How to Hire a Sous Chef (Qualifications, Interview Questions, Training)
When hiring for a kitchen role in any restaurant, you’re searching for an individual with a balance of technical skills, leadership qualities, and a cultural fit.
When hiring a sous chef, restauranteurs, chefs, and hiring managers might first look to their existing staff to promote someone internally. With 51% of restaurant operators naming staffing as a top challenge–and 35% saying training staff is a top challenge, hiring an already-trained individual may be the best solution.
Investing time and effort into hiring is essential to finding the right candidate to contribute positively to the kitchen team and your restaurant's success.
Hire and Retain Great Restaurant Employees
How to Hire a Sous Chef
The difference between a sous chef and a cook is that a sous cooks with their head up.
They understand the tempo of your kitchen and anticipate problems before they arise. A sous chef is reliable, clean, efficient, has a good attitude and organizational skills, and handles constructive criticism with poise.
Hiring a sous chef generally involves creating the job description, advertising the position, reviewing resumes, conducting interviews, and conducting practical assessments. it's essential to involve key kitchen staff members in this process, to further ensure a good fit with your kitchen team.
Define Your Needs
To define what your kitchen needs out of a sous, you’ll conduct a thoughtful evaluation of your restaurant's goals, menu offerings, and overall vision. You’ll need to include your kitchen leadership on this as well.
On the line, it’s much easier to step into a role you’re already serving than to be hired out of the blue. A good chef will invest in talent they think will be successful.
If you don’t have any staff ready to rise to the role of sous just yet, you’ll need to find someone that meshes well with your existing staff and chef.
Here are some general qualities that a great sous should have:
Experience and Skills: Look for candidates with a strong background in the kitchen. With a sous, experience is always more important than a degree.
Leadership Qualities: Look for someone with strong leadership skills, the ability to motivate and guide a team, and good communication.
Knife Skills: A chef will always judge a sous on their knives.
Adaptability: A kitchen can get intense. Assess how well a candidate handles pressure and their ability to adjust to unexpected challenges.
Team Player: Consider how they collaborate with others, handle conflicts, and contribute to a positive kitchen culture.
Creativity and Innovation: A sous may be responsible for developing or adapting dishes, so look for someone passionate about culinary creativity.
Organizational Skills: Can they manage time efficiently, coordinate kitchen activities, and ensure a smooth workflow?
Passion for Quality: Keen attention to detail and a commitment to maintaining the restaurant's standards.
Cultural Fit: A good cultural fit can create a harmonious working environment.
Here are some other ways to define what you need out of a sous chef:
1. Assess Current Challenges: Take a comprehensive look at your kitchen's operations. Identify any challenges or gaps in leadership, skill sets, or workflow that a sous chef could address.
2. Review Kitchen Goals: Consider your restaurant's culinary objectives. Determine how a sous chef can contribute to achieving these goals.
3. Evaluate Team Dynamics: Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your current kitchen team. Identify areas where a sous chef's expertise could complement or strengthen the team's capabilities.
4. Identify Leadership Needs: Determine the leadership style you seek in a sous chef. Do you need someone with solid mentoring abilities, someone adept at managing a diverse team, and/or someone skilled in organizing and optimizing kitchen operations?
5. Consider Specializations: You might need a sous chef with specific expertise depending on your menu or culinary focus.
6. Future Growth and Development: Do you need a sous chef who has the potential to grow into a more senior position in the future?
7. Communication and Collaboration Needs: Evaluate how important it is for the sous chef to communicate with other departments within the restaurant. Are there areas where better coordination between the kitchen and front-of-house is necessary?
8. Budget and Cost Control: Assess if the sous chef would have cost control, inventory management, or menu planning responsibilities. This consideration might influence the level of financial understanding you require from the candidate.
9. Feedback from Current Staff: Gather input from your existing kitchen staff. They might provide valuable insights into the areas where additional support or expertise would be most beneficial.
