Jul 122013
 

I recently placed a short job alert on LinkedIn, ending in the following instructions:

“IMPORTANT; Only legal US residents can be considered. Applications must be made via the web site. (Consider it a test on intelligence and ability to follow instructions)”

The response consisted almost entirely of invitations to “please contact me”, “please send information about your firm” (This, of course, would be on the web site), and “please view my profile”. Only one person sent me a resume.

This is almost standard practice. Paid ads on Craigslist explicitly requiring resumes and elsewhere explicitly requesting resume submissions through our contact page receive responses such as “I am a widely respected Chef. Please view my web page” or get my resume on line, or call me ASAP.”

I am a recruiter. I recruit chefs for my supper, a process not much different from recruiting lace tatters or attorneys, I imagine – a client calls me with a profile, which I try to fill from my current stock of professional acquaintances, while I also do a bit of outreach. My job is then to amass a group of likely candidates matching the employer’s laundry lists of preferences and needs, screen them for any number of qualities from career path to star power to palate to  to common sense and then provide those who seem most likely to the employer to be discussed further. Among the qualities I seek are attitude, intelligence and ability and willingness to follow instructions.

If I provide instructions on applying for the job and you don’t follow them, you will not be my candidate, because 1) You did not take the time to read the entire alert, so you are not detail oriented, 2) You are arrogant enough to feel that you are not under the same constraints as others seeking the position, 3) You are simply not very sharp and did not understand the instructions, 4) You think I am stupid and won’t notice that you are playing me or 5) You,  yourself, are stupid. None of these are mutually exclusive, by the way. It is quite possible to encompass all of these qualities at once. So why ever would I want to send someone like this to my clients?

While I have been taking advantage of applicants’ failure to comply with my requests, I now learn that many HR departments are using instruction compliance in a far more sophisticated manner.

They actively create  instructions to weed out candidates. Candidates are provide with several directives: Please use the job description and number as your subject line. Please include a short paragraph on  the reason for your interest in this job and why you feel it is appropriate for you / you are appropriate for it. Keep your sentence under five lines.

Anyone not focused or intelligent enough to follow instructions is automatically excluded from the consideration. The wheat is immediately separated from the chaff.

Instruction based weeding can be more complicated: Once an application is accepted for consideration a questionnaire may be sent. Again, if the applicant does not fill out the questionnaire or send it back in time, they are excluded.

The first goal is to see if the candidate takes the time to think about the position offered. Neither a recruiter nor an HR department likes to waste time on candidates who expect positions to fall from trees – asking for candidate input in return for a responsible position makes great sense. An invested candidate is always a better candidate. What the reduced pool of candidates write is then a valuable tool for further consideration.

In some cases the instructions are negative: Please do not send pictures. Please send your application only as a Word document or a PDF.  That too, is a test, whether intended or not.

What this means to you: If  instructions are presented with a job description, you must follow them. Read them carefully, so that you know what is required, then do it exactly as requested.. If not you will probably not make it to the main selection process.

 Good luck with  your career.

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 112013
 

(Scams 3.0,)

Working with Linkedin to locate candidates who fit my clients’ needs, I instead continue to encounter an ever more irritating series of scams coupled with a dispiriting revelation of the general level of intelligence around the world. Potential fraud victims respond to even the most obvious scheme with the internet job search equivalent of “Me! Me! Choose Me!”.  (Please View My Profile), occasionally providing email addresses, phone numbers and other personal information. (More of which they will happily offer when the con artist contacts them.)

The most recent example:

HOLLAND AMERICA LINE Looking for the following posts

TitleAll Bar ManagementButlerChairman/CEOChef de PartieChefs & CooksChefs – CommisChefs – Executive/HeadChefs – PastryChefs – SousConciergeChief EngineerConference/BanquetingDevelopment ManagerEAMExecutive Assistant/PAF & B ManagementFinanceGraduateGuest Relations OfficerGeneral ManagerHotel ManagementHousekeepingHuman ResourcesIT ManagerLeisure ManagementLeisure StaffNight ManagerOperations Manager/DirectorPorterReception/ConciergeRestaurant ManagerRevenue .

Either the Same or a fellow Con Artist has added a similar ad for Cunard Lines in the comment section.

These are scams. Cunard, Hyatt, Luxury Resorts, the Yacht London, Holland America lines and any number of other attractive employers do not post jobs as comments or in job seeker forums. Previous posts explain  how these scams work and describe one of the many potential consequences.

Of course you want the jobs, but the people offering them on free job posting sites do not have them to offer, and there are easier and  less dangerous ways of applying for them: Every major player has a web site with career submission postings. Even if these calls for staff were real, you would do better approaching the corporations directly, as a candidate without a fee attached is better than one who costs a company money. (I say this as a pretty good recruiter..there are times when you will do better without us.

So, go to the sites. Here are a few. You can usually find a career or job opportunity page with most major organizations:

Holland America

Cunard

Hyatt International

Marriott

The Yacht London, a frequent flyer on the scam circuit, does not have a page but there are a number of yacht recruiters in Britain.

