How Chefs, Waiters & Hospitality People Can Build Skills and Stay Busy During the Down Time

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If you're an unemployed chef or restaurant person with time on your hands, how will you use it? Can you tackle some of those long-delayed projects like the training manual you've had in your head, or the recipe costing you've never had time for. Sort out your food photos or write a guide to wines in your area.

Maybe you'll do some online courses - understanding spreadsheets, learn graphic design, master obscure cooking techniques or start a professional Instagram account. Building your people skills could also be on the list: understanding leadership, negotiation skills, team building and handling difficult people.

Here's a wide range of options, and we've had contributions from a number of chefs and managers. The focus is on courses and options where they are available.


Improve your technical and culinary skills

Organise and cost your Recipes - an online system gives you access wherever you are, on PC, iPad or phone. Lots of great options here, including a very good free one.

Write up wine tasting and training notes – ready for customers and staff when the restaurant reopens. Google for photos to add depth to the training material - maybe share it right now, because people are still enjoying wine!

Put your work and training systems online. Not as difficult as it sounds - if you've already written the words or taken photos, they can be combined into an online manual using the free Google Sites. Learn about how Sites works - you can keep it constantly updated, and control who has access.

Dive into online culinary courses and videos

  • Learn about food textures from the Kymos blog
  • Master pastry skills with a free 60 days membership at Butterbook.com
  • Search YouTube for the best courses on chocolate making, gluten free and special diets, healthy baby food and all the latest diet combinations. If you find good content, combine them into a YouTube playlist that you can recommend to others.

Food Safety qualifications - here is an NZQA approved food safety course.

Cooking or Hospitality Management – we have multiple tertiary institutions that offer these courses across NZ. Fees vary depending on the level of course, Restaurant Association also have varying levels of training and apprenticeships.

Put your culinary skills to use. Develop your own range of pickles, jams and sauces - turn your signature flavours into saleable products. There are technical and marketing issues to consider - start with this guide .

Explore hospitality video training – there are some excellent New Zealnd sites covering a wide range of front of house, back of house, food, wine and management skills. Check Typsy.com.

Work on your creative skills

Improve your photography - your phone is good enough for now. Grab a $10 tripod for steady shooting, and build a collection of food photos, people and personalities. There are thousands of good YouTube videos to help you.

Gather your photos into an album. Photos on Facebook and Instagram 'slide off the page' in a few weeks - you need a site where they can be displayed together, perhaps by theme. Flickr is great for sharing photos, and you can upload up to 1000 images for free.

Learn graphic design for menus, posters & social media – start with the excellent Canva Design Skill training, and use their design app - it's all free and Australian.

Put a Spotify playlist together - it's not necessarily an employment skill, but can be a way to build your creative reputation. Just the right mix for a restaurant, club or cafe.

Dive into TED talks on YouTube - there's something for everyone and every situation, and at 20 minutes they are easy to digest. When you find good ones, add these to another YouTube playlist and share it.

Start a blog - it's easy to set up an online diary to share information and ideas. Use the free Wordpress system with a simple design to get started. Get your fingers on the keyboard and share a couple of photos and sentences, or information posts each week - unlike social media posts, these stay live and visible, and you have complete control. A great way to boost your professional profile.

Create a helpful information page and share it - local resources or markets, survival tips, managing Work and Income, cooking on a budget etc. Write it on a Google Doc and set the sharing to 'anyone can see it', then add the link to your Facebook or emails etc.

Increase your business management skills and profile

Learn how to use the power of Excel - spreadsheets can be brilliant tools for analysing figures and costing. There are thousands of 'how to' videos on YouTube - start by searching on YouTube for 'How to use Excel for Costing'.

Learn how to write Reports - clear and easy to read, backed up with facts and figures and use bullet points so it's easy to read. This a skill that you'll keep improving - start with a one-page report on how you will reopen your restaurant or bar.

Learn how to Design an Online Survey - find out customer and staff opinions, by sending them an online form. SurveyMonkey and Google Forms are free and easy to use.

Learn how to do Screen Recordings - a great tool for giving instructions and explaining online processes. Loom is a good free apps to start with, and there are plenty of others.

