There are some skills you may not learn until stepping foot in your first kitchen job. Chief among those is communication, an especially tricky challenge giving the sheer amount of noise and chaos that abounds in kitchens of all sizes. Yet proper communication is the cornerstone of an efficient and successful kitchen, as every member of the line needs to be on the same page. As such, it’s important to learn the proper skills before you graduate. Here are just a few helpful tips:
Everyone is different
In her blog, chef and leadership expert Anne Loehr raised an interesting point about learning in culinary school. While some folks are more visual, and others prefer a spatial approach, most would-be chefs are only exposed to one learning style. Much in the same way we absorb information in our own unique way. It’s up to you as a chef, a cog in the greater kitchen machine, to recognize these differences and then act accordingly. As an extension, don’t be afraid to tell other staff what’s your preferred method for communication.
Give respect to get respect
In the same blog post, Loehr mentioned that respect is, in many ways, the foundation of successful relationships in the kitchen and beyond. That sense of shared dedication and common decency can be expressed in a number of different ways, but often your tone of voice is the most effective. When speaking to someone, avoid yelling, which can be a sign of aggression, and instead opt for a low, even-keeled approach whenever possible. Obviously yelling is sometimes necessary in a kitchen, but it should never be to express negative speech. Your choice of words also matters. Take a few extra seconds to think about what you want to say, and instead of making accusations, find constructive ways to come to an agreement or overcome some disagreement.
Taking orders from the top down
Developed by Auguste Escoffier, the namesake of this institution, the brigade de cuisine system that organizes the modern approach to culinary arts features a strong hierarchy. That means the head chef, or whoever is in charge of the line at that moment, takes on an overall leadership role in addition to making dishes at their designated station. Because professional kitchens are hot, loud and extremely time-sensitive environments, it’s vital that everyone takes their cues from the person leading that day’s service and responds accordingly.
When your chef issues a command, be sure to reply loudly and clearly with a “Yes, chef!” “Heard!” or similarly short acknowledgment. When you’re asked a question, provide a direct, compact answer whenever possible. When you need to start the conversation, get the pertinent facts or request out quickly and completely.
Balance out communication
If a kitchen is making use of a constructive form of dialogue, oftentimes it’s a head chef dictating the pace. However, as the Houston Chronicle noted, a truly successful kitchen should have multiple voices. While that can be problematic, as notes and instructions can get lost in the fray, it’s important that everyone feels open and encouraged to communicate whenever it’s essential. If someone is having trouble putting together a dish, or it’s taking longer than expected, this individual needs to express those sentiments immediately. It’s your job to help facilitate that communication whenever possible, either by cutting down on excess talking or getting someone’s attention. Regardless, always remember the importance of respect and everyone’s individual speaking styles.
While head chefs drive much of the discussion in the kitchen, issue commands and ask questions, there are many times when everyone from the sous chef to the dishwasher needs to speak up. Whether it’s alerting the other members of the kitchen that side dishes require a few more minutes to ensure everything can be plated together, an example shared by the Houston Chronicle, two-way discussion is vital.
Of course, the camaraderie of a kitchen is an important part of the job as well. Cracking a well-timed joke or making an astute observation is vital to keep up morale and let off a little stress. As a new chef, just be sure to pick your spots and recognize when there’s a little downtime to have a casual conversation or play something up for a few laughs. Let the veterans in the kitchen take the lead until you feel comfortable on the line.
Technology is your friend
Many kitchens end up devolving into a stream of simultaneous shouting matches. Aside from remembering the importance of respect, the Houston Chronicle noted that certain technological solutions can assist especially busy kitchens. An electronic order system is an especially simple but hugely important tool. These devices allow the kitchen staff to get meal orders in a timely and, perhaps most importantly, concise manner. To be truly effective, try having one chef intercept the orders and then dictate them to the rest of the kitchen. That way, there are fewer shouting voices and one person can act as a kind of traffic cop.
John Wood, a world-class chef who has worked everywhere from Dubai to Hamburg, recognizes in a column for eHotelier.com that until just recently, technology has only been applicable to front of house components of running a business. That includes elements like making reservations, managing finances and dealing with pre-order apps. Now, though, Wood explained that chefs are finally playing catch up, and finding that technology can be used for several daily tasks. For instance, rather than one chef spending multiple hours weekly writing out allergens for each daily menu, that same person can use software to help track these changes. Wood added that by finding small ways to bring tech into the fold, chefs can worry less about the basic tasks and more time on cooking.
Paul Hadfield is the founder and president of diningDATA, which works with chefs and restaurants to implement tech solutions. In a column for FSR magazine, he explained that there are several key reasons why chefs should more fully embrace tech. He believes that analytics technology is going to help chefs a great deal. With these setups, you’ll know what a regular patron wants to eat as soon as they enter the restaurant; that kind of insight is going to help with planning and cooking in the kitchen. Hadfield also believes that technology will improve the logbooks of most restaurants, and this can include everything from staff performance to the breakdown of customers and their satisfaction. These solutions are hugely important for a more efficient staff.