We’ve looked at how to craft your Christmas menu, budget, and sourcing products. Now we’re going to investigate staff training, preparations, and well-being.
Let’s face it, we’ve probably all worked in disorganised places. Poor leaders, bullying in the kitchen, and terrible staff retention can make a job so much less enjoyable for everyone. However, by choosing to be the kind of leader we want to be and fostering a good working culture, we can ensure that our workplace is a happy, relaxed environment.
As chefs and managers, we can set an example of the attitude that our staff should have and, through this, try to make working through the festive season as rewarding as possible.
Staff Training and Preparation
For starters, one of the best ways to feel prepared and ready for the Christmas period is to give the kitchen a really good deep clean, tighten up food and safety protocols, and start looking at your inventory. Do you need any extra equipment, crockery, or cutlery? Make sure to ask your front-of-house team if they’re all set with everything they need too and have a few joint meetings to make sure everything is cohesive and staff know their roles. This ensures that everyone is as calm and relaxed as they can be, reducing the stress of the festive period.
In any workplace, good, effective communication is key. Now is a good time to have a chat with your team about the hours that you require of them this season, and to organise a rota. By having a rota prepared well ahead of Christmas, you can manage staff expectations and ensure that everyone knows what is required of them. Effective preparation will make the Christmas period run as smoothly as possible.
We all know that planning for the festive period really isn’t easy, and covering all the shifts can be one of the biggest headaches of Christmas. Of course, it’s a great idea to source any extra staff you might need and get them trained up early so they’re ready to go at Christmas. Students are often home from university and looking for work. And, if you’re really tight on staff, the cost-of-living crisis means that there may also be people working in sectors that close for Christmas, looking for extra work.
Even with the most organised, efficient rota in the world, there always needs to be some provision for that phone call we all dread: staff ringing in sick. It’s a good idea to get team members from other areas trained to work in multiple roles, meaning that they can always jump in if someone else is absent.
I recently watched the Netflix film ‘The Founder’, relaying the story of the well-known fast food chain McDonald’s. I was fascinated to discover that, when the McDonald brothers were waiting for their first premises to be built, they took their staff to a tennis court and marked the ground with chalk as a mock-up kitchen. On the court, they rehearsed each part of the cooking process, like you would a dance routine. It’s so true that moving around the kitchen is like a dance! How ingenious to practice all the steps first and make sure the staff have their dance moves nailed. I think we can take from that just how important it is that everyone knows their role and routine in the kitchen. When you find a system that works, everything else falls into place.
It’s a good idea to get all the staff together for a team taster session. This could be a great opportunity to not only photograph and practise your dishes for marketing purposes but also to teach the staff about any new ingredients you’re introducing as part of your Christmas menu. As we all know, it’s crucial that every single member of the team is aware of any allergens in your dishes.
If you have a sommelier or work with wine merchants and mixologists, maybe get them to give a talk to the staff about drinks parings. Let staff know if there are opportunities for upselling so that maximum profit is achieved. Could you run a fun competition for the staff to drive sales up?
Finally, ahead of a busy service, try to find time for a team briefing. To increase incentive, make this a time when your team sits down and eats together, ensuring that everyone is fuelled, motivated, and feels like a valued member of the team. Discuss what bookings you have and any menu deviations and allergies. If the team is briefed and fully prepped, it will go a long way in enhancing customer experience and overall staff morale.
The Christmas period can put a lot of extra pressure on staff, and us as chefs. Just like the overused cliché of the parent putting on their own oxygen mask before that of their child, as chefs, we can’t look after our teams properly if we can’t look after ourselves. I’m well aware that, in our industry, we wear the length of shifts we work and run of days without a day off like a badge of Honour (I know I’m guilty of this myself – I recently ran a 16-hour pop-up on one cup of coffee and a bacon sandwich). Sometimes we need to stop to think about the physical and emotional toll this can have on our bodies, and how we can ensure that everyone feels well-rested and looked after.
If you know you’re like this, it’s a good idea to maybe appoint a couple of staff to make sure everyone has regular drinks, food, and breaks.
In the hospitality industry, we’ve come to accept that we make sacrifices with our health and home life to be the best we can be at our job. Whilst this can work short term, in the long run, this is not the case, and it’s widely accepted that the culture needs to change. Of course, it’s not so easy with the current staffing crisis we are facing, but things can be put in place to ensure that staff are as well cared for as possible.
We all know how stressful the kitchen can get so it might be a good idea to highlight new social enterprises like The Burnt Chef Project, so staff can reach out for help if they’re struggling. It’s these charities’ priority to make it easier for chefs to talk about their mental health.
Christmas is a good time to check in with staff and make sure none of them are feeling blue and alone at Christmas. To make your kitchen feel even more like a little family, perhaps buy your staff a gift, even if it’s chocolates or some comedy Christmas socks, or organise a staff secret Santa and involve everyone in the team so every member of staff feels included and supported.
Hopefully, this article has made you as a chef or manager feel more equipped to support your staff (and yourself) this festive period. It’s so important to make sure that every single member of the team knows what to expect, but also where they can get support if the stress of Christmas gets too much.
Kirsty Brown is a freelance, private chef and writer. Currently, the executive chef for an independent nursery chain and forest school, The Railway Children. Kirsty also runs her own pop-ups, supper clubs, cooking classes, and micro-bakery, specialising in sourdough and global cuisine. Kirsty previously owned the acclaimed French-Yorkshire street food van, café, and event company, Très Bon Raymond.