Jun 112013

After noticing plainly fraudulent postings for Chef / Cook / Food and Beverage positions placed as comments on LinkedIn last week I wrote a short piece on the best way to recognize fraudulent job offers and employment scams.

Judging from responses to the blog, international employment fraud is both more wide spread and more sophisticated than I had imagined. The alumni manager for one of this country’s major cooking schools reported scams reaching into the school’s graduate pool. One LinkedIn group member reported the following scam launched from a legitimate web site offering a position in a luxury hotel in Kuala Lumpur. While it is possible that someone within the hotel was able to perpetrate the fraud, it is more likely that highly skilled con artists were able to pose successfully as the hotel’s GM and Director of HR.

This report indicates the level of sophistication in some international employment scams aimed at high end applicants.  The harm to the candidate was considerable. He is considering action against the Hotel, for which he probably needs to await the findings of the local police.

In addition to the notes I added in italics to the reports, there are a few things candidates for overseas employment can and probably should do to protect themselves. For one thing initiate telephone contact with someone at the hotel to confirm the position before taking any drastic steps – that means calling the number on the hotel web site when the job offer is made and asking for confirmation of that offer.  Do not Skype or use a number or address offered by the person you are dealing with, and do not rely on that person to call you. Use only the Hotel main number and ask for the person in Human Resources.  Do not conduct your business over the contact’s mobile phone. (This is an old trick I use for checking references with occasionally surprising and amusing results.)

It is, furthermore, highly irregular for an employer to ask a candidate or employee to advance money. In fact, that is a fairly sure sign of fraud.  If an advance is requested, do as suggested above and call the employer (again – find the address on the Internet – do not use a number provided by the contact) and confirm the offer.

One other thing you can do is check the contact’s email for the originating IP Address. You will find it in the header. In Outlook check on File and then Info then Properties. In the box which opens look for something like Received: from mail-blah blah blah.com []) . Take the number and put it in the search bar of your browser. The search results will give you the location of the server from which the message originated . This is not a certain solution (the mail from which I copied was sent from Jordon using a Google server in California) but if you are applying for a position in Tokyo and the server proves to be in Istanbul or St Petersburg, you are warned.  As stated in the previous post, the mail should come from a hotel or property address – someone@swankysuites.com rather than swankysuites@yahoo.com . Luxury properties can afford their own URL’s and require that all correspondence use them.

Thank you for your reply! the scam unfolded in several steps

1. Ad on Hcareers.com to which I applied- mid August 2012 (Note: HCareers is not responsible for these events. The fact that the perpetrators used a highly respected location for the scam is an indication of the level of sophistication and possibly success in the operation.)

2. Application sent by HR Director of hotel saying I had been shortlisted along with a request for all certifications. (Note: I suspect this was someone posing as the HR Director, not the HR Director. )

3. Interview over telephone with HR and then with GM- lasted over 30 minutes (Again: My suspicion is that the call was initiated by someone posing as the HR Director and the GM.)

4. Three days later a letter of intent on [the hotel’s] letter head with the right phone numbers

5. Letter clearly stated position salary and benefits, the later asked for 50% payment for work permit, 50% for air ticket for self and spouse and 50% immigration documents All of which would be refunded by [the hotel] once I arrived and joined, the reason I was given that the hotel in the past had spent a lot money to get candidates who never showed up due to any number of reasons ie counter offer etc. Note: In reality this would never happen. The candidate is either sent a ticket or asked to buy his own ticket and will be reimbursed on arrival.

6. I was to pay the money in stages which I did

7. I even had my wife fly out to KL with the offer letter and see a local attorney, who said it all looked fine and was a good contract, my wife also found out through friends in KL that HR director mentioned on the offer was indeed the actual HR Director. (Note: Except this was probably not the person the candidate spoke with)

8. I made the final payment and received a work permit on official Malaysian Government Papers duly signed by the Labor Department (These, too, where certainly forgeries – taking the time to confirm the visa via a local consulate would be a good idea.)