By carefully evaluating these aspects, a restaurant owner, hiring manager, or chef can create a detailed profile outlining a sous chef’s specific needs and expectations tailored to their establishment.
Training Manual Template
Create an Effective Sous Chef Job Posting
Now that you have written out exactly what you need from a sous, you should have everything necessary to write a clear job post.
How to Write a Sous Chef Job Description
List the job's duties and responsibilities, schedule, experience necessary, and salary range. Highlight the best aspects of your restaurant culture, team, and any special job perks, such as robust benefits and educational opportunities.
Sous Chef Job Description Sample
Read more about writing a job description for your sous chef here.
Job Title: Sous Chef
Salary: $50,000 - $70,000 per year
Tip Income: No
Schedule: Full-time (40 hours per week). Wednesday–Sunday
Role: As Sous Chef, you’ll work closely with the Head Chef to oversee all aspects of our kitchen productivity, from menu development to the budget and schedule. This includes managing our kitchen team, monitoring inventory, and ensuring all dishes are created to the high standards we are known for. We’re seeking candidates with experience in various roles in a professional kitchen who can effectively manage large teams.
Prepare food items using various cooking methods. Observe and test food being cooked.
Ensure proper care, maintenance, and sanitation of work areas, equipment, and supplies
Ensure the kitchen operates efficiently and meets standards of quality
Fill in for Executive Chef as needed
Manage and train kitchen staff, coordinate schedules, and oversee their work.
Manage payroll for kitchen staff
Order supplies and stock inventory as needed
Deep knowledge of cooking methods, equipment, ingredients, and procedures
Formal culinary training is a plus
Ability to problem-solve on the spot and give clear directions
Job Description Template
Advertise the Sous Chef Job
Most new employees discover their restaurant jobs through friends (55%) or social media (50%) — with that in mind, here’s how to get the word out about your job opening.
Use Online Job Boards
Tapping into the vast pool of restaurant talent available online is crucial. Online job boards like Indeed or Glassdoor provide an extensive reach, connecting you with diverse potential candidates.
When looking at job boards, choose the right platforms, ideally websites that cater to the hospitality sector, like Poached or Hospitality Online.
Leverage Social Media
Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn broaden your reach and provide a more interactive space for potential candidates to engage with your restaurant's brand. Posting on social also makes it easier for your current employees to share the posting with their networks.
LinkedIn works as its own job board; you’ll post on LinkedIn using the same information as those other websites. The difference is that you can share this post with your network or have your team members share it as well.
For other social media sites, you’ll need a visually appealing post and a link to your job posting. Or, depending on character limits, you can shorten the description and add it straight to the social platform.
Use paid features to boost your job posting content to reach a larger, more relevant audience.
Tell Your Employees
Always pay attention to the power of internal resources when hiring staff for your restaurant. Establishing an employee referral program incentivizes your team members to bring in talent within their networks.
If you don’t have the budget to incentivize referrals, you can motivate in other ways, such as free meals, gift cards, or recognition.
Screen the Resumes
After waiting for your applications, you’re probably excited to begin the interview process. But first, you must screen all the resumes you received – which can be difficult if you don’t know what to look for.
Develop a resume screening criteria to identify top candidates. These criteria will help you review the resumes and job applications to identify who you want to hire. You’ll score based on past experiences, qualifications, skills, and potential fit for the restaurant. Here are some of the top criteria we recommend prioritizing:
Relevant experience: Look for candidates with a proven track record in the hospitality industry, particularly in previous sous chef or line cook positions. Look into the types of establishments they worked in. Are they similar to your restaurant?
Kitchen skills: Evaluate resumes for any mention of culinary education, kitchen experience, or certifications.
Leadership ability: Have they mentored other staff or cooks? Check resumes for any mention of management or leadership challenges.
Adaptability and stress management: Restaurant environments can be fast-paced and unpredictable. Seek candidates who thrive under pressure and can adapt to changing situations seamlessly.