When not to go to the web site:  If a recruiter contacts you with a specific position, you should let them work with you rather than going to the group web site. (When we rarely encounter this issue, we inform the potential employer, who would not want to hire a candidate who does this).

 Jobs as CEO’s and upper management positions will rarely be publicized, as these are done by very serious executive Search Firms under the radar. If they want you, they will research you (possibly on LinkedIn) and reach out directly. These positions can rarely be approached directly.

 Anytime you see an ad of the sort above, don’t send your resume or provide your number. Go directly to the site (another way to spot these frauds, by the way, is the revelation of the client. Recruiters rarely do this.)

Summary: If you encounter a bulk job posting (listing many jobs at once) on a free job posting site (Especially LinkedIn) using the name of a well known luxury company , it is probably fraud.  You should not send them any information or comment but instead go directly to the employer’s website to apply directly through their career page.

Have a nice career.

Dec 122012
 

Just when I think I have wagged every finger about every bad decision and misconception someone comes along to remind me that there are more out there.

An acquaintance assures me that if I just meet his friend, who has been the manager of a café with lackluster reviews for the past five years, that I will see her potential and find her the back door to a better job and a better future.

I assure him that I cannot. I am in fact nothing but the extension of my clients’ desires and needs, and the fact is that my clients do not want someone with potential rather than  a proven history of activity in their segment of the industry – whether that is fine dining or high volume chain operation or bakery quality control. In other words, they don’t want someone who thinks or knows they can do it. They want someone who has done it.

My friend’s friend would, I believe, be very  happy to “take a step back” and use her skills in a better environment but at a lower position. Again, this is something I cannot do. My clients, on the whole, want someone who is working their way up not in quality but in title, not someone who has reached a higher goal in some other branch of the industry.

There are some rules to getting to where you are going. I have written them in different form before, but let’s make them clear.

1)      You have more options early in your career than you do once you have set a path.

2)      You choose the kind of place you want to work in at the start or, let me say it again, early. If you want to be in high end dining or high paying volume quality restaurants, that’s where you need to take your first jobs. You need to stay in that environment.

3)      You can’t throw in  your lot with a corner café and expect to be taken on, even as a server, in a Michelin restaurant. It doesn’t work that way.

4)      If you are trying to ratchet up your career,  few recruiters will be interested in you, as they will have to make a “sale” to a client of a product (that commodity would be you) they cannot really trust, since you have no history in the area to which  you aspire. ). I have learned the hard way that this brings grief to me and generally to both employer and employee. I suspect that most recruiters will agree.

5)      Exception: If you are very young and want to work your way up from a pretty subordinate job, you have a fair chance. Recruiters don’t figure into the algorithm, but they don’t need to.  Everyone loves puppies and is willing to train them more than they love and are willing to train unknown older dogs. There may be some begging involved, but it has been done.

6)      Employers generally want someone “on the way up”, not someone who has been up and is trying the catch him or herself on the way down then turn around.

7)      Where you start your career geographically is also important.

8)      Leaving a more desirable segment of the industry often means you will not be able to return.

To you this means? Obviously early choices are very important. That the biblical concept of “straight and narrow” also counts in restaurants. Why?

The pervasive rigor necessary in all high end properties can’t just be picked up – it has to be in muscle memory.  Employers suspect, generally correctly, that someone in a more casual or smaller environment than theirs will not have developed the habits and  “moves  required to fit in with the flow or their kitchen or dining room.

The good news is, as usual, that the culinary industry is a field where rules and generalizations apply, but only mostly. There are not a lot of exceptions but enough of them to make it worthwhile trying to get into a better niche. (Assuming that you think it is better. There are a lot of high end chefs and managers who back out to  open that neighborhood cafe and live happily ever after.)

People do transcend barriers between job types from time to time, so there’s no reason not to put a little effort into it.  I’ve even done it successfully a couple of times (but more times extremely unsuccessfully).  Those with a gift, a great temperament can and do manage to change their trajectory, but the effort will be yours. Go Craigslist, Monster, back door hopping. You can’t expect a recruiter to work for you (Remember – we work for the client) Nobody else can retool your career. It’s not their job. You are the beneficiary, so you need to do the work.

Given that, the obvious best strategy is starting out in the industry neighborhood where you want to end up.

Good Luck to you.

Nov 072012
 

This is for the few of you who have the good fortune to work in the best kitchens and are disheartened.

I’ve had a run of very desirable jobs recently including openings in Orange County, New York and the Bay Area. All of these require background in high discipline kitchens, which means by definition high visibility, quality and usually celebrity locations.

