Are executive chefs going the way of the dinosaur?

Don’t get me wrong; I have high respect for executive chefs and their functions in large hotel F&B operations. But have you ever really challenged the position, or have you just accepted it as the norm in all circumstances?

Perhaps we should start with a very simple question to open the debate:

If you have three restaurants in your hotel, would you prefer to have (for the same budget):

a)     One executive chef with an annual salary of US$100,000, with three chefs de cuisine, one in each restaurant, at US$30,000, or

b)     No executive chef but three chefs de cuisine, one per restaurant, at US$60,000 each?

I asked this question several times and, on each occasion where the owner or the general manager agreed to test option B, it worked! Beautifully! And most of the time even better than before.

Why is that?

  • If each “speciality” chef is decently paid, the levels of expertise and dedication are higher.
  • The turnover is lower because the chefs get to develop their own brand and name, and are more creatively inspired.
  • Guests will appreciate the “restaurateur” approach and the quality of a more senior chef.
  • Purchasing, cost control, synergies in HR, etc., can easily be handled under the leadership of the F&B director (who, by the way, gets a larger role while letting chefs do what they do best: cook and cater to the guests)
  • Additional communication opportunities profiling three chefs rather than one executive chef give more diversity and personality to the stories and in turn benefit the hotel’s visibility, too.

I am by no means advocating eliminating every executive chef position, but perhaps this will serve as food for thought the next time you reorganize your hotel or plan a new opening.

I for one believe that this is the way of the future, but be careful: Once you go that route you won’t want to change back.