Listen to Podcasts - there are thousands available, on every business, sporting, artistic and personal topic. Browse on the Apple or Google podcast apps - brain food for your next walk or time by yourself.

Learn how to use Zoom for video communication - it's great for family video chats, and a solid tool for training and team connections. Keep in touch with former workmates with a regular drinks or coffee session online. There are lots of great training videos - this is a top priority skill for future managers.

Heading into the corporate world? Salesforce is used by many businesses to power their sales and marketing activities. There are hundreds of free Salesforce Trailhead modules you can do, creating an impressive list of credentials.

Become a social media expert – social is changing all the time, with Instagram and Facebook the two most effective for the food & beverage industry. Take it to the next level by learning how to use social media to influence customers and make sales. This is a very marketable skill in hospitality, as most social posts are random and ineffective. Use this understanding to get your restaurant's social media sorted – the Google My Business listing, a professional Facebook Page and a business Instagram Account. Use this Google free course to get started, then find lots more on YouTube.

Improve your LInkedin profile - add more detail and update photos. When you apply for a job and your name is googled, your Linkedin profile will always come up top. Does it look as professional as you really are? Here's how to make some quick improvements .

Update and polish your CV – chances are it’s out of date. Google for ‘how to write a good CV’ and you will find lots of suggestions.

Suggestions from experienced chefs and managers:

James Forman, Executive Chef & Consultant:

My advice to workers would be to prioritise their efforts towards the following items (for people who have been laid off):

  • Set yourself up for your next job. This crisis will end and when our industry resumes regular trade there will be a rapid surge in recruitment. Get yourself ready to be hired quickly - update and fine tune LinkedIn, polish the CV, register with recruiters, register with temp agencies etc
  • Make yourself more employable. This is a really great list of courses and ways to improve skills during the lockdown. I would recommend that people carefully choose their top priority skills to improve and focus on them (1 or 2). Coming out of this downturn with a deeper understanding and ability with 1 or 2 skills will be far more beneficial than half-arsing many.
  • Get on top of all those loose ends - costings, recipe cataloging etc. I put this item last as it should be done during business as usual and it will not of itself help anyone's career. Getting the next job and improving skills must be a higher priority and simple housekeeping tasks could become a source of procrastination instead of real work.

Samantha Levett - Pastry Chef with Momofuku in Sydney

  • Savour School has an incredible bank of online party resources and heaps of online classes - highly recommended.
  • The Australian Patisserie Academy also has some cool online content.
  • Bon Appetit's YouTube channel is pretty amazing too (my personal favourite pastime). They test, recreate and breakdown thousands of recipes. Excellent content by professionals, and I heavily recommend any video with Claire Saffitz or Brad. Super informative and interesting.

Jeremy Mangan, Business Leader at SilverChef and a former chef:

If someone is out of work:

  • Any sales based training; art of negotiation etc. This can help with further career options, but also build out the skills in handling sales reps and purchasing techniques because the chefs will then better understand the process.
  • Leadership courses, the art of leading a team through complexity will be more important than ever in the new world. This is something that a very small number of Chef Leaders (or hospo in general) ever spend any time on.
  • Free podcasts on leadership are a great resource, plus e-books and blogs. Simon Sinek is a great place to start: Leaders Eat Last, Start With Why and The Infinite Game. In that order.

If you are still employed:

  • The above still applies.
  • Menu re-creation becomes more important than ever. Ego needs to step aside; so work on high-margin items, long shelf-life produce, re-heat suitable items. ie Don’t just buy TA containers and run the same menu.
  • Play around with packaging concepts, sometimes the most simple option is still the best.
  • Deep clean the kitchen. I mean DEEP. Everything disconnected (by professionals) and removed for a scrub. Walls, ceilings, refrigeration filters, cool rooms included, all shelving.
  • This could be a good time to change a few things around to improve the work flow of your kitchen. The layout in your kitchen can mean the difference between a brigade of 3 or 4 (1 or 2, 8 or 10, all applicable) and could result in $$$ savings moving forward.
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