The result of  my outreach for candidates has been the usual dreaded flood of “could have beens”, that is chefs who started out in in the most respected kitchens and then left them early in their careers. The classic resume shows half a year at some place like Daniel, perhaps a couple of years at one of Joe Bastianich’s kitchens or Cyrus, then a move to a less known hotel  kitchen, possibly a restaurant popular outside of the white hot fires of New York, Chicago or San Francisco, then a choice for something perhaps off shore, but not on the general radar,  or possibly  industrial food service,  a retirement home, a school kitchen, an Embassy  Suites restaurant. These chefs because they have once been in the best kitchens now feel they  have the background to give them entry to a Michelin or some five diamond property. They couldn’t be more wrong.

They started with a full bag of chips, and they cashed them in too early. The thing about top level dining is that it demands top level focus and top level discipline. The word for that is “rigor”. Careers are like knives – they have to stay sharp. If you leave them dull to long, they lose that original edge. You can re-sharpen knives. Careers are much more difficult.

I understand why these chefs did this – the next step offered more money, a better title, promises of more freedom. That’s easy enough – the price for sticking in the top level of the industry is a longer path to fulfillment. You will not be a sous chef in five years. Your opinion will not be asked or even tolerated before you have been involved for at least seven or eight. By bailing on the demands and lack of early rewards chefs prove that they are better than the kitchens suppose them to be. Or maybe not.

Some rethink their priorities. Perhaps fiancés or partners insist on more attention. Some young chefs do not have the patience for the nit picking and hard standards of the top kitchens, and if that is the case, they should not be there. The top kitchens cull their staff by not promoting those who do not stand up to what some consider abuse. For them to leave is not only appropriate, it is intelligent. There are a lot of satisfying places to work in the A- down leagues.

For the rest, however, leaving them wastes an investment of time and energy, because you can only trade on the credibility those restaurants lend you for limited time. Once you are out of the loop, it expires.  There are back doors to be sure – old colleagues who stayed the course and are willing to pull you back in to their openings in a subordinate level or just the occasional accident, but they are iffy.

There is nothing wrong with bailing from the top.  Working in less demanding and more approachable locations is a pragmatic and appropriate choice. For one thing there are more people willing to spend their money there, and the rewards can be great. But starting at the top and then turning away generally means losing some of the value your energies created.

Anyone who has left the upper echelon did so for a reason. Not everyone can succeed in them. Those who left need to remember that reason and determine where their best options within the available jobs lie. Being the best food service director is better than struggling to stay above water as a hopeful subordinate in the Michelin leagues. Those still in the arena, however, will do well to think hard on the long range opportunities they may sacrifice by taking the more comfortable or flattering route.

What if fine dining is not what you really feel you want to do? Consider this: I have the privilege of knowing some of the chefs in top chain and food corporation positions, all earning well into the six figures. None of the kitchens or products they oversee require exceptional culinary rigor, but the chefs all have long careers in demanding, will recognized restaurants and occasionally celebrity status, because the corporations who have hired them require that their leaders are infinitely better qualified than their products require.  Nobody who ever accepted a better salary or a better title at a less demanding location gets these plum positions. Think about it.

Good luck to you all.

Mar 192012
 

 

Think before you move. Start out in the right spots.

It’s no secret that Location and demographics are two of the main factors in determining the success of a restaurant. The same adage holds true for careers.

At some point in your career you will decide what you want from life, or your history will decide it for you. My advice would be to choose the former, although a lot of happy chefs have done very well with the life-as-grab-bag philosophy.

That means you figure what your priorities are: Family, Life beyond the stove, fame, artistic fulfillment, money – some of which are mutually exclusive. And you decide what concessions you are willing to make. If you shoot for the prestigious and demanding spots, your social life may be dysfunctional for a few years.

It also means that you need to take responsibility for choosing the actual demographics of the place you work. The best regarded restaurants tend to be clustered in a few places: New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles with various outliers. If your aim is to build a career based on the most current and rigorous techniques, you need to start in those areas or continue there at a fairly early point – no later than sous chef.

These locations support the most demanding dining culture because of the composition of their diners. They all serve both a large population of well-educated and demanding affluent local diners, international business travelers and destination tourists. Each of these three towns boasts exceptional food centered media. They also have in common substantial populations of young, aggressive professionals on the rise who work hard, play hard, and live in apartments with small to limited cooking facilities.

The cost of working in the hot spots is high: higher rents, igher prices, lower wages, stronger competition, greater stress and longer hours, but the return on that investment, assuming  you make the cut, is great: With a stint of three or four years a respected kitchen in a top location you write your own ticket or attract more investors.

If the citadel is where you want to be, citadel is where you have to start. You cannot easily move into the New York or Chicago big leagues from  New Jersey or Atlanta, no matter how great a chef you are. It’s been done, but it’s rare. You can’t get there from most locations in Florida – although you can take a good history and a strong attitude as a cook or at times a sous chef up to the next level in the most desired areas. If you don’t get sidetracked, it’s definitely worth the investment, but it’s not for everyone.

Less celebrated locations offer good demographics offer great careers and often better lives than the hot spots. You can expect better hours and less stress, although it is exactly that stress which creates the winners in the race to the top. There is no law that requires you to indenture to the exacting standards of the “top” locations. Hotels in particular offer highly satisfying careers in places where the food culture and the demographics are do not support a lot of international destination restaurants.

