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How we run & organize our kitchens.


xdrixn
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I've had a few people leave me recently and I'm doing my best not to take it personally. People leave jobs, especially in this business. Before I go any further, I'm not a screamer and if I have something to say to someone I say it in private and I offer constructive criticism. In short, I think I'm a fair "boss". None of us I think come into this business with hopes of being able to boss people around, at least I don't. I simply want to make pastries, learn and teach.

I am curious to hear how other pastry chefs are staffing their kitchens?

Do you have a person whose sole job is to plate in the evenings and if so what are the avergae number of covers? What tasks does this person do during down time?

One of my first pastry jobs at a prestigious restaurant in SF was to come in at 230 and do the same prep tasks day in & day out, the pastry chef never said a word to me. I felt there was a high turnover rate because of this AND because of this I try to run my kitchen differently in that my "plater" who come in at 2ish does a variety of tasks (menu item prep tasks), continues to learns and stays interested.

I often wonder if I should hire someone just to come in at 6 and plate dinner service. We are attached to a hotel and there are only so many cookies to be scooped and truffles to be dipped and the pastry line is immaculate. I must say I have a very hard time with down time having closed myself recently.

perhaps I'm overanalyzing but I'd be really happy to hear from other pastry chefs about staffing issues and solutions.

Edited by xdrixn (log)

www.adrianvasquez.net

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Since everyone's situation is so different regarding staffing and such, I think the best thing for you to do would be to ask the question "why are you leaving?" in an exit interview. If you see the same answer popping up time and time again (such as "I'm bored" or "I don't see possibility for advancement here") then you might re-evaluate what you could do differently as PC at your establishment.

Since everyone always has their own reasons for leaving, you need to find out if the trend of losing people has to do with the work, the atmosphere, the management style, or maybe the fact that people are getting better offers elsewhere. It may be a money issue....it could be hours.....it could be a commute issue......it could be personal stuff.....or illness.....or....or....or.

Since I have a lot of experience on both sides (management and employee) I know how hard it is to "toe the line"; to keep the best interests of both sides equal and fair. The key is to listen and evaluate. To manage means being a mediator in some cases. It can be really really hard. I always let my employees know that they can talk to me no matter what. If you let them know that you're their sounding board, you have a pre-emptive tool in knowing they may be positioning themselves to leave......and why they are thinking of doing so. I am always honest with them by letting them know I am in a position of doing my best for our employer too, and there's some things I can do for them and some things I can't. If I feel an employee has a legitimate gripe, I go to bat for them 100 percent. When employees SEE that you try your hardest to be honest and fair, you eventually win a good degree of loyalty.

But that's my management style. Other people have other styles. I'd be curious to hear what they are too.

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One of the first things that comes to my mind is, are you hiring assistant pastry chefs who aspire to become pastry chefs or are you hiring anyone that can do the job? Because if your hiring someone interested in pastry eventually they will be bored always doing the same thing (if your only leaving the prep work) and never doing the real baking and planning. But if your hiring say a college kid who's major is something other then cooking.........I'd say they just got bored and are moving on. If you can find a person who's new to the country/language, they usually don't mind doing repetitive work while their aclimating to their new language and surroundings.

I try to comunicate exactly what I wondering by just dirrectly asking people questions. Do they enjoy doing xyz? Is there anything they'd like to work on learning (and then incorporating that into my menu so they have something to look forward to)? I try to give people challenging things to do as well as the mundain. I believe you have to give people challenges or they become complacient.

You can usually see if someone is bored or dis-interested by their body language and their craftmenship.

Currently I have the salad guys plating my ala carte desserts and I do everything else myself. I also happen to work in a different part of the building then the main kitchen. Theres limitations, as in, they can't do advanced plating (or I should say their not interested in doing advanced plating so forget trying to teach it to them). Nor do they typically have the time to do any advanced plating while working a busy salad station. Instead I do my best to simplfy my plates, all garnishes are on the item, they only add sauces or xxxsugar, etc... to plates. That was hard to accept at first, but I've refocused myself. Since I can't rely on fancy plated work, I have to really consentrate on taste alone to sell my product. I poor my need to do visual work into other aspects of my job, like buffets or banquets work.

