Right now, Ireland is short of something like 8,000 chefs, but what people often don’t see is the shortage of non-kitchen staff: quality waitstaff, bar people and front-of-house professionals who know the art of meet and greet, small talk and customer service inside out and back to front.
Maybe it’s sky-high rents, or that the globalised nature of food allows people to travel and work far more freely than before, but whatever the reason, it has become increasingly important not just to find great staff, but to keep them – and keep them happy. And if you invest in developing them there’s a strong chance they’ll enjoy what they do even more and be motivated to stay put. Hopefully, for a while!
From the beginning at Chapter One, our focus has been on finding talent and nurturing it so that we have the best people available, from kitchen porters, food runners and waitstaff, through reservations, administration and front-of-house, all the way up to the General Manager. If one area is weak, the effects of that leach into other areas of service, so you have to get the balance right – and keep it that way.
In the last few years, but particularly in the last year, we’ve invested more than ever in providing additional professional training for our team, internally and externally. We do this not just because it’s great for their careers, adding new skills and experience. It also helps them personally: building confidence; expanding their worldview, mind and ambitions; and deepening their understanding of the best traditions and innovations of this wonderful, crazy world we call hospitality.
One of the key people driving all of this is General Manager Danny Desmond. Soon after he joined us three years ago, Danny began compiling what he calls the Chapter One Handbook. It’s probably fair to say that this has become our Bible, though it is very much a living thing, continually tweaked and refined so it contains only what works, based on thorough testing, honest feedback and open conversation. And a bit of trial and error, naturally!
The Handbook focuses solely on internal processes and on nurturing a culture of curiosity, care, learning and personal responsibility. Our aim is excellence, but we also understand there needs to be fun in there too. So yes, we’ve had an expert from Aware come in to talk about managing mental health in the workplace – an increasingly challenging issue across many industries – but we’ve also had our pastry chef teach the other chefs how to temper chocolate. The only collateral damage was the state of their chef’s whites afterwards, but that was more from the eating than the tempering!
And alongside all that internal stuff, we have been bringing in the best artisanal producers in the country, to show staff how to treat, eat and talk about their produce. So we’ve had legendary grower Hilda Crampton sharing the joys and tricks of growing organic veg at her farm in Wicklow, Sheridan’s wax lyrical on the art of cheesemaking and the cheese board, and super-talented sommelier Julie DuPouy tutoring on wine (and wine and food pairing) not just to those who get to pour it for our customers, but also to those behind the scenes, like chefs and food-runners.
Seeing people get excited (and challenged) about something outside of their normal working experience and skills is a real thrill. It’s the alchemy that comes from cross-fertilisation, inter-disciplinarity, collaboration, dialogue, observation and, of course, DOING. This isn’t theory – this is about ideas tested, practiced and applied in the real world, to real-world scenarios.
And best of all, it’s fun.
In the coming months we’ll be sharing some more of the in-house initiatives we find successful in terms of adding new skillsets and building confidence in our staff so they feel both valued and truly on their game professionally and personally.
Keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram for pictures and stories – there’s plenty more to come!