Ken Burgin

Kitchen Team

We all need the Support Team!

Knock, knock…Ken, can I see you for a minute?
When some people knock on your door it means only one thing – they’ve come to say goodbye: they’re quitting. Maybe one of the quieter type, more reliable and not fired up with fresh ideas. Easy to overlook as you’re putting out fires with the troublemakers who take up most of your time. Not as glamorous as the cool and creative ones who are bubbling with new ideas for marketing, management and all the hot topics. Maybe they are a member of your Support Team, the B-Team.

Advantages of the B’s – they counter balance the ambition high-performers who may be more reckless or volatile. They hold the ‘collective memory’ of customers and the area – likes, dislikes etc. They don’t like drawing attention to themselves (so their needs can be easily lost in the crowd). They make the least demands on management time. They value work-life balance – if they have a family this may well come first, and work demands that threaten family stability can be distressing and may lead to them leaving. It’s easy for A players to look down on this, and being more focused on their career, the A player will be ready to jump ship and move to another job if that’s good for them. They value stability, security and the friendship of the team.

Some B players were A players who got sick of the rat race and decided other things were more important – the chef who’s now a manager because it’s less stressful, or is now working as a sales–rep for a food company so she can have time with her family in the evenings. These are the people who aren’t interested in your interview question ‘where do you see yourself in five years time?’, because they’d love to be in the same place! It’s easy to mistake their lack of ambition for a lack of motivation, and there are many highly talented staff in this category. They look for an organised workplace and an intelligent manager, because they usually know the right way to do things.

B team members are often upfront about the company and how things are working – it’s been said that every staff member could tell you at least two ways to cut costs and grow sales if they were asked. The A player will tell you two (or twenty) before you even ask, but the B player is not often consulted and may prefer not to rock the boat. The onus is on management to bring out the best from these people, actively seeking their input and ideas, and at an operational level they may have much to contribute. They provide the day-to-day practicality for the new strategy and theories, the people who show you how to clear blocked beer-lines or clean the coffee machine. They’re the ones who will clean the fridge shelves when it’s quiet, while Mr A Team is off talking to the cutest customers. If asked to check the weight of meat deliveries, they will do it every time, even if the driver if impatient. If you insist on tray service for all beverages, they even use one for two cups. Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, his expose of a chef’s life, praises his reliable, slightly unimaginative South American cooks – ‘when you scream at them for the risotto, they just turn their back and stir it and keep cooking until it’s done the way you showed them.’ B team rocks!

They reassure the nervous that steady, low-risk performance is acceptable – doing the job the same way every time is not ‘boring’ but easier, as there’s more to life than the all-consuming long hours of hospitality. Give them the right phone script and follow-up procedures, and they will close function sales and fill your party rooms, but may not sell the extra tier on a wedding cake (unlike the sales star who left after three months).

When organisational restructuring takes place, the B teams have seen it before and know when to duck or hide. They’ve seen consultants and general managers come and go, and know that ultimately it’s the boss or owner who has the last word. That’s the person they look to for direction and to ‘check the weather’ if change is in the air. They know when the owner likes his whisky and the GM likes her coffee.

Problems? They aren’t entrepreneurial and steer clear of risk. They’re not creating new cocktails or menus, even when change is needed. But neither are they bored with the wine list after three months or want to use your cash to experiment with the latest truffle infusions or endangered species.

They are not the high-flying A’s, the top 10%, and they aren’t the low-yielding C’s – the under-achievers who hold the company back. They’ve seen the A players come through like a comet and upset their roster and workplace, and they don’t appreciate having to cover for C’s incompetence because senior management (chasing a new marketing fad) is too busy to weed out the slow and the shifty.

Your B team are often the ones who open up in the morning and close up at night, the ones who like to make every salad look the same and prefer to wear a clean uniform. They don’t necessarily want to be promoted (but they’d like to be asked), they may not see a manager’s job as the greatest ambition in life, and they are probably different to you or me. Thank goodness!

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