The New Bakers Dozen
New staff

The The Bakers Dozen: New staff
By mikebel on Saturday, January 08, 2000 - 04:42 pm: Edit

Isit just me or is it getting harder and harder to find good staff(e.g people who want to learn are willing to push themselves and accept what others are teaching them is not picking on them but showing them a faster or more professional way of doing something). We have 2 apprentices and 4 trainees workin for us with only one doin an above average output and of quality. Now any ideas please how do i get the others to grasp this new concept of actually pushing themelves not just output but quality This is my first real job as supervisor of a patisserie although i have worked as in charge of the kitchen and production i have never had to worry about staff issues for more than a week at a time. So any help or advice given from you would be much appreciated and might even make my job easier(yahoo!!!!!!!!!!!)

By momoreg on Saturday, January 08, 2000 - 08:02 pm: Edit

It may just be bad luck, if you've never had this problem before. If some of your staff works well, and some do not, it seems that it's not so much how you teach them, but that maybe they aren't driven or talented enough. I have had some pretty bad help in the past, and am lucky enough to have an assistant today that is like my right hand. It's pure luck. She wants to learn as much as I can teach her, and in return, I teach her all I can. I am not afraid that she'll run off with my ideas, because I am constantly learning as well. Likewise, if she weren't pulling her weight, I'd teach her less, and she'd have less to offer. People like that generally don't last, as I'm sure you can attest. I can definitely relate to your experience.

By Ramodeo (Ramodeo) on Saturday, January 08, 2000 - 08:26 pm: Edit

It is most definitely not just you! Even if you factor out the tight labor market, it seems that the people available to hire off the street lately just don't have the desire/drive/motivation.....
The students in the local culinary program work like they are in a class - with 5 people doing every job and an endless amount of time to do it. No sense of urgency at all. Maybe I'm just getting older, but alot of the younger people I've worked with, even if they seem bright, don't have the desire to "push themselves" as you put it. They do what they're told and not a whole lot more.
I have noticed that the younger they are, the longer it takes them to develop the confidence to be a self starter. When you're 17 or 18 it can be very intimidating to be in a kitchen full of adults.
I also would love to hear others' advice on this subject.

By Panini (Panini) on Saturday, January 08, 2000 - 09:53 pm: Edit

Somehow we've lost the business aspect of the whole thing. The graduates from culinary schools now a days seem to have lost the idea that the customers pay our salaries. They know that there is an endless supply of goods from the storeroom.But they don't seem to know where and how the products get there.I don't know, its very confusing to me out in the private sector. I don't know how you all in the hotels and clubs are doing it!
I have had very good luck in middle age persons wanting to do somethjing different.
The local culinary graduates arrive looking great.They constantly want to know when they are going to be able to do showpieces! Most don't take pride in making muffins!
I was in culinary school a very long time ago.
Are business courses still a requirement?
mikebel,are you in a hotel? I always found field trips to well established bakeries where mature employees are working hard as a team to produce quality products.

By mikebel on Sunday, January 09, 2000 - 12:07 am: Edit

Thank god im not the only one out there i thought maybe i have been pushing to hard or not hard enough with these guys,panini i work in a european styled patisserie the head chef there is a real nice guy i get on with who has taken me thru the last stages of my apprentiship and now leaves me to run the retail side of the shop.One thing he told me before taking me on as supervisor was that it was going to be hard work to get people working well and motivated but sheez it is so much more demanding to keep an eye on 5 others while still trying to lead by example by doin A good days work if someone knows the golden answer hey tell me or at least write a book you will make millions :)

By Matt on Sunday, January 09, 2000 - 02:45 am: Edit

Mike you are definatly not the only one. We live fairly removed from major cities and our job market is tight. We just had two more trained bakers walk two days ago. They did what they were told, but had no passion. To be honest in the last 30 people that have walked in througth the revolving door only two have a passion or have developed a passion for bread baking. But most just have the "tell me what my job is" and they don't want to know why. The attitude is why "do I want to bust my ass, working nights when I can make more money working 9 to 5 and any number of job. As far as bakeries go we pay well. We have a lot of people baking, but precious few bakers.

If you find the magic solution post it.


By d. on Sunday, January 09, 2000 - 12:14 pm: Edit

Over the holidays, I hired part-time help. One lasted a week and the other a couple of days. Same story as Mike. No drive and passion. It really makes me mad that while I'm running around baking and rolling out all kinds of cakes and doughs, and they couldn't even place pastries in a paper cup right! I know I'm a perfectionist, but I'm very aware of how I come across with new staff so as to make them feel comfortable and eager to learn. I share Momoreg's attitude. They'll learn something from me and vice-versa.

