MYBC 7 Characteristics of Truly Terrible Chef Bosses

If you run your own personal chef or private chef business, chances are you’re both the chef and the boss. Whether you have your own staff, manage vendors, or simply deal with your customers, managing is part of your job description. If you’re striving to grow your business, or reevaluating how to manage one, you can increase your chances of success by avoiding the following seven traits of truly horrible chef-bosses.

They are piss poor communicators.

You can have a great business and make a lot of money, and still come up short when it comes to communicating with those you interact with each day. Horrible chef-bosses don’t realize how much they have to lose when they fail to communicate, when they fail to share their plans, or don’t encourage input and refuse to listen to good ideas and feedback. The result is that some of the best chefs out there struggle with teamwork, customer loyalty, and morale. Yep.

THE FIX: There’s two parts to good communication — Talking and listening. Of these two, listening is far more important. And learning to listen and communicate clearly is no easy task (ask any married person!). In the Ted Talk: 5 ways to Listen Better, Julian Treasure outlines the seven filters that interfere with our ability to listen fully. Give it a watch, and start to understand how we listen so you can do it better. Better than you have before. Better than your competitors. Then, put aside your ego and start making changes that will benefit your business.

They refuse to ask for help.

Many chefs just plain ‘don’t like’ all the tasks and functions necessary to run a business well. As business owners, these chefs are also short on time and rarely put aside time to learn new skills. You have to wear a lot of hats for sure, and the learning curve is steep when you start a business. You can’t do everything yourself and do it well. Just because you’re a chef and cook great food doesn’t mean you’ll be a master at every other part of your business — and trying to do so will exhaust you and risk the future of your business.

MYBC 7 Characteristics of Truly Terrible Chef-Bosses

THE FIX: Learn to delegate effectively and hire well. This means understanding the jobs that need to be done and hiring teams who are well suited for those tasks. It also means managing them rather than abdicating that responsibility. (Tackling insteading of ignoring problems, as well as learning to let go and ask for help also comes into play here.)

They are insecure.

Successful business owners are devoted to bringing on help who are smarter than they are. Yet horrible chef-bosses who lack confidence never hire anyone that threatens them. Bad choice. A chef I worked with (let’s call him Chef J) wanted so badly to be the center of attention he unintentionally hired less-qualified staff to support him. Then, he couldn’t understand why his business was filled with ‘incompetent people.’ Duh.

THE FIX: Hire a team who compliments you and your skills. Stop competing with your team. Embrace the idea that they are there to help your business grow.

They are bullies.

Our industry is known for eating up chefs and spitting them out. It’s gained a reputation of such rigor that some chefs even self-identify with their ability to suffer terrible working conditions as a point of pride. (If this sounds like you, STOP!) Until the typical kitchen environment is transformed and restaurant owners figure out that people don’t work well with abusive bosses, staff will continue to suffer from low morale, disengagement and high turnover. This is no way to run a business.

THE FIX: Wise chefs know their worth and refuse to work in poor conditions. The choice is to find the right kitchen or, better yet, go out on your own and offer your chef services to private clients. Whatever path you take, if you’re the one blowing up and losing your temper, it’s time to change your style. Here’s the thing: if you think your style is fine (or justified) but those around you don’t, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate your behavior. Don’t feel threatened if you need to do this — it’s how leaders and business owners rise from good to great, from overworked to getting paid what they’re worth.

MYBC 7 Characteristics of Truly Terrible Chef-Bosses

They micromanage everything.

It’s hard to hand over the controls when you’ve started your small business and have had to do everything yourself. As businesses grow, this is one of the toughest transitions. (I know, because I’m working on it right now.) My business coach tells me to let my team find their way and empower them to take initiative rather than ask for permission. I know, firsthand, that no one likes to be hovered over or held back. If you want your business to grow, stay out of the weeds and keep your head up. Doers keep their heads down while they work. Leaders keep their heads up and focus on the big-picture view.

THE FIX: I once heard a Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, ask ‘How many ways are there to make a white cake?” As a chef you know there are hundreds of recipes for white cake, and many of them are very good. When you learn to trust others to get the job done, empowering them with the authority to do so and not micromanaging them, it may not be the exact recipe you’d follow, but you’ll still end up with a darn good cake. Get the idea?

They overwork their team.

Some bosses expect 110%, 24/7/365. So it’s no surprise that chefs suffer a high rate of burnout, and millenials have pushed back and insisted on valuing their time over their contributions to the workforce. (P.S. That’s not lazy, it’s common sense. Thanks, millennials!) When bosses overwork the team, productivity may be higher in the short-term, but in the long run things start to break down.

THE FIX: Having a dedicated team who work their asses off is important. So is time off, flexibility, vacations, and adequate rest. Q: Want to build a business that runs smoothly and fosters years of loyalty? A: Build into the fabric of your company the elements that were lacking in the job you quit. Mic drop.

MYBC 7 Characteristics of Truly Terrible Chef-Bosses

They fail to acknowledge and appreciate others.

We’ve all been in situations where we worked hard and didn’t get the recognition we deserved. It sucks. The majority of chefs who quit jobs really quit a boss. No one likes to have errors pointed out all the time. Truly horrible chef-bosses fear that being positive will weaken people, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

THE FIX: Great chef-bosses make it a point to take time and recognize their team, to genuinely appreciate and express gratitude to their crew, in both public and private ways (not everyone wants to be called out in front of a group, some prefer quiet acknowledgment). Whichever method is used, appropriate and genuine appreciation makes people invested in their jobs. It just does.

Next steps for every chef (even the not-so horrible ones).

While it is true that there are a lot of truly horrible chef-bosses out there, every one of us can find ways to improve on our leadership and management style. In fact, making a commitment to do so, and acknowledging our room for improvement is one of the hallmarks of a great business owner. So stop pointing fingers at the chef-boss who’s far worse than you; no shortcoming of someone else can justify you being less than the best leader you can be. As a chef, you are hardworking, artistic, and dedicated to learning. Apply your fire to mastery in the kitchen to your business. In doing so, you will make abundant room for greater successes in your life!