Team player: Assess resumes for mentions of teamwork, collaboration, or instances where the candidate worked closely with colleagues to achieve common goals.
Then select your top contenders and move onto the interview stage.
During interviews, operators may consider playing to the motivations of current restaurant employees. For example, a majority (56%) of employees said they accepted their most recent restaurant job because of the flexible schedule. Along with schedule flexibility, convenient commute (42%), good hourly pay (42%), and free meals (26%) were other top reasons.
The interview is where you get to the heart of your candidate and where your future sous chef gets to know you and your chef.
Before your interview, review the candidate’s resume and application. Use this as a starting point to develop a set of questions that cover technical skills, leadership abilities, problem-solving, creativity, and their fit within your kitchen environment.
Begin by introducing yourself and the team present during the interview, then provide a brief overview of the restaurant and the role of the sous.
Start with open-ended questions about their culinary journey, experiences, and what motivated them to pursue a career in the culinary arts. Then, ask about their previous roles, specific responsibilities, and significant accomplishments.
But before you dive into your candidate’s skills, you’ll want to set the candidate’s expectations for the interview. Let them know you’ll leave a few minutes at the end to answer any questions they may have.
Behavioral questions aim to uncover past behavior as a predictor of future performance, focusing on situations relevant to a sommelier’s responsibilities.
Examples of behavioral interview questions for sous chefs:
Can you describe when you had to step in and lead the kitchen without the head chef? How did you handle it?
Share an example of a challenging situation with a team member. How did you address it and ensure it didn’t affect kitchen operations?
Explain a situation where you successfully improved communication among kitchen staff to enhance efficiency or resolve conflicts.
Talk about a time when you had to quickly adjust to changes in the menu or unexpected changes in kitchen staffing. How did you manage it?
Can you describe the proper technique for dicing vegetables uniformly? What knife would you use, and how would you approach it?
Suppose you're tasked with creating a new appetizer for the menu using seasonal ingredients. Walk me through your process from ideation to execution.
Explain the process you follow to ensure daily food safety standards are met in the kitchen.
Can you discuss a successful training program you implemented for junior chefs or kitchen staff? How did it impact the team's performance or skill development?
Can you talk about when you had to adapt a menu or change a dish on short notice due to customer feedback or a special event?
Culture Fit Questions
What values do you prioritize in a kitchen environment, and how do they align with our restaurant's values?
Describe the importance of teamwork and collaboration in achieving kitchen goals. Can you share an example from your experience?
Explain your approach to giving and receiving feedback in the kitchen. How do you ensure a positive and constructive communication style?
Review References and Background Checks
Part of the hiring process is reviewing references and conducting background checks. It’s an essential aspect that job candidates will expect. This way, you ensure your sous chef is a skilled worker who is trustworthy and reliable and will contribute to a happy team dynamic.
Contacting Past Employers
Work history and references can be extremely helpful in hiring the right kitchen team.
Previous employer questions:
How did [candidate] manage their time, team, and energy?
What specific culinary skills did the candidate demonstrate during their time at your establishment?
How would you rate the candidate's technical abilities and proficiency in different cooking techniques?
Would you rehire them?
Was the candidate punctual and reliable in their attendance and work performance?
To respect a candidate's privacy, you should always ask permission before contacting previous employers.
Criminal Background Checks
Conducting a background check on a sous chef, as with any key employee in a restaurant, is essential for several reasons:
The first is that a background check ensures the safety of your restaurant by verifying the candidate's identity and confirming their professional history.
Restaurants thrive on their reputation. Employing individuals with a history of dishonesty or misconduct could potentially damage the restaurant's image and bring along potential liabilities – especially in a high-responsibility role like a sous chef, where they oversee kitchen operations and staff.
Like with contacting past employers, you must obtain a candidate's consent before conducting a background check. Provide the necessary information and forms and make sure they understand the process.
