Managing Gen Y Apprentices in a Commercial Kitchen
By Mark Field
I read an article recently in BRW by Genevieve George from OneShift ‘How to manage Gen Y employees’. There was nothing particularly new or ground breaking in the article and it was pretty broad in nature. But, it did get me thinking about how one could go about implementing this stuff in a commercial kitchen context. Clearly, some of the strategies identified are just not appropriate for a commercial kitchen e.g working from home or wearing a hoody and boardies to work.
One of the Gen Y strategies identified by Genevieve is about good communication and the need to provide constant feedback and recognition. I don’t think there are many surprises here nor is it something unique to Gen Y. Everyone likes to be recognised for their efforts irrespective of generation. So, what does good communication in a modern commercial kitchen look like?
Out with the Old, in with the New
Here’s a working example of an issue that may arise in a commercial kitchen. For a bit of fun I have included the old way and the new Gen Y friendly way of dealing with an issue.
Scenario – Lachie, an apprentice cook, has just prepared and presented a substandard meal at the pass for service to a customer.
The Old Way
Response: The Chef immediately throws the meal into the bin in disgust and proceeds to ‘tear shreds’ of the apprentice in front of all the other kitchen team members.
Result: The self-esteem and confidence levels of the apprentice have just been dealt a massive blow. If they don’t walk out now it will just be a matter of time until they do. Not for the Chef though, they feel incredibly powerful and celebrity chef like! Good for them!
The New Way
Response: Lachie, I’m sorry mate, but I can’t serve that to a customer. The presentation is not up to standard and the fish looks over-done. Can you please prepare this meal again? If you are unsure how to fix the problem, I can get someone to help you out. Would you like some help? We can have a chat about it after service if you like?
Result: Lachie now understands the meal is not up to standard and where he needs to improve. He has been offered assistance if he is unsure of the standard. He is also aware the Chef wants to talk to him after service. This is a far more appropriate time to discuss the issues and allows Lachie the opportunity explain his actions in a non-confrontational environment.
The new way considers Lachie’s feelings and emotional wellbeing. He has not been berated, embarrassed or made to feel inadequate as a result of his error. Chances are, the reason for the substandard meal is that Lachie has not been trained well enough and subsequently requires further direction. It’s not helpful to automatically presume the issue relates to Lachie having an attitude problem. On average 85% of poor performance is not the fault of the employee.
Here are some practical tips that may help you better manage a Gen Y apprentice in a commercial kitchen:
- Get to know your apprentice e.g strengths, weaknesses and what motivates them. Know their goals and aspirations and help them achieve them, even if it means you will eventually lose them;
- Build team spirit and camaraderie and make sure the apprentice knows they are an important part of the team;
- Have regular employee meetings. Set an agenda and stick to it. Always include time for round the table discussion and idea presentation. Be sure to thank people for their contributions. Try and keep meetings positive and constructive. Don’t let people speak over the top of one another;
- Always acknowledge good performance especially when someone has ‘gone the extra mile’ e.g “Thanks Lachie, I really appreciate you helping out at the end of your shift to clear the backlog of dishes”;
- Hold pre and/or post service briefings so everyone is kept in the loop;
- Encourage everyone to take a meal break at the same time (preferably before service) and feature a dish or dishes and discuss the quality indicators whilst eating. I have heard of restaurants changing opening times to allow chefs and front of house staff to eat and interact;
- Avoid overt ‘performance reviews’ of employee performance deficiencies;
- Promote a polite and courteous workplace. For example use please and thank yous in the kitchen, even during service periods e.g Chef order – “Caesar Salad, Please ” Cook acknowledgement – “Thank you Chef”;
- Be approachable and encourage open communication. Have regular informal conversations with employees;
- Always be positive, upbeat and enthusiastic…it’s contagious;
- Always thank your employees for their efforts at the end of a shift; and
- Always say hi when the apprentice arrives and bye when they leave.
I fully appreciate that a lot of this stuff is easier said than done. A commercial kitchen can be a stressful place and in the ‘heat of the battle’ you don’t have time to ‘pussy foot around’. Yes, you will get frustrated and angry but the important thing is how you react to it. People that cope well in stressful situations know how to channel their energy in a positive and constructive way. ‘Flying off the handle’ every time something goes wrong is not the way an organised and professional chef should act.
Mark Field is the Managing Director of Access Recognised Training an Australian based Registered Training Organisation specialising in hospitality/culinary and business management qualifications.
accessrt.edu.au/mark-field/ | firstname.lastname@example.org