By d. on Sunday, January 09, 2000 - 12:15 pm: Edit

What pissed me off is that one of the part-timers is a culinary student,she seemed bright and knowledgeable during the interview, and told me she works catering gigs as a chef. When it came down to the real deal she didn't know how to roll dough out and make tart shells, couln't pipe out choux and rosettes, was extremely slow in moving, etc. I had to watch over my shoulder everything and pretty much do her work plus mine. On top of that she was telling my assistant that she was a pastry chef. Do you guys have any suggestions as to the hiring of future help? I'd hate to make the same mistakes again.

By momoreg on Sunday, January 09, 2000 - 06:23 pm: Edit

One thing that you can do is ask them technical questions during the interview, and see how much they really know, then find out what they really enjoy doing in the kitchen. The answer could reveal whether or not they're cut out to work with you. A lot of kids fresh out of school don't have much direction or decisiveness. You need to find one who does.

By Panini (Panini) on Sunday, January 09, 2000 - 06:43 pm: Edit

I have gone to actual production test. If they say their experienced I have ingredients on the bench to do a couple of formulas.I have them pick one and do it.
If they start asking, where is the scale, I immediatly turn them over to my second because they don't have a chance with me.
I have also found that some of me employees don't have any idea what it is like to purchase the products they are making. They are not in the habit of purchasing upscale products, therefor they don't have the respect for the product, even if it is just cupping something. I know this is going to sound corny but role playing will give them some insight. Put them on the other side of the counter or at a table and give them money to purchase an inferior product. They might come around.

By bakerdave99 on Tuesday, January 11, 2000 - 09:57 am: Edit

one reason could be that the national average hourly wage is $13.42. if people don't feel they r earning the same as most people, it might b hard to b motivated. they can get custodian or security jobs @ $10-$11,with no experience. i know of a lot of experienced bakers that make less!!
i agree about culinary grads. they seem to know all about choc.,sugars,etc... get em to roll pie dough or sweet dough or pipe eclairs!!!and do it consistantly.
it is hard to find people who feel there work is more than just a job. also feel new employees need to b trained properly,especailly to what is expected of them, and how things should b done the way owner/manager likes them done. one way to see if new people have what u need is to have them do a taste test. let them work one or two days in your environment. if they've traveled a ways(because you already exhausted local potential talent.)pay their expenses. well worth it for both parties.
sorry to ramble on.

By Mikeh (Mikeh) on Tuesday, January 11, 2000 - 11:10 am: Edit

As a culinary student, I see a whole range of people in my class. Some are passionate and talented, if not yet skilled or experienced, and some will end up at Safeway. Please don't stereotype all of the students as 'above' rolling out sweet dough or wanting to do showpieces but not wanting to do real work. A few of us know that what we are expected to produce at school is maybe 1/3 of what we would need to produce in a commercial environment, so we work our asses off to get as fast as we can while turning out quality product. The instructors tell us that this is much slower, but some students don't hear that and actually complain about how much we're supposed to do.

My previous career was in management and the problem with finding good employees in everywhere. I think that a production test is a very good idea. Also, give them a probationary period of 30-90 days to see how fast their speed improves. If this is their first commercial job they are simply not going to be as fast as you are, period. But within a month, or even a couple of weeks, you should be able to guage how quickly they are improving. The average time, across all industries, for an employee to get up to full potential in a new job is nine months. That is why turnover is so damaging to a business.

Regarding interviewing, see where their passions lay. When they are off work, do they sit at the bar with friends, or are they still immersed in the baking world. Some balance in necessary, but I see that the most passionate people in class spend a lot of time out of class reading pastry books, experimenting, and baking. I'll point someone to and sometimes they come back thanking me, while others think it is ludicrous to spend $250 for the French Professional Pastry series or sometimes $180 for a single book.

Finally, a job interview has two purposes; to make sure the employee is a good fit for the employer, and -- many employers forget or ignore this -- to make sure the employer is a good fit for the employee. Frankly, as an employee I don't care what you have me doing as long as I have the chance to turn out a quality product. But, if I was required to pump out crisco buttercream on high-ratio cakes all day, I probably wouldn't be satisfied.

Cheers, Mike

By Dominique (Dominique) on Tuesday, January 11, 2000 - 03:57 pm: Edit

We've been having trouble at our hotel with hiring too. We've started doing what we call a 'working interview' in which the person works an actual 8 hour shift with us. If we hire him/her, we pay them for that day equal to whatever salary we agree on. If we don't hire them, we pay them minimum wage. I think it not only gives us a good idea of what we've got to work with, but if we hire the person, that person feels that they had to 'earn' their position and perhaps they appreciate it more?

By Dominique (Dominique) on Tuesday, January 11, 2000 - 03:58 pm: Edit

We've been having trouble at our hotel with hiring too. We've started doing what we call a 'working interview' in which the person works an actual 8 hour shift with us. If we hire him/her, we pay them for that day equal to whatever salary we agree on. If we don't hire them, we pay them minimum wage. I think it not only gives us a good idea of what we've got to work with, but if we hire the person, that person feels that they had to 'earn' their position and perhaps they appreciate it more?

