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A Happier, Healthier Kitchen

A new program is bringing positive change to restaurant kitchen culture.

For decades, kitchen professionals have worked long hours under strenuous conditions—often for little pay. The cumulative impact has taken a toll, with decreases in well-being across the industry. In some cases, chefs have left food service, and fewer young people are choosing to enter the profession. To attract talent, owners are challenged with remaking restaurants as healthy, appealing places to work. To that end, Unilever Food Solutions has helped launch the Fair Kitchens movement.

Led by chefs and industry professionals, the movement emphasizes communication, empathy, respect and mentorship. Start by going to FairKitchens.com, where you can watch videos of chefs and operators telling personal stories of the impact the movement has had on their businesses. According to Chef Neil Doherty, Sysco’s Senior Director of Culinary Development, transparency and fairness are integral to a
happy and productive work environment. Here are some of his keys for fostering a positive kitchen:

  1. Cross-Educate Your Staff: Everyone should know how to work every station. This way, everyone’s always learning, and no one is stuck doing the same job everyday. You need your whole team up to speed and ready to pitch in.
  2. Schedule Transparently: If you hire someone as a breakfast or lunch cook but then start asking them to come in for dinner, it can become a major issue. To avoid that, make sure expectations are set up front on both sides.
  3. Become Culturally Competent: We are an industry of immigrants, and you need to be culturally aware in order to take care of your people. If your staff members need to take off a day of worship, give it to them. You’ll be rewarded later with loyalty.
  4. Be Fair With Days Off: There was a time when I would give my longest-term staff the best schedule. Now, I think it’s better to rotate the schedule so the favorable days get spread around to everyone.
  5. Be Nice. The Market Demands It: In the old days, if you were a new hire, no one would talk to you for two months. That kind of rough behavior no longer works. New hires are much more likely to succeed if you take them under your wing and support them from the get-go.

Mentoring, education and team building are all important tools in promoting healthier behaviors, as the Fair Kitchens movement seeks to turn the tables on the past and remake restaurant kitchens into exemplary workplaces for the next century.