A popular topic lately in a couple different restaurant discussion forums I participate in is the question of who owns the recipes your restaurant uses?
Let’s look at a couple possible scenarios that could affect your restaurant.
No matter the answers to any of these questions, it is very important for the continued success of your restaurant that you are able to consistently produce the same quality of product, tasting the same as before, if you want to keep the loyal customers you have. If the food was horrible, maybe you want to change all the recipes, but you’ll still want to pay attention to the rest of this article to avoid potential pitfalls with the next chef.
All this begs the question, “Can your restaurant survive the departure of your head chef or kitchen manager?”
In addition to helping you evaluate your current situation and the risk you already have if your head chef leaves, I’m also going to help you take the steps to lower your risk and remove the impending doom of losing your top chef.
What are the risks if my chef leaves?
If you are unfortunate enough to lose your executive chef, whether it be a termination, the chef quitting, or the chef moving on to a better opportunity, there are several potential problems they could leave you with and several considerations you may have never made.
Now that you know it’s very important to protect yourself from these potential problems, and I’ve told you that an employment contract can help, you’re lead to your next question, “What should be included in a good chef employment contract?”
Here are what I consider to be “must haves” in any chef employment contract. Many of these you will want to include in an employment contract for all your cooks, your General Manager and any other key management staff that have access to your proprietary secrets.
There are several other statements you should include to create a good contract. Make sure to use a qualified lawyer experienced with labor law and restaurants when creating any contract of any sort. I am not a lawyer and you shouldn’t consider this article legal advice. What this is however, is a good place to start when trying to protect proprietary information like recipes.
Until you have an employment contract in place, and a job description letting a chef know they are creating recipes for you that you will own, you are at the mercy of their ethics. A great chef knows that they are only as good as they left their last kitchen. They should have the moral drive to set any kitchen they run up for success long after they are gone. They shouldn’t try to steal employees or hide recipes. After all, a great chef can recreate a recipe anytime they wish, and there’s a never ending supply of recipes inside a great chef’s brain. You can’t depend on every chef you hire being a great chef however. You need to protect yourself and create an atmosphere that benefits not only your chef, but every employee in the kitchen.
Use employment contracts. Use job descriptions. Create and maintain up-to-date recipes on all your menu items, including the specials. Make sure you have copies too. Don’t be held hostage by any one employee. Create an atmosphere where chefs will be beating down your door to work in your organized, well run operation, just for the opportunity to express their own creativity. For the opportunity to work for a successful brand, and to have the freedom of creating to their hearts content because you’re not holding them back from insecurity that they may some day move on to bigger and better things. After all, if you hired a great chef, they will eventually move on to bigger and better things.
For help writing an employment contract for your chef or cooks, visit our webstore and look for our Employment Contract for Chefs and Cooks. This same contract can be amended to use for any employee.
Brandon O’Dell is an independent restaurant consultant who assists small to medium sized independent restaurants and small chains create the operational systems their chain competitors use everyday. Visit www.bodellconsulting.com for more information, or visit their blog at blog.bodellconsulting.com.
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