Lisabet “LB” Summa
Jerry Rabinowitz

How Big Time Restaurant Group Soars in a Tight Labor Market

Repetition, clear expectations, and a supportive back of house have helped Big Time Restaurant Group stay ahead of the pack.

TBC Media Lab

Executive culinary director Lisabet “LB” Summa.

I’ve been working in hospitality for almost 40 years, but what’s really resonating with me today is the challenge of hiring a team when unemployment is so low. As a corporate chef in a group of 17 restaurants, it’s my job to work through this.

We address it from a couple of different angles. One is the tech side; we’ve gotten better at placing ads and using the diversity of search engines like ZipRecruiter and The other thing is we’ve had meetings with all the chefs together and talked about reframing our hiring and training strategy. It is the idea of not looking so much for somebody’s experience but rather assessing their potential.

When you have this less qualified workforce in your kitchen, you have to amp up on your training materials. Our recipes are always changing and being edited to be better. You should be able to hand a recipe to someone, and with no guidance, they should be able to execute it. We have a corporate office and support people on the admin side. They help us with all that because chefs are busy; they don’t always have time to rewrite and edit recipes.

The old management strategy was like trial by fire: three strikes, you’re out. That doesn’t work in this environment; what does work is getting your managers and leaders together and talking to them about over-communicating expectations. If you tell somebody something, don’t expect that’s the last time you’re going to tell them. There’s a lot of repetition, and that has to do with learning and removing the element of fear.

I think I was a little bit arrogant when I was younger about expectations. I was more aggressive and more about performance, and that just doesn’t work for me anymore. It’s been a maturation process for me. It’s about creating a place where people can learn and they can make mistakes. Thankfully, it isn’t brain surgery or rocket science, and it isn’t the end of the world if someone makes a mistake. I’m more likely to write up a sous chef for yelling at a cook than a cook for making some egregious error that they deserved to be yelled at for.  We cannot allow that type of culture to be present in the kitchen.

Lessons Learned

  • Streamline training materials for better onboarding.
  • Cultivate an environment where mistakes are not punished and colleagues help each other.
  • Offer guidance and repeat as necessary.