Re-training your kitchen team: the essential checklist  

It doesn’t matter if you’re walking into your first ever catering job, or boldly marching into a senior position at your dream establishment; stepping into a new or unfamiliar kitchen is a daunting task for any chef. Equally, for those already at home in the kitchen – the task of then training them (or harder still, re-training them) to your standards can be just as challenging.

The nature of contracting means staff will sometimes get TUPE’d over and you can often be working with people you’ve never been with before. When taking over new kitchen teams from previous contractors, we at Vacherin often face the task of having to re-train and re-educate an occasionally under-skilled workforce, as well as trying to introduce them to a completely new way of operating, thinking and working. Not only this, but we’re also passionate, as many caterers are nowadays, about creating a completely new ethos towards food and menu creation, and approach to working with suppliers and customers.

Despite the hospitality sector continuing to boom in 2018, with reports from the market researcher’s NPD Group suggesting growth of 0.7% already on 2017, consumer confidence is still an on-going battle. The catering industry is thus constantly looking for ways to adapt, streamline and better their services in such a competitive market – and ultimately, this starts with the teams on the ground.

Most of the time, any skills shortage within teams is due to the lack of development and training within their roles, and the time and attention given to that individual. If you want your teams to work efficiently, successfully and ‘well’ together you should take time to get to know your staff personally, as well as within the parameters of the kitchen. Once you understand them better and know how to best utilise their skills and interests and keep them engaged. At Vacherin, every staff member is provided with a personal training and development plan that enables them to know exactly where they sit currently, and how they can progress to the next levels.

Every senior chef knows the challenge all too well – you are presented with a new addition to a team, or you walk into a new kitchen and immediately, the realisation that they might not be up to the expected calibre hits you. Which is fine – we don’t live in an ‘ideal’ world. This, or the fact they might take more development and resources to progress to the necessary standard than initially expected can be an obstacle to getting a new contract of the ground with a bang. There are a few factors you have to be prepared to accommodate for. Dedicate energy, give ongoing support, put aside and plan time and invest more than just discretionary effort towards training and development. If you do, confidence will shine through and your entire team will produce the quality of service needed to represent your organisation’s overall expertise.

In one of our more recent contract wins that mobilised last summer, we experienced this very challenge, but by enforcing the Vacherin way of working and by investing time and resources into individuals early on, they quickly became some of the strongest members of the entire Vacherin team, proving their aptitude was always there, it just needed to be unleashed with a little support, direction and belief that they could achieve the standards required – bettering both themselves and the overall team.

So, for my best practice guidance, I would say that the most important tip is to outline from day one the expectations of the team and the individuals, so everyone is on a level playing field of knowing what is expected of them, and how to do so. Give them responsibility, have trust and faith in your teams, and help to empower each member of staff, also allowing them room to be creative and come up with new ideas. Work side by side with your colleagues, ensuring your company ethos becomes embedded in their daily work ethic, and ultimately – enjoy it! Kitchens can be a highly demanding environment, so why make it any harder for yourselves?

In the first of an ongoing series on foodservice trends and best practice, Dan Kelly, director of food at London’s premier contract catering company, Vacherin, explains how effort and energy spent on re-training staff in the early stages of a new contract can pay dividends as the relationship matures.

Subsequent columns in this series will include real-life examples and top tips for readers to take away to improve their own environments.

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