By Panini (Panini) on Tuesday, January 11, 2000 - 11:37 pm: Edit

Your are right. Employers should not stereotype.
Its hard not to because I personally think your in the minority.
I like the idea of an 8 hour shift, but frankly I feel that the liabilities are to great on my end not being a large company, heck when we have a potential employee make something I'm always thinking, what if he or she catches their arm in the mixer.
Its hard from the employers view. You have to take the risk in training an employee for a long period of time and hope they don't go down the road for a $1 an hour.
anyway I think we were just venting, I would probably hire you to work with us in a NY minute.
Your starting your career not a job.To lose somebody that is bettering themselves is rewarding in a wierd way.

By Mikeh (Mikeh) on Wednesday, January 12, 2000 - 03:22 pm: Edit

It has been my experience that stereotypes are often based on a biased personal experience and that they are somewhat dispelled by information. In this light, I'd like to make two more comments about culinary schools and their students that you may find informative. This is, of course, based upon my own biased interpretation of my particular school.

My school tries to deliver three messages to the students which I don't think all of the students understand or adequately belive. First, the instructors are very clear that we will definitely not be chefs when we leave, and we may not even be experienced cooks. Second, that this business is one of the hardest in the world with long hours, physical labor, no holidays, and low pay. Third, that the pace is less hectic than a commercial kitchen. Personally, I'm glad that students see the profession in a good light -- it keeps a steady stream of new talent and exuberance flowing into kitchens.

Students in B&P programs are graded on a variety of different things including both lecture and production classes. Even in production classes the grading is pretty evenly distributed between professionalism, volume of production, quality of production, and exam scores. The grading standards are quite high compared to other institutions, and it is pass to progress so a person can't get a D in any class and graduate. However, it is quite possible that a person can have a good memory and score well on exams and professionalism and graduate with a culinary degree or certificate.

Cheers, Mike.

By Yankee on Thursday, January 13, 2000 - 02:08 pm: Edit

Staffing issues are critical everywhere. The economy is just too strong. Who wants to sweat out 10 hours a day for 10 bucks an hour when anyone with a ninny idea for web sight can pull down $60K and bring their dog to work too? We have people lining up to eat at our place every night, but few qualified people to prepare it for them. It's really depressing to watch the quality fall. You really have to dig hard to find people (grads or non-grads)who have the "love" for a culinary career. My NYC attitude is gone. People out here just walk when you put the screws down on them. I really think it all comes down to money. I've lost a few people last year who went back out into the outside world for twice the pay, and I don't blame them one bit. The cost of living in SF is nuts. Our customers are the same tech-yuppies who are causing rents to skyrocket. I don't think much is going to change until our industry finds a way to offer better wages/benefits, or we hit a recession.

By Panini (Panini) on Thursday, January 13, 2000 - 09:33 pm: Edit

I think and hope that most of us contributing to this subject are culinary graduates. Your right when you say that we can only base our biases on our own experiences.
This is one profession that i feel has to be in your blood, unfortunately the decision to stay, go, or move on is bankrolled by the employer.
I think your school has a better handle on informing its students about the commercial enviornment.My experience has been the opposite the last couple of years. I don't know, it just seems that my friends and I knew what we were in for, corse i was in school over 20 years ago.

By W.DeBord on Friday, January 14, 2000 - 03:13 pm: Edit

Money is a large motivation but sometimes other factors can sway people to stay and become good employees. Try to figure out who is leading the peoples attititutes. Is it you with your enthusisum or a wise cracking person whispering behind you?

Twenty years ago when I was a partner in a catering business we didn't pay well. We didn't have the money to give. We became real friends with the main core of our employees. We appreciated their hard work and praised them often. When we had food left over heading for the garbage they were delighted to take home a free meal.

Money guides people, but we all have some deeper issues that need to be pleased on the job for us to remain there. Feeding peoples emotional needs isn't your job? Praise is the cheapest employee benifit with the most profound return for any employer. It's something I rarely see given these days.

My 2 cents.

By Yankee on Saturday, January 15, 2000 - 01:56 am: Edit

We were in a pretty bad recession 20 years ago as I recall. Your point is well taken, though. Creating a challenging and rewarding environment is key to low turnover. Two of my three pastry staffers came with me on my last job move. I would have brought the third, but there was no room for him. I'm worthless without them, and treat them as such. My experience started in places where you were only spoken to if you screwed up because the culture didn't value praise, excellence was expected. I've worked for too many SOB's (talented SOB's, but still...) to treat people the same way. My biases are indeed based on my experiences, but I try not to judge or make others suffer for them. Thing is, as an industry that is competing with other industries, we are losing people because our compensation levels are so low. Praise (challenge/reward)is an important part of it, but it doesn't cover rent & dental. There has to be a better way. Don't shoot me, but look at Starbucks & Charlie Trotter's.

