Early in my career, I was given an audio cassette tape. It was a motivational speech and I was not interested.
Some time went by before I was bored enough to listen in the car. When I arrived at my destination, the speech had not yet concluded... yet, I remained in my car for another 30 minutes, listening intently.
This newfound love of personal journey stories and audiobooks led me to listen to 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Steven Covey for the first time. It was recommended to me as one of the bibles in personal development.
Below is my overview of how you can use his seven habits to improve your career as a restaurant chef. I hope you will find these seven habits easy to work into your daily life!
1) Be Proactive
Proactive chefs focus on what they can control instead of what they can’t.
- Instead of complaining about how “incapable” your kitchen staff is, focus on creating better restaurant training systems.
- Instead of waiting for the profit and loss statement to tell you about your food cost last month, implement a budget-based ordering system to track your purchases against your sales and know exactly where your food cost is daily.
It's up to you to recognize problems before they arise. Notice one of your line cooks is starting to display less-than-stellar work? Don't wait for it to get worse – curtail the behavior before it impacts your kitchen.
2) Begin with the End in Mind
Before you start any project or even sit down to write next week’s special, think first about the desired result, then work backwards to the beginning.
In other words, come up with how many specials you would like to have been sold this time next week. Then, look at your restaurant sales trends to see the most popular dishes and see if you can make a special that would speak to your guest preferences.
From there, you can write the special having used data to predict what the dish should be in order to achieve your desired results. Again, you're being proactive.
3) Put First Things First
This one should be obvious for a restaurant chef. After all, why would you start working on a new dish if you had a steak burning on the grill or a pizza catching on fire in the oven?
Being a chef means understanding procedure and following a systematic order. Apply this habit not just to your actual cooking but to your kitchen operations as well. Don't let the elephant in the room – whether it be an underperforming cook or a faulty fryer – get in the way of your success. Deal with pressing problems swiftly and completely.
4) Think Win-Win
The success of your restaurant does not have to mean the failure of another.
Business and reputations are not a zero sum game, and there is room for many winners. It's a cliche, but a rising tide does lift all boats.
Don’t be afraid to share all your best secrets with your team. When you do, they get better, and in turn, that makes your job easier.
5) Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Let's say your last few specials didn’t sell as well as you wanted.
It’s easy to say, "the servers didn’t sell them well" or, "the guests just don’t understand what I am trying to do."
The reality is, if your guests thought the special sounded good, they would have ordered it – no matter how hard you worked on it.
If you truly seek first to understand what your guests want, and then simply on giving it to them, you will be a customer-obsessed chef.
6) Seek Synergy
Synergy occurs when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Your ideas on their own are worth something, but when you work with your entire team, you know they are worth way more than that.
Seeking synergy in a restaurant kitchen results from unrestrained input and positive work ethic of all team members. Servers may not have a trained culinary mind, but their interactions with customers could inspire your next big menu item.
Work synergistically with your team so your kitchen can contribute to an unparalleled restaurant experience. That requires implementing kitchen display systems that help everyone mobilize toward a common goal: efficient service and excellent food.
7) Sharpen the Saw
Abraham Lincoln is famously quoted for saying, “If you give me six hours to chop down a tree, I will spend the first four sharpening my axe.”
Take time to sharpen your saw. Spend more time prepping, organizing, and improving your efficiency. When things start to wear down, resharpen your saw and make improvements to your system again.
In other words, never stop improving. This will keep you competitive and innovative in the industry and lead to unmatched consistency and quality of food from the kitchen.
Fight the Urge for Instant
In today’s fast paced world, we want it all and we want it now. We are looking for tips, tricks and “hacks” that will improve profitability, decrease the amount of time we spend at work and make us happier and our jobs easier. The challenge is we often don’t want to put in the work it takes.
Unfortunately, successful chefs know there are only so many improvements that can come from "quick wins."
Instead, take the time to invest in yourself, your team, and your systems to build a positive restaurant kitchen culture.