The word here, however, is “good demographics” – determining them is a bit of a challenge. Take for example Florida, an attractive state which sucked up chefs in the nineties and early 00’s – A population boom of refugees from New York and Chicago winters, who didn’t want to cook demanded more restaurants, and investors gladly built them. Disney  provided jobs and training for the hordes of aspiring culinary professionals.

Today my inbox is full of requests from chefs from Florida desperate for local jobs and, if they have been out of work for more than a year, willing but not necessarily financially able to relocate. What was the problem?

Apart from the financial disaster of the past years, or rather combined with it, demographics. The expanding population of Florida was composed to a great extent of 1) Retirees, 2) Military, 3) People looking for more bang for their housing bucks and 4) people living in other people’s investments. To that comes a low spending tourism, much of which stays in Disney, some ethnic corridors, whose inhabitants are most likely to stay within the dining culture they love, and snow birds.

Some of the characteristics of this demographic picture are: Fixed income, demand for large portions, a lower expectation of adventurous and cutting edge cuisine. The high end tourist population is likely to eat mostly in hotels, but note that many cutting edge chefs who have opened there have since retreated. Demographics rule.

That’s fine in good times, and there’s nothing wrong with the professional preparation of large portions of meat and potatoes – it’s the stuff of family chains and country clubs, a respectable part of the industry, but it doesn’t create the kind of career profile that will induce another restaurant to bring in a chef from out of state.  Private clubs usually flourish in this kind of climate, but in recessionary times, they let their well paid staff go in favor of merely adequate cooks. (Family chains thrive).

Of course you can’t predict economic trends, but the past thirty years have shown us that they happen too frequently, so they need to be factored in your considerations. The fact that Florida now has a lot of cheap housing is a sign that Florida does not offer a lot of good jobs. People who moved to Florida in its good years would hardly have asked is this economy sound, but they might well have asked themselves, “where do I go from here if there are problems.” Many wish they had.

Poor Florida is a good example, but it doesn’t stand alone.  I thought for years that Sacramento would be great restaurant territory, until I realized that the well-educated and moneyed carriage trade were all drawn from the Inland Empire, and Sacramento is the center of an agricultural rather than a trade and professional region. Farmers and Stock Brokers have different tastes. Sacramento is finally coming into its own (several IT firms have large locations in the area) Until a few years ago, though, all Sacramento diners wanted (like Florida diners) was large portions at a reasonable price.

Where are you going to grow your career? What do you look for? Areas with locations like Research Triangle Park will support more and more sophisticated dining than locations like Phoenix, which caters to a demographic similar to Florida. You need to choose what works for you, and Phoenix can be a terrific place, but it is not a way station to Manhattan. Denver, for instance, has many good restaurants and a fairly stable (non speculative) dining public – a great middle choice. Seattle, Oregon are highly respected and solid locations both for permanent careers and for interim positions, as graduates of their many good restaurant are welcome elsewhere. The industrial belt is coming back and is not likely to fail again, and the area will be needing professionals. The positions available will in all probability offer stability and better quality of family life – housing, time and economic benefits – than the Meccas. Unless you make it to the “top”, in which case the world is your Belon.

The problem (actually only one of them) with life is you can’t be everything.  The good thing (actually one of them) is that you have the power to choose.

 

Oct 032011
 

 

 The good news: Things are improving.

The bad news: Not for everyone.

The fear of a double dip recession seems to be waning, and the dining public, whether because they are doing better or because they are just tired of pulling in their belts, are opening their wallets in restaurants again.

Hiring is up:

That means that restaurants are hiring once more, although not with the enthusiasm we saw four years ago and not at the prices. It is still very much a buyer’s market, with some positions going up to twenty thousand or more under the highest compensation of the restaurant boom years.

New restaurants are opening in most of the major dining areas, partly because property can be had and leases can be closed at attractive prices and partly because many qualified culinary and FoH professionals have preferred to open their own locations rather than continue to battle a bleak employment market.

What is more important is that restaurant professionals are beginning to reach their heads out of the trenches, so there is circulation in the job pool. One of the main causes of low availability of jobs during these last years was not that so many locations were closing or cutting back, but because fewer chefs or managers were daring to leave their positions to move on or up, resulting in a stagnant employment situation and a great lack of available talent. Think of the employment market as a game of musical chairs in which nobody stands up.

Improvements are not universal:

While this is changing, the change is not complete, and the improvement in the job market is not universal nor does it cover all jobs equally.

The currently most sought after position is that of sous chef.  Serious pastry chef openings  are still rare, and I question whether the pastry earlier pastry chef frenzy will ever be seen again.

Good chefs for some parts of the country are in high demand, but the market shows extreme regional differences. Florida appears to be the worst hit location for chefs and managers, while Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and New York, among other destination restaurant cities, are increasing hiring.  Texas, which did not suffer terribly during the worst of the downturn, continues to require qualified staff. Oregon, Washington State and Colorado all seem to be recovering nicely.