9. At this stage I was still unaware that it was a fraud and a scam.

10. I received a Qantas Airlines electronic ticket, 4 days before I was to leave ( Nov 11th 2012) which when I called Qantas proved to be false, that is when I started to suspect that something was wrong

11. My wife was already in KL staying with friends waiting for me to join her

12. She drove over to the hotel and found to her shock that the HR director had left the job a a couple of weeks ago, on further questioning also revealed that they had an Executive Chef on board

13. I had already resigned and given two months’ notice .

I have all the documentation and email trail copies of which have been submitted to KL police

Police in Kl are still investigating, I have had precious little reaction from [the hotel] in KL or at the head office in the US

 See the previous post for more suggestions of keeping your job search safe. Be  careful. It’s  a scarier jungle than we thought out there.




Jul 212012

This is the third in a loose series of pieces summarizing the most widely applicable conclusions I have made about what makes for career success in restaurants. The “Don’ts” are generally extracted from the most common termination causes I have witnessed or behavior that throws up career obstacles.

“Road Dirt” means that none of this is in any way wisdom, but a collection of the second hand mud splatters I’ve been hit with over the last 25+ years. You might want to read Road Dirt 1 and Road Dirt Redux, as well.

There is, of course, no guarantee that following all of these will make you a great chef, or that not agreeing with a few will not. You need skill, some talent, some intelligence and a spattering of good character plus a little luck to get the gold ring off the Merry Go Round. None the less, I hope you will find them worth at least considering.

18) Never argue mad. Adrenaline is infectious, and arguing with your levels raised only incites the other guy. In the end nobody gets anywhere, and you both carry away a piece of grudge. (Fact: A high adrenaline level prevents people from hearing and comprehending what the other person is saying. ) Get out of a high energy exchange – put it off until everyone has cooled down. If your subordinates are angry and excited, give them a time out, then readdress the issue when they are not about to explode.

19 ) Treat visionaries with care and caution. Don’t waste your valuable time on someone else’s dreams. Realistically assess the value of new projects.

20)   At some point you may have to decide between money and your soul. I frankly see nothing wrong with money (as long it’s honest) but I know of chefs who have regretted the tradeoff.

21)   Keep out of kitchen politics. Do what you do and let others smack talk each other.

22)   Travel. Travel young and work in another country. It doesn’t have to be France. Stage. Work abroad. You will learn things that won’t be clear to you until years later.

23)   Keep contact with the people you work with. Learn their last names.  Get to know them. You will all need each other at some point or other.

24)   Write. Record everything. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling – you can correct that later. Keep a ledger of what happens at the restaurant, your menu items,  your recipes, your problems, your achievements, your failures and your triumphs.  If you don’t need this to document an incident or your behavior, you may want to use it in a book (lots of authors don’t spell well, either, so don’t let that stop you). Failing that, you will find it fascinating reading later as will your progeny. Mostly, however, keep it for documentation.

25)   Kindness and graciousness have a great deal to do with the careers of the truly grand chefs. I can’t think of one I  know who doesn’t possess both qualities. If they don’t come naturally to you, work on them.Here’s the tip: You are never the most important person in the room. The most responsible, yes. The lynch pin, for sure, but from your perspective, the person you depend on to get things out, to get things done or your customer takes the top dog title.

26) Talent is only the beginning. It provides you the opportunity to be a great chef, but it doesn’t make you one. The rest is a mixture of knowledge, skill, character, commitment  and experience, which takes years to acquire.

27) Just because one kind of job is prestigious or popular doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Celebrity is far from being much let alone everything. For most of us there is or should be life beyond the kitchen and the food media. On the other hand, however, if your goal is a recognized and celebrated location, possibly your own, then you need to start by working in them.

28) Put dignity at the top of your goals. That’ s not pride. It’s the ability to deal with unpleasant situations with your chin up, not to lose face by “flipping out” at tough moments, to leave without baring your emotions if you must. Afford it to everyone in your kitchen.

29) Don’t ignore problems. Listen to your people but not continually (ie, don’t let whiners whine). Defuse or deal with their issues. If you do not, they become your issues.

30) Understand the difference between pride and arrogance. Know your value and insist on dealing and being dealt with accordingly, but don’t be dismissive of those you might think of less importance than you assume for yourself.

