By Paul Sorgule, M.S., AAC
There is no question that as a cook moves toward the career goal of chef, he or she will need to transition to different properties along the way. Every employer understands this and is mentally prepared for this to occur, but for the aspiring chef, there is a method to this process that will properly set the stage for rewarding transitions. There is a great deal of truth to the adage: “Don’t burn your bridges.” Even the most rebellious cooks grow to understand that the restaurant is a very large business with the characteristics of a neighborhood diner. At some level, if you are in the restaurant industry you are connected to everyone. Those who choose to add to the value of their current position will carry that reputation with them. Those who choose to subtract will carry that as well.
Cooks who steadily move up the career ladder are those who view any position held as one that they own and any restaurant for which they work as one in which they hold an ownership stake. Intrapreneurs are those individuals who act like an entrepreneur without actually having that official ownership stake. “If this were your restaurant–how would you treat your current responsibilities?” Of course, to be an effective intrapreneur, a cook must be given the opportunity to do so by the organization for which he or she works. The organizations that do so are very likely able to attract, and retain (for a period of time) those individuals who are career driven and exceptional performers.
Cooks who look at every part of their job as critical to their personal success and that of the restaurant’s success as being one in the same will be recognized as having real value. It is this value that helps to build a cook’s individual brand. When there is a marriage of intrapreneurial spirit and intrapreneurial opportunity, then both employee and employer benefit. Mutually beneficial organizational environments create loyalty–a sense of belonging, value and opportunity.
Great restaurants, or for that matter any great business, works to create an environment that is perfectly defined in the following quote:
“Train your employees well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” -Richard Branson
This focus is two-sided; the same must be true for the employee/intrapreneur. “Work and learn well enough so that you are prepared to move on, but become so integral to the operation of a restaurant that separation is very difficult.”
As the restaurant industry continues to struggle with finding qualified individuals to fill the open positions in the front and back of the house, they have yet to invest enough energy in helping to create this intrapreneurial environment that leads to loyalty while helping your cooks and service staff prepare for a career track in the business.
“Respect is earned, honesty is appreciated, trust is gained, and loyalty is returned.” -Auliq Ice, vocalist
So what do intrapreneurs look like?
THEIR GLASS IS NEVER HALF EMPTY
Cooks on the road to professional success look to each day as a positive opportunity. Their aura is intoxicating and tends to lift the spirits of everyone else.
THEY SWEAT THE DETAILS
Without being asked, these career cooks avoid shortcuts and view their responsibility to the business as dependent on their ability to approach process and procedure with a high level of concentration and commitment to doing it right. They know that every task is important.
THEY LOOK FOR WINDOWS OF BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY
Intrapreneurial cooks are constantly looking for ways to improve the business they work for, to identify ways of improving sales, enhance a dish, attract new customers and build a restaurant’s brand.
THEY FIX THINGS RATHER THAN POINT FINGERS
There is never a shortage of challenges in a restaurant kitchen and things do go wrong. Intrapreneurial cooks don’t waste time finding a person or process to blame; they simply fix the problem and move on. Wasting time with finger pointing never helps the team succeed.
THEY KNOW THE VALUE OF CONSISTENCY
Career-minded cooks understand that their commitment to doing things well and doing it consistently is one of the best brand-building exercises. Consistency is attractive to current employers, future employers, team members and guests.
THEY COUNT THE ORANGES
I worked for a Greek chef/owner at one point in time. When deliveries arrived he would methodically check for quality and quantity down to counting 88 oranges in a case and 100 potatoes. When I asked him why, he said: “If it were your money, would you do the same? Why then would you not do the same when it is my money?” Intrapreneurs count the oranges and take responsibility for the financial success of the restaurant.
THEY KNOW THAT THE ANSWER IS YES
Those who have a bright future are the ones who know how to say “yes.” Refrain, whenever possible, from saying “no,” and figure out the “how” afterwards.
THEY ARE WILLING TO SIGN THEIR PLATES
Intrapreneurs look at each plate of food that leaves the kitchen as a personal statement of their worth as a cook, their ability to do things right and their pride in what the restaurant has to offer.
If you are looking to make your mark and aspire to become a chef then check your intrapreneurial spirit and your loyalty to the operation that chooses to sign your check. Pick those companies that support you in this regard and them give them 100% effort every day. Your actions are your real resume.
Paul Sorgule has been a chef and educator for more than four decades holding positions as hotel executive chef, food and beverage director, faculty member, dean of culinary arts and provost at a prominent culinary college. Sorgule is president of Harvest America Ventures, a restaurant and culinary school consulting and training company he formed in 2012. He blogs about culinary issues and finding that work/life balance at www.harvestamericaventures.com.