Internationally the main job creation appears to be in the United Arab Emirates followed by China, then the rest of Asia. This is an excellent time for qualified professionals – the sweet spot is for chefs de cuisine and Executive Sous Chefs – to launch their careers in some international five star properties.  These all require completed professional education, a stable background in recognizable restaurants of quality, usually at least two years minimum in each spot. Since only the USA follows equal opportunity employment standards, foreign employers can set requirements for nationality, age and gender. Most foreign jobs will go to chefs between about 29 and 42 years of age. Most prefer European training to American, although American chefs are sought after in some places.

It is going to be interesting to see how compensation develops. In “progressive” areas like San Francisco, where municipal and state mandates eat up large percentages of operation profits, some of the costs are likely to be taken from the salaries of the middle and upper food management.  The exploding cost of food, furthermore, is going to put pressure on salaries in a zero sum game, where raising prices will cause customer loss.

The Depression feeling of the age continues to influence menus, customers preferring simpler and less intimidating cuisine with few new attempts at cutting edge food and still limited opportunities for chefs who have put a great deal of effort into developing the newest and most complex cuisines. At some point this will change, but for the moment positions requiring small staff quality comfort menus vastly outstrip those requiring cutting edge, labor intensive processes.

Since so many chefs and managers have remained at the same location for the past three or four years, stability, which is often desired, is now expected. Those who have changed frequently will be competing with professionals whose resumes show a higher level of commitment.

There are a large number of self employed chef owners among the job seekers, With a few exceptions, the market is not welcoming them, nor is it welcoming those who have been independent contractors or consultants.

What this means for you:

1)      It is less risky than it was to seek another job, but there are still not so many available that you will find a safety net of other opportunities if the new position does not work out. This means it is important to determine that any change is well within your competence and with a solid business.

2)      Regional differences in hiring make it hard to move to some areas of the country, and job seekers in those locations will find that the ration of available positions to job searchers is low. You should not, thus, relocate to San Diego or Miami, then look for a job.  Even in the more active employment markets local candidates are generally preferred to those who have not been working in the area’s culture for some time.

3)      Salaries offered at new positions may not meet or exceed current compensation if you have been at a location for several years.  The competition for desirable positions is high, and all employers will take your salary requirements into consideration when making their choices.

4)      From the employer perspective, there are still some “deals” to be had in staff. Offering too little, however, creates the risk that a competitor will recognize and lure away your “bargain” chef.  Those who accept exceptionally low salaries, furthermore, generally reveal themselves to be worth what they are paid.

5)      While most of the weak restaurants have been culled from the herd, there are still some hangers on, who hire chefs just to get to the next month. While common sense and caution is important for everyone in the hiring process at all times, care in choosing a financially sound operation is especially important during times like this.

6)      Despite the state of the economy, the prime rules of job choice do not change. Choosing for quality and professionalism is always the best policy.

7)      We have no guarantee that we are really out of the worst of the financial crisis, despite the growing consensus that the double dip recession is not going to occur. Now, in Oct 2011, the weakness in the EU could have a profound effect on all restaurant markets. Keeping this in mind, choosing employment with strong businesses makes a lot of sense.

8)      Restaurant pastry chefs may indeed not come back for a while, although they eventually will. At the moment extreme pastry is getting a great degree of press (Foe gras ice cream, berry and estragon napoleon, etc.) but the overall demand that does exist generally involves highly developed bakery skills. Hotels, on the other hand, continue to hire and train pastry staff and will presumably continue to do so. Those early in a pastry career should consider these realities when choosing their path.

Above all the current economic situation of the restaurant industry means for you that you will continue to need to make you choices in the direction of your overall career and your next job decisions with more care than we assumed necessary a few years ago.

Apr 292011
 

Moving around – I want a chef’s job in _______________________ .

Judging from the number of cover letters we receive stating, “I will be moving to XXXX in June and will be seeking a chef’s job,” South Carolina is the new culinary hot spot. Judging from the number of resumes we receive from South Carolina chefs trying to find a job elsewhere, it isn’t.

Somehow I missed the memo or the Food Channel Show or the culinary article pronouncing that particular location the new Mecca. For those of  you who were on the distribution list,  however, I have news: Their predictions tend to be inaccurate.

Food writers, always thirsty for material, like to play follow the leader. At the moment one chef manages to establish himself with a positive national review or television piece in his homeland,   food writers eagerly begin a game of telegram (remember that from junior high school?) each going a bit further out on a limb to proclaim Arizona, Seattle, or Denver the new destination where food will be reborn.