31) Take care of your brand. Don’t sell it early to projects that offer good money but will reduce its value later on. Don’t diminish it by behavior that plays into stereotypes. You are your brand. It is what you can sell until you retire. It is what will put you in the desired positions or keep you from them.

32) Manage your career by keeping the long view. Always think of how your decisions will impact the long term. There are few situations where you an sit back and take the easy way out in the food industry. If you go towards industrial food service, you will probably not be able to return to fine dining. Hotel chefs are rarely hired in restaurants. Five years in domestic service sends chefs back to the beginning of the restaurant queue.  These are generalizations, only, but generalizations are true for most people. Most of us are most people and not the exception.


Apr 292012

The most frequent dream job for an aspiring chef is working in a small to midsized restaurant owned by a visionary who cedes full control of the menu, concept and pricing, giving the chef full autonomy and the tools to gain the visibility that will lead to his own restaurant.

Sometimes it works..
When it does not, the greatest issue appears to be the question of the chefs’ autonomy. I love the quote from mostly Martha, “You are wrong. It’s your restaurant. It’s her kitchen,” even though it isn’t really accurate. The kitchen belongs to the restaurant and its expenses and practices draw from the bottom line. It, too belongs to the owner, which however by no means suggests that the chef cedes  responsibility or that the owner is free to override the chef in substantial decisions.

Actions by the chef – hiring an inappropriate person, ignoring labor laws or food safety standards, inadequate cost controls or low prioritizing of loss – come from the bottom line. Owners who call for new chefs complain that their current chef has hired friends without work visas or does not keep adequate time records because he does not consider them important. One chef who refused to note what he an apparently unimportant and trivial “sexual harassment” incident cost the restaurant $200,000 in damages.

Successful restaurateurs know enough to be cautious with menu autonomy, possibly the top item on any young chef’s wish list, so a lot of young chefs turn down promising positions for owners who keep control over their menus and concepts,  whether that means requiring a few well received items on the menu, or that all new dishes be approved before they are tried out at the beginning of the chef’s tenure.

“He keeps second guessing my purveyors,” says one chef, who doesn’t comprehend the owner’s desire to have a hand in the costs of the facility.

He has three sous chefs, sighs the plagued restaurateur. That’s one for twenty seats. Our food cost is great, but our labor cost is putting out of business.” “I have brought in great reviews,” says the chef, and raised the volume by 45%, not considering that labor or food costs may be resulting in lowering profits to an unacceptably thin or negative margin. Restaurants are not supposed to subsidize their guests.

“Visionary,” it has been remarked (often by me), “is a four letter word.” Grand ideas of new restaurant owners often collide head first with the economic realities and demographics of a location. There are of course those truly impressive first time owners who start on point and continue to run a successful restaurant for years with a strong vision and perfect chef interaction (I would mention Mark Pastore at Incanto here..one of the restaurant owners I most respect in the industry), but many face heart rendering challenges in their new ventures.

“This is not what I signed on to do,” sighs the new restaurant’s creative chef. They’ve changed the concept. They lied to me.” Well, actually they lied to themselves, following their dreams rather than the hard facts of who is willing to pay how much money for what kind of food on their plate. Once they figured it out, they told the chef to replace the basil scented vanilla bass with a burger or a steak, and he’s understandably ticked off. “This will ruin my career!” he moans. Actually it probably won’t but he has a point. Game changing is a bummer even when it is the only option.

Money in the restaurant business is a zero sum game. That would be simple, but the quest for kitchen/owner bliss is complicated by a number of factors including “culinary integrity”, prestige desires, ego on both sides and lack of communication on both sides of the kitchen door.  Often the chef sees additional value in press and recognition, which can only be achieved through more expensive food or a higher staffing quotient than the financials will bear. Owners appreciate the celebrity, but they still have to deal with budget questions. They also unreasonably expect to receive profit from their investments, as do their investors.

Chef’s with aspirations understandably tend to resent the consequences of these realities, which is somewhat like resenting rain.