An important note on discrimination: a candidate’s criminal record should only be used to evaluate job suitability and not be the sole basis for disqualification.
Make the Offer
Now, it’s time to make an offer to your top candidate.
Remember, a compelling offer goes beyond just the financial aspect. It should encompass a combination of competitive compensation, benefits, professional development, and a positive work environment to attract and retain top-tier sous chef talent.
Provide a Written Offer Letter
A written offer letter serves as a formal legal document that outlines the terms and conditions of employment. Begin by addressing the hire by name and express your enthusiasm for having them join your team.
Repurpose the job description you wrote earlier as the job details: specify their position and responsibilities.
Outline a compensation package, including base salary or hourly, any bonuses or benefits, and pay frequency (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly).
Detail the terms of employment (an employee agreement contract), and start date. Include background and certification check conditions, a deadline for acceptance, and a signature line.
Additional Points to an Attractive Offer
Performance-Based Incentives: These could include bonuses for achieving specific goals, maintaining food cost targets, or receiving positive customer feedback.
Professional Development Opportunities: This could involve access to training programs, workshops, or the possibility of advancement within the culinary team.
Work-Life Balance: Reasonable working hours, scheduled days off, and a supportive work environment that values the well-being of the kitchen staff.
Positive Workplace Culture: Emphasize teamwork, open communication, and a collaborative environment.
Compensation and Benefits
Be prepared for the possibility of negotiation. Some candidates may want to discuss their salary or benefits. Emphasize any unique aspects that will make your offer stand out.
Set Expectations for Start Date and Onboarding
Confirm the agreed-upon start date with your new hire, and tell them about anything they need to bring on their first day and what to expect.
Orientation and Restaurant Policies
In the first few days of a sous chef's employment, setting the tone for their experience within the restaurant is crucial.
Creating a structured onboarding process for a new sous chef ensures they feel supported, understand their role, and are equipped with the necessary knowledge to contribute effectively to the kitchen's success. This initial investment in their integration can lay a strong foundation for their long-term success within the restaurant.
On day one, introduce the sous chef to the kitchen staff, management team, and other relevant personnel. Familiarize them with the kitchen layout, equipment, storage areas, and any other relevant facilities. Review the restaurant's menu, ingredients, cooking techniques, and the philosophy behind the dishes. Allow them to observe service and get a feel for the kitchen's rhythm before diving into their new role.
Training on Equipment and Processes
Outline a training plan, including dedicating specific shifts to learning the restaurant’s menu and operational procedures.
Encourage your new sous to ask questions and provide feedback throughout orientation.
Encourage Career Growth Within the Restaurant
As mentioned previously, before seeking outside help for your restaurant – look internally to promote an existing employee.
An internal promotion means the sous chef is already acquainted with the restaurant's culture, values, operations, and team dynamics. They understand the kitchen's nuances, which can lead to a smoother transition into the new role.
Promoting internally also helps maintain stability within the kitchen team. It minimizes potential disruptions with a new external hire, ensuring continuity in kitchen operations.
Recap - How to Hire a Sous Chef
The key steps in hiring your ideal sous chef are:
Define what you need out of your new sous chef. How do they work with your existing kitchen team? What are their hours, and how much is their pay? What experience do they need?
Write a job description with those values in mind. Remember to include the basics, such as location, position, and experience level needed.
Share that job description far and wide. Give it to your employees, your mom, your uncle. Post it on job boards, social media, and industry-specific platforms.
Screen resumes of potential candidates after creating a list of screening criteria. Reiterate who you’re looking for and who has the qualifications to fit your needs. Choose a handful for the next step in the process.
Conduct phone screens and interviews with a few qualified candidates. Ask all sorts of questions that cover skills, behavior, and culture fit. Bring in your chef for these interviews as well.
Review other application materials such as cover letters, personal statements, and recommendations. Call your candidates’ references if they have any.
Make an offer on your top candidate.
Begin the onboarding process with retention and training top of mind.
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