How Top Chefs Manage Employees

Leadership is an essential skill for any manager, but especially for those who operate in the kitchen. A chef’s team must be trustworthy and committed to producing top-tier cuisine in a style that resonates with the brand, all while limiting waste and striving for efficiency.

We spoke with top chefs from around the country to learn more about their management style and how it translate to a hectic catering environment. Here’s what they had to say.

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Communication is key to success.

Lon Lane, president of Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions, explains: “Constant communication in groups is essential, as well as one-on-one’s. Have daily kitchen meetings to review prep sheets and make sure everyone knows what they need to accomplish during the day and a timeframe for completing tasks. You cannot just tell someone to balsamic vinaigrette according to the recipe — the recipe is a roadmap, but each recipe requires technique. You have to teach the technique to get the results YOU want, while adequately communicating expectations of work performed and getting everyone on board.”


Never stop training.

Meryl Snow, owner of Feastivities Events, states: “Chefs that provide ongoing training are better prepared to support, maintain and grow their team. When an employee is empowered to know exactly what is expected of them, it provides your employees with a consistent, standardized plan for success and certainly improves communication. While it may seem time-consuming to develop a manual, consider that your time is being invested for a long-term gain.”


Set clear expectations.

Anthony Lambatos, CEO of Footers Catering, shares: “I struggled early on in my career with not having clear expectations for the people I was managing. I simply expected that they would do and approach things the way I did and that wasn’t necessarily the case. I love the saying that ‘people can’t live up to expectations they don’t know have been set for them.’ Once I understood this, my job as a manager became a lot clearer and I could focus on helping them grow instead of getting frustrated by their actions.”


Allow your team to get creative.

Adam Gooch, corporate executive chef at Commonplea Catering, says: “Letting your team have a chance to create and give solutions to issues that are happening in your kitchen is one of the biggest things to build a team to manage. Step back and let them show you what they can do. You see all these chef memes and signs that state ‘The Chef is Always Right’ and ‘It’s the Chef’s Way or the Highway.’ Well, that’s a thing of the past and you have to let your team step up and run with things.”

At the end of the day, everyone has a different style of management and their own path to success. However, these general tips from top chefs are simple to implement into any business environment — both inside and out of the kitchen. It all boils down to winning the respect of your employees in order to earn their commitment to your company and its brand values.