Virgin restaurateurs, that is those with little or no previous restaurant experience, complicate the equation by lacking understanding of the boundaries between of the kitchen door. Many want to have a hand in everything. Others simply overstep their bounds. A dear friend was, for instance, known for demanding a hamburger in the middle or service. He went through a list of chefs before one slammed his fist on the table and said “No!”. Another, no longer a virgin, gives his generally very talented chefs full reign of the menu but makes up for the financial drain by shorting the dining room to the clear detriment of the kitchen. Good food needs to be delivered at the pre-ordained temperature without infuriating the diners.

First time owners and and some experienced restaurateurs, furthermore, tend to be more meddlesome than necessary. Stories abound of cooks fired for theft or other inexcusable behavior being hired back (thus undermining the chefs’ authority and necessitating his departure), of family members investors demanding special service on the busiest nights, of orders cancelled without the chef’s knowledge. When some lines are crossed,  irremediable barriers thrown up between employer and chef. Pity.

There should be a moral or an answer to all this. Instead there many which begin with decision making and end with communication.  And sometimes there is none. They will be addressed in the next post. In the meantime it would very interesting to hear your own experiences and solutions from either side of this, because you surely have plenty of them.

Please note that the verification for this site is a simple math question. If you can calculate food cost, you should be able to subtract five from six.  It should not stop you.

Jan 242012

Accessibility is the key to a good job search approach


When you are seeking a new position, you want to be as easy to reach as possible.  If the person you wish to hire you can’t gain easy access to you, you won’t have access to their job/s.

What you need to do to be accessible:

1)      Resume format. In order to know about you, people need to read your resume.  Avoid special resume programs and obscure word processors (Word Perfect is now an obscure word processor). The most universal format is “Rich Text Format” or .rtf. Any file can be saved as rtf by clicking on the “Save As” option when you save the file. After .rtf you can rely on Microsoft Word, although some recipients may not be able to open the latest version. Everyone can read Adobe .pdf files, but they are not optimal, as they cannot be annotated or saved unless the recipient has the software, and some database systems cannot store them.

2)      Make sure you include your phone number on your resume.  

3)      Make sure you include your email on your resume. We have said this often. The recipient may print your resume and discard the email, so put it up front. If you don’t want job search information in your usual mailbox (where it should not go if it is a company address) open a free GMAIL or Hotmail account for your job search only.  Most accounts can be forwarded to any other you have.

4)      Make yourself accessible by phone when you are available. This means:

1)      Do not use a home phone with an answering machine for your search, especially if it is shared with others.  You need a cell phone which makes it possible for you to receive and record calls.

2)      If you can’t speak to an unknown caller, let the message go to voicemail and call back when

it is convenient, rather than picking up in a meeting or during service.

3)      Answer all calls within a reasonable period of time, usually within 24  hours.

You want to make it as easy as possible for potential employers to reach and communicate with you.

Jan 042011

When you are communicating with someone you don’t know,   you lack the advantage of face to face understsanding. You’ve probably seen what happens on a discussion board or online forum, when someone responds innocently enough to a question, but the inferred tone relays hostility or rudeness. (Or Heavens forbid, it’s ALL CAPS AND YOU THINK HE”S SCREAMING AT YOU.)

That can happen in any short correspondence.  You think you are saying one thing and the guy at the other end of the postal route / electronic path gets a completely different impression. This happens a lot when applicants write something they’ve seen a lot and think sounds impressive, without stopping to think about it. Cliches are things that are said so often they  lose some meaning, or at least to some people. They are about as impressive as parsley and red cabbage garnish.  Worse than the garnish, some of them are actually rude or annoying to people who receive them.

Since it’s  your job to avoid this, not theirs to figure out what you really meant, you might want to stop and think about what you write really means or might mean to someone else. At least it is in your interest.

Let’s look at a couple of favorites:

You say: Please contact me at your earliest convenience. You mean: I’d really like an opportunity to speak with you. He thinks:” Who the Hell does this jerk think he is? He says jump, and I say, How High?”  You  just unsuccessfully ordered someone to call you at once.

You say: “I consider myself to be exceptional well qualified to perform effectively and efficiently”. You mean: I have a strong track record and have the self confidence that comes from years of success in the industry. “ He understands, “I have a possibly over inflated opinion of myself.”