Sorry. It ain’t gonna happen. Let’s do some history, a bit of it Ancient: Mark Miller’s Coyote Café put Santa Fe New Mexico on the Culinary map, inspiring droves of young chefs to travel to the Southwest, where there were neither jobs nor a sufficient appreciative public to support really interesting restaurants. Swift on the heels of the Southwest hysteria came Seattle and Portland, from whence we received many calls from desperate, rain drenched young chefs who couldn’t find the jobs lying on the streets indicated by the ever optimistic food trend predictors.  Seattle and Portland do have some fabulous restaurants, but not nearly the employment potential indicated by the media.

Texas, Arizona and Florida – West Florida in particular – were among the new culinary hot spots which cooled off after the next group came up. San Diego promised and offered a fair number of fairly good restaurants but many more family style chain spots.

Why? People. Demographics. Who eats in restaurants determines what restaurants succeed. If a location doesn’t have a great restaurant usually does not mean it is a void waiting to be filled, but that the population will not support a good restaurant.

California is a culinary miracle thanks to a combination of fabulous produce and a highly sophisticated young urban population with discretionary income. New York  is the incubation spot for the nation’s most adventurous young mating aged  economic and  intellectual elite with tiny kitchens and social appetites  that drive them to restaurants. California and New York are each the touch down spot for people from other continents. We have Hollywood. New York has Wall Street.  The New York Times and the publishing industry drive food and eating ahead of just about any other pleasure.  San Francisco did in fact have a resurgence in the eighties, but it was already a restaurant town with more or less staid cuisine until Jeremiah Tower and  Joyce Goldstein followed by their graduates from the Chez Panisse days kicked off a culinary revolution which brought people into fine dining with approachable and exciting foods.Chicago, the third obvious front line culinary destination lacks some of the international influences of the two coastal Mecca’s but has youth and money on it’s side and is the nation’s food trade hub.

What makes all of these towns work is a combination of money, singles including a considerable gay dining contingent, plenty of high end transient and business travelers,  intelligent  young adults  and sophistication. The country’s three main dining spots, furthermore, are the three most multi ethnic and multi cultural cities of the country. New Orleans, too,  falls into the big restaurant town category, while Las Vegas does a fair job of imitating restaurant towns, but without the same cutting edge daring.

For an area to burst out in restaurants all of the above are necessary. San Diego and  Florida have retirement communities and nice weather. Sedona and Santa Fe enjoy some tourists, albeit it not culinary, and people who believe in the powers of crystals. For tourists to drive a restaurant economy, they have to be the kind of tourists who go places for the food.

Places without the demographic prerequisites to spawn multiple fine dining restaurants may have one or two great ones, but they will not have a restaurant culture. A pioneer chef who settles Omaha or Denver with a restaurant worthy of national praise will do well there. Those who follow probably won’t. Going to

One or two great restaurants in a new spot can be an indication of a sufficient dining public and population change to support one or two great restaurants, but dining  demographics don’t change quickly. People want what they want. If they are currently eating fried fish or bisquits and gravy and are accustomed  to large amounts of reasonably priced food on their plates, they will not frequent any location offering anything else.

Chefs can  have all kinds of reasons for moving – family, spousal transfers at the top of the list – and if you have to go to Hawaii, there will be positions there. If, however, you have read that the streets of Oshkosh are paved with chef jobs and full of great eateries, be prepared to stand at the trough with way too many pigs for the available challenging openings. Demographic changes promote food and beverage expansion, and places once home to only TGI Friday’s and Olive Gardens are getting some good restaurants, but it takes many years for restaurant cities providing many great career opportunities for culinary professionals. Of course, you only need one job, and if one of these locations calls, why not?

Chef: There’s a moral in here somewhere. I will leave it to you to find it for yourself.

Apr 152011
 

The longer I recruit in restaurants, the clearer it gets that a large number of people seeking restaurant work do not understand the process well. We, the recruiters in the field, are perhaps the most mystifying part of the system.

The idea that recruiting is easy is only one of the abounding misconceptions regarding what a recruiter is and what a recruiter does. “How it works”, as the common terminology goes.

We, all of us, get ample proof in emails showing that the job seeking public misunderstands our position in the culinary galaxy. Here are a few points you should know.

1)      Recruiting has become a more or less legitimate field, notwithstanding a continuing number of rogue individuals practicing. On the whole you can expect professional behavior from recruiters.

2)      The Recruiter’s first loyalty is to his client, not the candidate. He is not your advocate or agent. The restaurant pays the fee and gets most of the recruiter’s time for that.

3)     The recruiter is a conduit for his or her client. He or she carries out their instructions and adhere to their laundry list of desires and requirements. He will almost never submit a candidate not matching them..

4)      Discretion is or should be a given for all parties. The recruiter does not reveal conversations with your employer to you or vice versa. He is a two way fire wall. Since, however, there are still a few rogues and scoundrels among us, it is always wise to state clearly  in your  submission that you except discretion and your search should confidential, with your permission to submit your data to any position.

5)      Recruiters prefer candidates from sources of trust. They know, however, who is where and what to expect from the places candidates show on their resumes. They will respond first to candidates who fit their current or frequent search profiles, and those who have background they feel will be in demand. Other candidates are generally kept on file and contacted as appropriate.

