Written by Vedhas Deshmukh, Former Executive Chef, MRG Group
I love kitchens. I love the restaurant trade. As long as someone wants to dine, someone like me is going to feed them. This trade has been around forever and it’s only getting bigger every day. Cooking and hospitality schools churn out batch after batch of young, ambitious and entrepreneurial students willingly entering this trade. Immigrants by the thousands look to this industry for their first job in their new country.
But it’s a tough trade. The hours are crazy, the work is highly seasonal or time specific, profit margins are as slim as 3-5% and there is very little room for flexibility. The newcomers to this industry are not able to sustain their passion with limited hourly work by keeping just one job. The businesses are facing the trouble of finding the right people for the right job, training them, and having them leave their positions due to under or over work. This creates a very difficult situation.
Managing kitchens in downtown Toronto, my life is very similar to the hundreds of us out there. Dishwasher no shows. Cooks out sick. Vacations coming up. Middle of the summer, need more cooks, dishwashers, kitchen helpers, cleaners etc. Food safety inspections. Menu changes. Seasons about to end, inevitable layoffs. Labour margins to be looked at. It goes on and on, that isn’t even the toughest aspect of it all.
The on-demand workforce mentality
The true challenge is that the mindset of the workforce has changed. They are clear about what they want. They want to manage their own schedules. They want to work but only when they want to work: it’s the on-demand mentality of the modern era! Unfortunately for me, I have to work when customers want to eat. So how do I, as a leader, provide work for my team, feed you well, make money for the business, and still love my life?
Early in my career, there was a chef that had an unwritten policy he always followed. He would always take the most untrained, least experienced and novice cook into his kitchen. I was one of these cooks. Immigrants more often than not fall into this category because they are new. They need work but don’t really know the customs and ways of working in kitchens and back of the house. Also, every kitchen is different. Even an experienced BOH pro would stumble if you were to change his/her work place overnight. So how do you expect somebody new to the country and trade to start performing from day one? Before you know it, they leave out of frustration—not every place has a chef with unwritten policies—and you’re back to the hiring cycle.
The day I realized Zing existed, my life actually changed. Something clicked in me and I could see their vision as clearly as my next week’s schedule. I was able to start scheduling dishwasher as many as I needed and when I needed. Were they all trained from day one? Who cares! Here was a person who willingly showed up every odd shift I requested, well groomed, with a ready-for-work attitude and did what they knew. Work.
Dishes, no problem Chef. Peel onions, no problem Chef, show me how. Make burgers, how many Chef? Portion noodles? Strain demi? Before I knew it I was training my first wave of Zing dishwashers into prep and line cooks. Fast forward a few months, I’m opening new kitchens with no dishwashers, just my Zing shifts. I had created clouds. Cloud teams of kitchen workers. I was no longer struggling with hiring. There was no laying off! I was no longer losing money every time an employee left for a few extra cents or decided they did not want to work any more this month. I had found a solution.
Life changing, career changing too
I believed in this solution so strongly, that I have taken a break from my day job of running kitchens to help both Zing and the restaurant industry to see what I saw, and do what I did: help the newcomers! Find the right hours for that person who wants to take a few weeks off in the middle of the summer but can still come back to work. Find the right help for my fellow chefs when they are literally knee deep in prep and swamped on stations. Get my GMs the right bartenders for that offsite we discussed three months back. Event servers, no problem. Banquet attendants on New Years Eve, don’t even worry about it. 4,000 wraps to be made, we will get it done.
This works. Zing works. And we’re serving it up fast and hot here in Toronto now.