You say, “I am a five star chef.” You mean, “The restaurant was awarded five stars, while I was working there,” Reader may think, “Red light! Red light! Ego on the move. Do I want to put up with it?”

You say, “I am a well known chef. Please Google me / you can view my resume here.” You  mean: I am a well known chef and I expect you to take the effort to find out everything for yourself. She thinks, “Oy, Veh! What an ass!” She’s probably right.

You say: “ Objective: A management position in a highly  professional company where I can put my talents to full use.”   thinks, “Who isn’t?”  if he reads it at all. Most people don’t. What you might have done: Objective” After researching Lem’s Crab Palace, I am very interested  in learning more about the opportunity of chef”, Or “Your application on John’s Job Board dot Com is very interesting. I would like to apply for it.” You can do better, but you get the idea.

You say: “I am passionate about food,”. You mean either you are passionate about food or you love doing what you do or you are very ambitious and want to get ahead as fast as possible. She thinks, “Everyone says that. So what?”

It’s easy enough to do better: Look for the cliches (“as soon as possible”, “I consider myself”, “five star chef”) and think what you really mean, then say it. People who don’t do a lot of business correspondence, think pat phrases sound good. People who do a lot don’ think so.

I don’t remember the poet/professor who advised his students something to the effect of:  “If it feels comfortable as if you’d read it before, discard it.” That’s pretty good advice to anyone reaching out to a stranger looking for a job, or, for that matter, anything else. If it sounds really cool and professional, mistrust it.

You don’t think you can do it?  Try this: Get a tape recorder or record into your computer. Tell it what you want. Who you are and what you did at your jobs before you write anything. Imagine you are talking to your mother or your boyfriend or whoever you speak to casually. Then write it down and shorten it as much as you can.

Oct 092010

Despite the officially declared recovery I still see a lot more fired or laid off applicants than I did two years ago.  A five star hotel was sold to a company which has no need for a top chef,  a chef arrives in the morning to find the doors closed, a manager finally states her mind about changing policies and is terminated, the company simply no longer can afford the chef’s salary and replaces her with a lower paid subordinate, the new Club President decided it’s time for a change.

What if this happens to you? What do you do, after the initial shock has worn off?

Everyone’s situation is different, but there are some steps you should take.

First, be practical. Request severance pay. You may not get it, but there’s no harm in asking.

File for unemployment. It won’t be a lot, but you can use it to tide you over while you look. Employers don’t like to pay it, and if they can prove that you were terminated for good cause they will not have to.  It is called “unemployment insurance” rather than unemployment entitlement for a reason: You have been paying into the fund for all the  years you worked. If you are offered severance pay instead, do a little math to decide what you want.

Request any compensation still owed you immediately.  California has a law prohibiting  to “Suffer work to be done without compensation.” The law requires that you be paid at the time of termination or within a few days of your own resignation.  You should not wait, and you won’t have to unless the restaurant’s finances are not in order.

If your employer says he cannot pay you now and asks you to wait, you should not.  You are, unfortunately, in a race with other creditors including the government for a finite amount of money. Explain that your pay is due on termination, and you would regret having to go to the Labor Board (which will bring possible fines, so it may have an effect.)  You can try to negotiate a post dated check. Don’t deposit it until you call the bank to which it is issued to ask if there are sufficient funds in the account. Make a copy of the check as proof before you send it in.  If the check bounces, you may be able to place a claim with your local District Attorney’s office. While your pay is a civil matter, a bounced check is a criminal issue.

If you can’t get you back pay, go to the Labor Board. Don’t wait. Time is important.  Most states provide that employees get paid before purveyors and service providers, so if the restaurant is in distress they will be pushing hard to get what’s owed them. To the owner of a failing business needs them and not you, so you need someone on your side.  If vendors or service providers are able to get payment before you, you will see less. I am not a fan of the Labor Board, but this is where they serve a purpose.  You want to be compensated before bankruptcy is declared, before vendors are paid, and before the Federal and State governments claim back taxes.

Don’t give up if the business closes. Just because a business shuts down doesn’t mean that there are no funds to pay  you.  Do not, furthermore, be intimidated into not pursuing what is owed you on grounds that it would be the final straw for a business on the way down. If things are that far along,  your pay won’t make much difference.