6)      Most have been around the block a few times.  They are not stupid.  They can tell bad excuses and don’t want to hear any excuses at all.  Even if you think you are sweet talking them, they are jotting down facts in the back of their heads. Recruiters are not obliged to keep abuse of their services confidential.

7)      Recruiters practice due diligence and get references using a variety of tools and their own connections. In signing with a recruiter you tacitly agree to this. (It is on our web site.)  References should follow candidate contact.

8) Once you work with a recruiter you represent them as well as yourself, and your behavior reflects on them. Since they may be in charge of the search for the next place you work, it  is unwise to behave badly.

9)      There is a difference  between Recruiters and Head Hunters. Head Hunters want to churn as many candidates as possible and are bottom line oriented. Recruiters value their long term reputations and subscribe to the Hippocratic Oath: Before all, do no harm. Calling a recruiter a “headhunter” is akin to calling your attorney a “scheister”. Some younger recruiters find the term very cool. It’s about as cool as the term “cool”.

10)      Unless you have specifically requested it, a recruiter should not broadcast your information or send it out without your knowledge and permission.(that’s what a headhunter does.) If you ever have any questions about this, make it clear to any recruiter that you must be informed before submission.

11)      Recruiters cannot always give you details about positions. If you believe you have been submitted previously to a job, you can point it out. Otherwise you should never discuss one recruiter with another.

13)    An ethical recruiter will not, on receiving your information, inform your employer that you are seeking a new position and ask to fill yours, but it has happened. It is also actionable (you have a fair chance of receiving damages through the courts if one does and you lose your job.)  A recruiter should  not discuss your search with any other candidate.

14)   You pay nothing to a recruiter. In the United States you do not pay to get a job. Some domestic and apparently some temporary firms charge a subscription fee, which they use to check your background. It should be less than $100.  If there is a cost, you will sign a numbered contract stating your rights. Offering you a job and asking for the fee is illegal and also cause for litigation, if it puts you between jobs. In this case you can simply refuse to pay or call your District Attorney’s office.

15) Recruiters usually require a certain amount of expertise and seasoning from their candidates.  If you  have not profiled yourself in the industry, you may do better without a recruiter. While you are still a line cook or a pastry assistant, for instance, you are most likely your own best advocate.

Look for more information on recruiters, what you can and should expect, what you should and should not do in future posts. A more complete discussion of the field and how it applies to you, the candidate can be found at the Chefs’ Professional Website.

Mar 282011
 

Talking Turnstiles

Or making relatively intelligent and informed decisions.

Every week I get somewhere between five and twenty resumes from people who want the jobs we have in good restaurants. “We seek a chef experienced in high quality dining venues with four to five star ratings,” and to be sure a number of our applicants actually have this background for two or three years, but most will have continued on to the less stressful and demanding arenas of corporate chains, industrial food service or even retirement homes. A few have opened their own neighborhood restaurants, and one or two will have left the industry entirely for something with a nine to five schedule.

“I regret,” we respond, “that your background does not meet the criteria set by our client.”  I hate saying that. Over a quarter of a century, and I am still not hardened. Our client wants someone who has stuck with the four or five star environment, has built a strong career with substantial stays and is ready to move up or on to the next challenge.

“But,” says the applicant, “I worked for xxx and yyy, and I have the skills.”  And he did for a few months or years before he was seduced by the siren song of money, title or better hours. Since that he has not been held to our client’s standards ,  he has gathered and practiced different rhythms, different skills. He has left the a la carte world and the door slammed shut behind him.

Chef at some point made a choice – “I had to arrange my schedule for my girlfriend” (who is no longer around,  the pay was better, the hours more convenient, the stress lower, they were offered a title they could not achieve in a restaurant of the niveau they again aspire to. He had good reasons at the time, but now – “my kids are grown, so I can do what I really want to” – “I just divorced my wife, so I can get back into the field,” “I want to follow my passion before it is too late.”

Choices in this industry are frequently one way turnstiles – leaving a restaurant for a hotel, taking a position in a country club, working for a Silicon Valley or Manhattan executive dining facility are all terrific career choices, but once they are made, one path has been chosen and another rejected.  There will be precious few opportunities to double back and return to the earlier career. There are plenty of reasons for this thinking, some of them less just than others, but it sets one of the parameters for  career realization.

“What about,”  says the disappointed applicant, ”if I return as a sous chef and work my way back in?” Well, that’s actually worked in very few occasions, but those are generally situations in which the chef hiring already knows the candidate.  “We don’t want,” says one client, “people on the way down. We want to catch them as they rise.”  That’s what everyone wants for their subordinate positions.  Ageist? Hard to prove. Actually pretty logical. Who wants to risk his second in command constantly second guessing him.

