How do I keep cooks from quitting?

Since so many operations are seeking cooks, talented ones can practically choose their gig and may look for better circumstances elsewhere. But a few straightforward strategies can help keep cooks on staff, Advice Guy says.
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Foodservice operators should promote from within when possible, Advice Guy says. / Photo: Andriy Blokhin via


I need cooks! They keep quitting. Help!

– Chef


At least weekly, and sometimes daily, I get inquiries from chefs, managers and owners looking for cooks.

This has been true throughout my decades in culinary education, but it has been exacerbated by our low unemployment rate and people leaving the industry during COVID lockdowns. Because so many operations are seeking cooks, talented ones can practically choose their gig and may be gravitating toward better hours, better pay, a better environment or a combination of those. I have written before about strategies to recruit cooks, but this week wanted to address your concern about retaining them.

So, I conducted an informal poll of chef friends and focused on who does not need cooks to see what we could learn. A multi-unit culinary director put it simply when I asked for his secret sauce. He answered, “I pay people well and treat them well.”

A source at Ivan Ramen in New York City said, “At Ivan Ramen, we're well staffed for a few different reasons. We pay above industry norms and give cost of living raises. We offer front-loaded sick time that can be used as PTO. We allow for fixed schedules that include two back-to-back days off as well as the opportunity for overtime. Then we make it a practice to check in with staff to make sure their schedules work for them and their families. We cross-train on all positions, which enables us to promote from within. Of course, there's fluctuation in staffing, not everyone is right for us and we're not right for everyone. When we're in need of staff, we turn to our team for referrals and offer a bonus if the new hire sticks around. Most importantly, we treat all our employees with respect.”

A few other strategies I’ve heard from the well-staffed:

  • Allow for professional development—take cooks to trade shows or out to eat at places where they will learn.
  • Show cooks they are valued—buy doughnuts, lunch and other things to break up the monotony and let people know their work is important.
  • Promote from within when possible—let cooks know they have room to grow within your organization and don’t need to leave the company to find advancement opportunities.

My advice is to treat your staffing as competitively as you market your concept to guests. Build the culture and promote your culture to this internal market that is key to your operation’s success.

More on recruiting and retention here.



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