Civil claims against employers  have increased tenfold in the past three years, which doesn’t make them a good idea. There are a plenty of attorneys willing to take on wrongful termination cases on a contingency basis, but if you do make a claim,  you had better win, and you will receive less money than the attorney.  Even if you do win, appeals can stretch the case out for months or years, and winning is improbable. Contrary to Labor Board claims, litigation leaves a public record. Few employers hire litigants willingly.

Unless the business is in danger of closing, do not prompt your staff to show solidarity by walking out when you are gone. For one thing, the restaurant is going to be in your history as long as you work, and there’s not much benefit in making them angry. For another, your staff needs the jobs.

If you are referred to an agency which quizzes you on the business’s labor practices or if the Labor Board asks you a list of questions think twice before you try to get even with the employer by complaining about missed breaks or shift pay.  The agency wants to hold the business accountable, but any fines they levy on the restaurants will come out of a finite pool of money, reducing what is available for you. You want the business to do well enough to pay you.

You may be asked to sign a document stating that you left of  your own accord, in return for which, the employer promises a good reference.  Think twice. If you were not terminated for seriously poor conduct, the employer would have to give a fair reference anyway.  If you were terminated for cause, you will not be eligible for unemployment, but you still won’t have any real assurance that the employer will provide a good reference.

Get your insurance in order.  If you have a pre existing condition, you have sixty days to apply for COBRA insurance.  It tends to be expensive. San Francisco residents have access to the City’s insurance, which is not great, but will keep you safe if your appendix acts up.  Some employers are willing to extend insurance even if they terminate the employee.

Line up references. Your company may have a no-reference policy, but people who are no longer with the company usually do not adhere to it.  Friends in the company may also be willing to give references. Line up references from previous employers and subordinates, as well.

Don’t beat  yourself up. People who really should get fired rarely do. Termination happens, and if you messed royally, don’t do it again.   You’re in pretty good company. Remember Nixon? Forced to resign in infamy and then rose to glory? You’ve learned something, and it won’t happen again.

Don’t panic – you will find something else. While it’s a good idea to start to look for a job  as soon as possible, cut yourself a little slack. You probably haven’t had free time for quite a while.  Enjoy it.

Strategize your job search.  Remember that you are looking for a suitable job, not “just any” job, because “just any” jobs have a tendency not to last. Dust off your resume and update it.  Decide what you really want to do and what your boundaries are.

Review your finances and prepare to budget.  You can’t count on finding your next position in a week or two, so decide how  you can stretch your available cash and income for as long as it takes to find a suitable position. The longer you can look, the more freedom you have to turn things down, and having a little cash flow extends your search options.  Offer to do relief work for friends, take short term positions, cater, whatever.  Filler jobs don’t have to be at your level.   Any work is good for driving away the demons that come if you just mope, and you will be in the loop, which  makes finding new positions easier.

Be realistic.  The market has probably changed since you took your last job. I’d say that compensation is down +10% across the board, sometimes more. Culinary focus has shifted from fancy to casual. Be selective in accepting a job, but don’t hold out for fantasy jobs and culinary styles.

Be honest with yourself about what didn’t work at the last position. That’s not easy. I never believe anyone who says, “I have no idea why I was fired.” Sure you do.  Figure out what you learned from it, even if that’s simply that you made a bad choice taking the job.

This is a poor time to drink a lot, no matter how tempting it is. Your career needs you to have a clear mind now.  If you were drinking a lot before you got fired, you might figure out that that’s probably part of the reason. Your call.

It’s better to be on good terms with your ex employers than to have them resent you. You’re going to be running into them and the people there now and then in your future. If someone is not paying you, that won’t be an option, but leaving friends behind always helps in a job search.  Apologize if possible. Thank them for giving you a chance, if you can.  Some employers try hard to help employees they can no longer afford find new jobs.

Have some fun. See friends, get exercise, keep healthy and get enough sleep.   This is not advice from your mother. It will make you interview better.

Keep an open mind and a wide window about opportunities that arise.

Things don’t necessarily happen for the best, but they generally work out.