Here’s the good news: You took that club job for a purpose, even if you are no longer a couple or they are grown up. The fact is that you have become pretty good at it over the years, having developed a skill set that the hot kid from Jean Georges doesn’t possess.  That makes you desirable. Why look back when you have opportunities to move forward to F&B Director, regional administrator or whatever the next step  in your career should be? You  know a lot. Find someone who will appreciate it and pay for it.

“You can’t go home”. Things have changed. You have changed.   Most people who have tried it know that they really didn’t want it anyway – they wanted their idealized version, and that doesn’t exist. The grass on the other side of the fence looks even greener when you are looking back over your shoulder.  We all forget the flies in the ointment we threw out a decade ago.

You need to think what you will miss before you undertake career changing actions, not after. I have a really promising candidate who wants me to get him into a day job. He’s 26. “My girlfriend wants me to spend more time with her.”  “Get another girlfriend,” I want to say. “This one doesn’t understand what relationships are and what you are.” I don’t, of course.  Instead: “You have a great restaurant career in front of you .  If you want to continue, you have to work nights. That’s when dinner is served. Do you really want to give that up?”

If I get a request for a day job, I’ll refer the man. My business is recruitment and placement, not auntie, I’ll do it, but over protests. He hasn’t had time to develop as the chef he clearly has the potential to be yet. “Explain to  your girlfriend, “ I say to him, “what your resentment may mean in fifteen years.” He doesn’t get the point. He’s twenty six. Love conquers all. Hopefully someone does.

Feb 012011
 

In the middle of a list of various employer types I find myself repeating  policy as a determining factor of whether a job will suit you or not. It seems more sensible to investigate it rather than just list it repeatedly, since the policy level of your working environment determines your level of satisfaction as much as anything.

POLICY:  management or procedure based primarily on material interest (Webster’s Online Dictionary).

For our purpose, policy is ‘written policy” as in your employee manual or the company mission statement. Of course you have policies of your own, such as using no brown edged lettuce or thanking the dishwasher, but official policy is different. Official policy is written in stone and followed precisely by the businesses that employ it. It determines, for instance, that all purchasing decisions must be run by the GM or that specials must be tested by the owner before they are put on the menu, or that no chef jacket can be worn outside.

Policy is not intended to bring the best out of each member of the team, but rather to prevent the one idiot in the group from doing the worst. It thus hamstrings the creative and insults the responsible. Most of us dislike policy, because it limits our liberty to act in what we perceive to be the best and most productive manner.

Small restaurants rarely have a great deal of written policy. With fewer employees, they find it possible to oversee the actions and ward of tragedy before some fool sets anything on fire or brings a sexual harassment suit. (Small restaurants also find themselves disproportionately before the Labor Board.)  By the time a business employs eighty or two hundred individuals, however, policies creep in to take on controls that individual managers may  not be able to oversee. Once a restaurant has several units, policies are nearly inevitable.

There is a valid argument against policy: It is the cheap replacement for good managers and good manager training. If every restaurant (cyclotron, airport, broadcasting company) had and trained competent, alert, intelligent and humane managers with the duty to bring the best out of any and all employees while recognizing and dealing with the worst of the pack, policy would be unnecessary. I agree completely,  with the caveat that there are not nearly enough of these great managers to go around.  Ergo your corporate rules and employee handbook.

Policy, in absence of brilliant management, protects staff and owners from idiots and sociopaths, genres not lacking in our industry. It shields the business both from losses due to crackpot decisions or thoughtless acts and liability. Call it CYA, if you prefer. All successful restaurant groups professional restaurants have instituted some level of policy to guarantee standards.

The downside of policy is that it removes crucial decision making from the human competence to a set of rules.  Once written it needs to be universally applied with no exceptions. since once policy is broken for one employee, regardless of the reason, the business cannot use it to discipline another.  It can’t just be resorted to for acts with bad outcome and put aside if the same action has no impact or even raging success. Because this blind application is so challenging, more and more companies these days are paying compliance experts not only to write their policies and train their management to carry them out, but to assure compliance without personal prejudice.

Since policy in its intent to prevent the worst outcome often causes the collateral damage of preventing the best, it creates for you, the professional artisan seeking the perfect fit, a serious conflict. On the one hand, operations which employ a high degree of policy tend to be more stable, more professional and less chaotic than those run on good faith and belief in people. They know what works and that’s what they want done. On the other, policies clip wings and tie hands. They are insulting, because they suggest to us all that we are not intelligent enough to make the right decisions, even if only intended to target the inept or unprincipled few.

Of course, policy need not be the enemy of  quality. It can be the codification of high standards rather than simply mindless, petty wonkery. The Four Seasons group, one of the most highly regarded hotel groups for quality and professionalism, is also one of the country’s high policy employers. So is Restaurant Gary Danko. Bonne Appetit’s policies require among other things that most of the product served must be local and sustainable. Of course, that’s not really policy. It’s codified quality standards. On the whole, the more professional operations tend to have a higher level of policy, but not necessarily.

When seeking your place in the business, you need to determine what you can live with in terms of policy vs. entrepreneurial autonomy. Good luck with that.