Horror stories roll into my inbox daily as chefs, managers, and owners complain about how they don’t understand what they’ve done wrong; another no-call, no-show? A new cook shows up for his first shift and doesn’t return for his second? Nothing ever seems to get done, unless the chef ends up doing it herself? Plates come out of the kitchen looking like crap and or aren’t consistent? They can’t get their staff to put their damn cell phones down. So, what causes employees to become disengaged and apathetic towards the work you hired them to do? Well, the bad news for you is that often, it’s not them – usually, it boils down to the leadership. As managers, I think we’ve all experienced this in some capacity – problems mount, just adding more stress to an already, by nature, stressful industry. If you stop to think why this is the case, it’s really pretty intuitive.

1. Most of us learn how to cook – either in school or on the line somewhere. We run into problems when we realize that the skills required to cook are vastly different from leading people and managing an operation. The same applies to bartenders and servers.
2. Because this is the case and since we are taught the technical skills, but not the softer skills, we often don’t experience first hand what leadership should actually look like – there is no example to follow.
Thus, it’s just a self-fulfilling cycle… That is until now until you understand where you’re going wrong.

Hopefully, this will help… The 8 reasons why your staff doesn’t respect you…

1. You don’t invest in your staff. It’s funny, we want our staff to completely buy into and invest in the kitchen work we’ve hired them to do, but in return, most of us don’t return the favor – it should be a two-way street, right? So, this is what it looks like.
Richard Blais said it perfectly when he was on my podcast, Making the Cut (here’s a link to the episode):
“I understand that a lot of my cooks and front of the house staff might just be passing through. Some of them might want to become chefs and managers, but it’s a lot more likely, especially for servers to want to become artists, or writers or entrepreneurs. So, if I know that going into them coming to work for us, I can start to manage my relationship with them in a different way. If an employee wants to open a t-shirt business and I know that I can not only teach them the skills that they are going to need to be successful in the restaurant, but I can also fill them in on some of the ins and outs of business ownership, inventorying and other things that are essential to running a t-shirt business.”
When employees feel like you’ve got their back, they will go to the end of the earth for you, shedding blood sweat and tears and you as the one in charge are responsible for initiating the tone of the conversation – you set the expectations and a level of respect, which is one of the things that leads to trust – and trust – it’s at the heart of every single successful company’s culture.
2. They don’t see you working “hard”. You would be shocked at how many frustrated, at the end-of-their-rope line cooks message me, bitching and moaning about how their boss “doesn’t give a shit” or “he’s always in the office screwing around on Facebook”. Sure, there are some bosses (a fair amount) that fall perfectly into this category – lazy, checked out, whatever you want to call it. But, the vast majority are well-intentioned and spend our time in the office working on inventory, schedules, costing out menu items and brainstorming on new menus. The problem is that cooks often don’t understand all of the various duties for which their manager is responsible. Sure, instead, we could spend all of our time in the kitchen, helping with prep needs and in the dining room touching tables (and I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing those things), but then when would we get done all of the menial, not-so-fun paperwork? After the restaurant closes? Most salaried employees know exactly how that starts to feel after a couple weeks – it takes a toll on you. So, yes, it makes sense to chip away at this stuff, but not in huge chunks of time – pop your head in, jump on the line to rally the troops, pitch in with prep, take the trash can out if you walk by it and it’s full – do the things you would have liked to see your boss doing back in the day – do the things that show you’re not above any job, especially their’s.
All of this shows that you care about what’s happening within the four walls of the restaurant. It shows that you’re still in touch with the job they are doing and that even though you aren’t a line cook anymore, you could be if someone called out and you needed to take one for the team.
3. You seem to only notice the mistakes they make. Instead, catch them doing something right and acknowledge it. Have you ever had that boss or coach that terrified you – heart beat starts racing and panic sets in whenever they seem to be approaching? What is going through your mind?
“What did I do wrong? What is chef coming to bitch at me about this time?”
 What if, instead, you noticed all of the things they are doing right acknowledged those and their strong work ethic and then give them one or two things they need to work on over their next couple of shifts.
4. They don’t feel like you care about them as human beings. I assume you genuinely care about the people that work for you, but do they know that? One of my greatest joys is connecting with the people around me – really connecting – and it’s really not hard. It just takes a little effort and intention. Asking someone how their day is going and actually hanging around to listen to their response. Ask about their hobbies, family and check in to make sure that everything outside of work is running smoothly. Your staff needs to know that you want for them to achieve success outside of work just as much as you do at work.
5. You don’t trust that they will make the right decisions without you having to look over their shoulders. One of the keys to a healthy, thriving, creative and content company culture is directly related to empowerment – trusting your employees to make certain decisions without your input. Give your kitchen guys a chance to come up with specials and to brainstorm the new seasonal menu with them. The more an employee feels like their participation is not only valued but important, the more that same employee will
6. You take advantage of your position of authority. At this point, I’m sure the insane amount of evidence supporting such a far-reaching problem in our industry is more than apparent, but sadly, it still exists. This can be in obvious ways like sexual harassment, but it can also be that you allow for certain things to happen within the four walls of the restaurant that aren’t acceptable – turning a blind eye; employees blatantly disrespecting each other without you doing anything about it, suspecting that certain employees are mixed up in drugs or too much alcohol and not sitting them down to have the hard conversation needed to get them back on the right track.
“Why do I think I should be allowed to get away with this? Why can I hold myself to a different standard than everyone else?”.
The typical response?
“Because I can.”
Doing something because you can is very different from doing something because it’s the right thing to do – chew on that for a minute.
7. You don’t know what the hell you’re doing and as a result, the staff has no confidence or faith in you. Are there individuals reporting to you that can run circles around you, are more competent as cooks and have more knowledge than you do, but aren’t paid nearly as well? I think that would piss you off – me too. If shit really hit the fan – the power goes out on a fully booked Friday night, in the middle of the rush – how would you handle such a situation? Would you handle it with poise? Would you quickly come up with some solutions to guide your staff through such a crisis?
8. You flat out don’t care. Letting food go out of the window when you know it’s not to spec, walking by a table in the dining room that’s missing a salad fork and instead of grabbing a replacement, you just pretend to not have seen it, and one more big one – allowing for things to take place under your watch that shouldn’t be tolerated or accepted. There is no time in this industry for those that aren’t willing to hold themselves accountable, because then, how in the world would we expect for them to hold other people accountable?