I work at a country club and our numbers vary greatly. I handle all the banquet plating...........the only area I get help in is ala carte work. If we are having a major event (like on Valentines/holidays, or big club events like candlelight dinners) I will stay and work the nightshift to plate my own work.

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Three months into opening my sixth restaurant, I think I am finally getting a notion on staffing needs and who has the right sensibilities and energy to benifit the whole operation, of course I have been wrong before and just might be fooling myself this time around.

I actually have several platers. One who plates five nights a week and several helpers who rotate out of the pantry to help durring crunch times. I also have a woman who makes popovers from 4 - 9, who also helps with plating. My assistant (a woman who is an absolute dream, a muse, and a friend), and I stagger our shifts so that one of us is in the kitchen when the evening crew arrives to go over the endless details of what has changed, where everything is, what is low, what is new, number of resos for the night, and just to touch base and get a sense of how things are working for them.

We have designed most of the elements of our desserts so that the platers job is simplified for speed and ease. This is one of the reasons we constantly talk with our platers to find out how we can do things to make their jobs easier. We have two restaurants in one building. One is a more casual lounge & outdoor dinning with fairly straight forword desserts. Plating time for these is about one to two minutes. The other is upscale steak & seafood, and the desserts are all trios, so take about four to six minutes. The trios have a lot of elements, but they are all pre-made, so it is simply a job of placement. Luckily, our platers are all logical and organized control freaks, which is really helpful in pastry work. Also, we all follow the tao of KISS (keep it simply silly).

Covers range from 75 - 125 a night. The crunch is from 8:00 - 9:30, when we get hit from both sides fairly relentlessly. My assistant and I work with the platers or solo plating several times a month. We enjoy the rush and it also keeps our heads open to what is the simplest way to get plates out fast and still looking cool. Plus we keep an ongoing relationship with our night people.

I hope this is a little helpful. We have been very blessed to have developed a great crew that really enjoys supporting each other. One way we try to find this is we interview at least 3 times, and by at least 2 different people, then work closely with new hires. We show new hires exactly how we plate, how we set our mise, all our little secrets, then we listen to them. A new view is always enlightening. Of course, sometimes its maddening for a couple of control freaks.

No yelling ever!

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I agree with chefpeon about asking a leaving employee "why are you leaving", though I think most would not be honest if it was a potentially "confrontational" issue.

Often (if this was the case) an employee would be reluctant to say "I hate the way you talk to me" or "the exec chef is a jerk", I can't stand him(her).

Recently, I sort of received an assistant, maybe 3 days a week, and sometimes I have to be assertive with him.

They're very very eager, going to school, and think they kind of know everything already, so it's not a belligerent thing.

I just tell them what I need, in no uncertain terms if needed or after the 3rd time, always making sure to say "please", "thank you", "not trying to be a prick", etc.

In this current gig, neither of us plate (bummer) but in your situation, maybe the 6 oclock person is not a bad idea.

It DOES kind of lessen the foundation for finding new people for your section but...

RE: What to do during down time...

I used to prep fruit, mise ingredients for the next day, anything that could walked away from for a minute to plate a dessert.

2317/5000

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regarding down time - as I said above, my night people rock. As time allows they make bases for ice creams & sorbets, cookie doughs, and chocolate dip baby bananas. Our full time plater, when time allows, actually cuts prime rib and bakes the lobster pot pies for the main line.

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  KISS (keep it simply silly).

Now that's a kitchen mantra I can REALLY get behind. As a matter of fact, I think I'm doing that already. :raz::raz: In addition to keeping everything as simple as possible too. :smile:

I agree with chefpeon about asking a leaving employee "why are you leaving", though I think most would not be honest if it was a potentially "confrontational" issue.

That's always something to consider for sure. In an exit interview, knowing that finding out the reason they are leaving may not be pleasant, I phrase the question like this:

"I'm really sorry to lose you, but since you've made the decision to go, may I ask why? Your honest answer will really help me in future management decisions I make. Anything you say is held in the strictest confidence."

I've usually gotten straight answers from them. I mean, they're leaving and they know they won't be dealing with any negativity from fellow employees or me because they won't be there anymore. They're usually pretty open about getting nagging issues off their chests, if there are any. :wink:

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