By Panini (Panini) on Sunday, January 16, 2000 - 12:21 pm: Edit

Starbucks? What exactly do you mean.They are good or bad?
Frankly I think these franchises are the downfall of our industry. They do nothing to educate the customer on the quality of food. They are based on mid-level experience. I'm surrounded buy La Madelaine, Corner Bakery, Starbucks.They actually help me for none of them offer anything that takes skilled labor,ie. Birthday cakes,Wedding cakes,scratch products etc.
I don't know, it seems the yuppie and gen x crowd have an interest in sizzle and no steak.
my 2 cents.

By Mikeh (Mikeh) on Sunday, January 16, 2000 - 02:11 pm: Edit

I agree regarding the yuppie and gen-x crowd. Many of these people grew up as kids on Kraft Singles, McDonalds, Swanson, Sara Lee, and a host of other processed foods, because their parents both worked or couldn't be bothered to cook much. If you grew up on Wonder Bread, then how can you know any better?

This is somewhat off-topic and goes back to an earlier thread where I pointed out that, strictly in my opinion, the B&P industry has done a poor job of educating the public. Have you ever seen a taste test for bread? Why don't bakeries let people taste both the cheap supermarket product, or even the Safeway 'Artisan' product, and have some cards educating them on the difference. With an increasingly health conscious society, I'd also mention that the store-bought bread is so loaded with preservatives that it won't go moldy for weeks.

Last week at school we had a president's reception for all the new students where the chefs had an opportunity to show off for us. One of the dishes was black truffle risotto with Dom Perignon instead of white wine as a first addition to the rice. It was absolutely heavenly, although I think the DP was a bit of an extravagance. They also had a selection of fresh, mostly unpasteurized, cheeses flown in from Francy. Yum, yum, yum. However, I think the whole thing would have been lost of a lot of people, because they don't have the educated palate. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just move to France, but I see more challenge in educating the public here.

Cheers, Mike

By W.DeBord on Sunday, January 16, 2000 - 02:55 pm: Edit

Look at other business in your area, who is making it? All these large chain stores are killing the mom & pop businesses around the country. Who can compete with their purchasing power and price points etc...?

Educating customers is not profitable nor a successful business goal. Plain and simple I believe it's give the customer a product they like for a reasonable price. Educating people is a noble goal but it's underminded by everything in modern American culture.

I think the only way our wages in this industry will rise is with a rebirth of unions. It's the only way to bring income and pricing up equally in a area with-out over pricing your bakery out of business.

Of course, they'll always be a minority of customers who appreciate and require quality. They educate their friends and families to purchase from quality bakeries.

By W.DeBord on Sunday, January 16, 2000 - 03:11 pm: Edit

What I'm saying is, forget the masses. You are not going to convert all Americans to gourmet eating and at the same time get them to open their pockets widely.

Americans have to be engaged on their terms. We need to gain interest and re-invent this industry.

By Yankee on Wednesday, January 19, 2000 - 02:30 pm: Edit

Starbucks, because of it's mass and market pressure, offers it's low hourly staff benefits and 401k plans. So does Noah's. I am no fan of chain's, especially Starbucks (ack! gag me!), but they are reshaping the playing field here. At Trotter's (please correct me if I'm off here) all tips go back to the house. Everyone is on salary, even the dishwashers. Because of this massive amount of cash, they can offer benefits & 401k. Bonuses are paid out to FOH & BOH based on sales and preformance. I'm also no fan of Trotter personally, but there is something to this set up. Just some ideas.

By Dominique (Dominique) on Sunday, January 23, 2000 - 07:29 pm: Edit

I don't know, I don't like the idea of tips going back to the house. I worked in a restaurant that did that, and the waiters had much less incentive to please the customer. They also had less motivation to talk the diners into a more expensive bottle of wine or into trying dessert. I have to push all the time as it is to get dessert sales up including running contests with prizes.
I best thing I've found to do to is to make the people understand I have high expectations of them, AND that I believe they are capable of those expectations. If their quality is good, I mention how long it took them to do it and ask if they think they can lower that time. This sort of gives them a frame of reference (i.e. 20 minutes) instead of just telling them to speed up. Beating that time gives them a specific goal and teaches them to watch the clock more and pay attention to their pace. If it's the quality, I mention what they did right, or why what they did might be good in some circumstances, but then I show them how I want it done and why. I've found that letting people in on the 'why' is important. Makes them feel more part of a team than just another body in the kitchen.
Some people require constant monitoring for awhile, but most tend to get better so I find it's worth the investment.

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