Who’s your line cook?
A new friend owns some restaurants in Portland. When it comes to hiring, a challenge in that market is finding and retaining a good line cook (def’n:”Line cooks are usually responsible for prepping ingredients and assembling dishes according to restaurant recipes and specifications. Kitchens can be hot, noisy and stressful places, so you’ll need to be able to work efficiently and quickly to be successful as a line cook.”). The challenge in finding and retaining line cooks is that in most markets, the pay isn’t great and the work is hard. Those two conditions mean that it’s not necessarily an attractive position. It’s a pathway to something else inside the food industry, or a temporary stop on the way to something outside of the industry.
A dishwasher, a busser, a waiter, a manager. All positions that are somewhat formulaic and transferrable. They basically are about the successful delivery of a product. Without a product, they have no job. Who creates that product? The line cook. Hence, I find it interesting that this position is typically undervalued.
In your industry, who’s your line cook? What happens when you lose them?
The answer lies within specialization, and how an organization develops its staffing through evolution or importation. A line cook not only needs preparation and cooking skills, they need to be familiar with your recipes, imbued within your culture/brand, and have that certain zest/zeal/initiative where food gets a bit of its magic. Whether an eye for detail, or artistry, patrons love to love their food.
Specialization. What kind of a person can step in and immediately get the job done? What proportion of the potential employee market have the ability to do this? How much training will it take?
Evolution. Do you have the ability to smoothly transition people within your organization from one position to the next? Do they have the skills and interest to do this? Do you have this person when you need them? Has someone already passed through this position and are they able to step back to it in a time of need? If they step back into this role, can they do both jobs?
Importing. Is the position one where someone can step in from outside and carry your business vision? How much training is required to provide them with the skills and knowledge they need? How much is required to invest them in your vision?
As an employee or business owner, you’ll identify with the challenges of having the right person in the right place at the right time… and the effort needed to manage doing it. The point of this post is for you to go out and find another business person to speak with. Ask them who their line cook is? What position is undervalued? What position is harder to fill than you think it should be? Then figure out why.
The restaurant owner I spoke with emphasized how important his company culture is to him. Vision/passion/brand/promise… whatever term you use, how his staff operate and interact with each other and the public is critical to him. When it comes to the ‘line cook crux’, his approach was to stop and look at the market around him. He sees it as an undervalued position, so his response is to value it through higher than industry pay… and also to value it through the culture he fosters for all of this employees. If the rarity of good line cooks is related to being undervalued… solve some of the problem by creating value.
A certain position within your company may always be a critical skill or resource. When you imbue that position with the right value, then people might seek you out, and certainly lessen the impulse to see whether the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Once again, a brilliant flash of the obvious… but it’s a good exercise to go through to recognize that staff are your most important resource. Some are more ‘replaceable’ than others, but why put yourself in a place where you need to replace someone except when they are moving on to the next phase of their life? When your line cook goes to another company to be the same line cook there… what happened?