conferences for educational and networking opportunities.


Expand or rebrand dining venues. Planning and executing a new venue or expanding a current dining venue (i.e., adding more al fresco dining) is a great opportunity for growth. Don’t forget to expand the kitchen so that the culinary team can accommodate the expanded dining venue!


Support community outreach – both local and national. Examples include showcasing the culinary team with a food booth at community charity events and food festivals; supporting culinary team members in competitions at the local, regional, national, and even international levels; and supporting the executive chef as an adjunct culinary faculty member of the local community college.

Supporting an executive chefs outreach in the community is a win-win situation for the club. The chef and culinary team’s engagement increases, as does their growth. Also, the club receives local, regional and even national attention (depending on the event) which is great for attracting members and staff to the club.

Kevin Storm, CEC, the executive chef at Bellerive Country Club said, “I have been at Bellerive for 21 years because of the support they have given me and our culinary team in community outreach at a local, regional, national and international level. That is what keeps us engaged, focused and relevant.”

Kevin has served on ACF’s Culinary Team USA and is a coach of the current junior team USA. The club supports his ACF involvement, as well as his outreach to the local culinary school and his efforts towards achieving certified master chef status which he is currently pursuing.


Purchase new equipment and be supportive of new ideas. Has the executive chef asked for equipment such as an immersion circulator? How about a pizza oven? A garden and/ or bee hives? The club’s support of these new ideas will go a long way in keeping an executive chef and their team engaged at the club. Also, the kitchen equipment must be a part of capital investments. Give the team the equipment and tools they need to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.


Offer increases in titles and salary/bonus potential. Just because the executive chef has reached the highest title in the kitchen doesn’t mean there isn’t still opportunity for growth.

Consider promoting the executive chef to culinary director after a five -year tenure. This can include additional responsibilities and project work. If the executive chef has expressed an interest in moving to the front-of-the-house, consider a “Chef & B” role.

Lawrence McFadden, the general manager /COO at The Union Club in Cleveland stated recently, “Titles are important. Clubs really need to look at how to attract and engage the best minds, talents and egos ( a positive ego can propel an organization forward more effectively than hard work and  dedication). A marketable title will attract the best in class.

Our club has an executive chef, executive sous chef and chef de cuisine. Previously the positions were titled as executive chef with two sous chefs. Today, both our current sous chefs have 10 plus years of experience and were sous chefs for five years before joining us, so an elevation in title along with extra responsibilities was necessary to justify the move from their previous employers.

Human resource departments should always be challenged so secure the most marketable titles and descriptions which is no different than brand wordsmithing.”


Provide opportunities for autonomy. Executive chefs should be part of the staff executive committee and they should be involved in committee meetings, finance meetings, and even board meetings. Give them the tools to do their jobs and the goals that they need to achieve and let them lead their team to accomplish those goals. Nobody likes to be micromanaged and it’s a guaranteed way to drive the best leaders out of the club.


Provide a labor budget that allows for the culinary team to have a balance of life. There is a severe shortage of staff and the only way to attract and keep frontline employees is to offer higher pay and less hours. Good luck finding a Millennial that is willing to work the back-breaking hours that kitchen employees worked “back in the day.” More staff is needed to offer five-day-a-week work weeks.Executive chef Brian Beland, CMC, has experienced these growth opportunities throughout his 13-year tenure at the Country Club of Detroit. Originally hired as chef de cuisine, he was promoted to executive chef. The club supported the certifications he has achieved including CEC and CMC.

The club also has had extensive renovations over the last few years leading to exciting new opportunities for re -concepting dining rooms, opening new dining venues, and expanding the kitchen. The club has given him the opportunity to provide input to the board and at annual meetings.

The club has even supported his full -time work as a faculty member at Schoolcraft College where he teaches and influences young talent (and can select the best and the brightest to work in his kitchens!).

It’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Use “stay interviews” regularly to meet one-on-one with employees, including the executive chef, to find out what motivates each individual.

Learn about their short and long-term personal and professional goals.

Ask them what you can do to help them attain those goals. Also ask them what they need to do their job successfully and show them you care about and are invested in their future growth.

Finally provide the opportunities we discussed to create a culture of growth and support at your club.

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 2018