Some say being the leader of people should most closely relate to the relationship a parent has with their children – they are always looking out the best interest of others. It’s good practice – in business and in life. Simon Sinek came on my podcast (here is the link to that episode) after having written several books on leadership, including, Leaders Eat Last and this is what he said:
“You know everyone talks about the most important quality that all leaders have in common – some people say vision, others say charisma, but I know some leaders that don’t have some grand vision but still do great things by being thoughtful and intentional. I also know other outstanding leaders who are far from charismatic, but with their personality – it works. For me, with all of the leaders I’ve spoken with – the one and only thing I’ve found all leaders have in common – is courage – the courage to do the right thing, not the easy thing.”
It’s hard having difficult conversations. It’s hard reprimanding employees in a thoughtful way and in a way that an individual knows you have their best interest in mind. It’s hard letting go of the cook who has been with you for five years, has become one of your best friends and has done a great job, but whose contribution and attitude are in a free fall. It takes courage to put a menu out into the world that might or might not work, and it takes courage to adjust that menu, listen to feedback and do what’s in the best interest of all those involved. If you have courage, even though it’s intangible, people see it, feel it and want to be a part of it – it inspires them to dig deep and tap into the reservoir of courage hiding somewhere within them. If your staff knows you’re willing to do the hard thing – to stand up for whatever is right – a person, an idea, a sentiment, whatever it is – if they know and can feel your commitment to that – they will go into battle for you, guns blazing, with a willingness to take the first bullet – though you won’t let them, because you’re the one leading the charge.


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I spent time with the world's best chefs to learn what separated them from the rest. I’m proud to share these stories and spread some good in the world and to have penned a book that needed to be written.

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