The Simple Solution to Jerks In The Workplace

So you’re fed up and tired of jerks in the workplace? Keep reading – this is your lucky day! Chefs who are bosses and have a boss to report to, restaurateurs who have jerks on staff or who have themselves been regarded as one, and anyone else in the food industry who works for, with or serves a jerky-type person can benefit from taking these words to heart. The solution is simpler than ridding the workplace of jerks.

In real life, jerk behavior exists on a spectrum of cringe and often someone’s vision and ambition are confused with jerkiness or are used to justify it. To further complicate the matter, keep in mind it’s generally not illegal to be a jerk, and the definition of a bully is often in the eye of the plongeur. But before pointing fingers, organizing a revolt, or joining the Great Resignation, it’s wise to take a step back and examine oneself, the work you do and the surroundings.

Step 1: Be Clear Whether You’re Still In The Game Or If It’s Time To Leave It

Nothing matches the demands the food and beverage industry places on an individual, but few things are more challenging than thinking it’s time to leave and not knowing for sure. The internal debate is complicated for those who fell hard and fast in love with the business, romanticized fame or relished the head rush of a night’s controlled chaos. If the great Clash lyrics “Should I stay or should I go now?” play repeatedly in your head before and after every shift, you can take a quick assessment to get a clear picture of whether it’s time to move on. Realistically measuring just how much rope you have left is a much better use of your time and energy than identifying jerks in the workplace.

The absence of jerks won’t make you happy when you’re in a job or career you’re done with.

Step 2: Determine If You’re In The Right Job Within This Industry

This industry is replete with unique management styles. Jerks can take on forms like a bulldozer, gaslighter or creative saboteur. Until recently, restaurants even lauded the stereotypical jerk chef boss (watch any cartoon with a chef in it. Thanks, Disney.) Oracle’s founder Larry Ellison used the term MBR, for “management by ridicule” to refer to his own leadership style. Now, as workers en masse reconsider the basic assumptions about how people treat one another in the workplace in an attempt to rebalance the power seesaw between worker and boss it’s crucial to remember: the best kitchens always have and always will run most efficiently with a proper chain of command (thank you, Auguste Escoffier). This means someone will always be in charge and someone else, not usually the person in charge, will be told to perform the lower rank jobs like dish washing and toilet cleaning. Moving from one restaurant to the next, attempting to identify and work alongside (and under) good people who are actually equipped to manage is the right of every empowered worker, however climbing the career ladder inside a silo has very few options. 

So many talented workers perpetuate high turnover while they seek job satisfaction in a narrow segment of an industry that is shockingly deep and wide. Thirty-eight year old Chef Jon Howard of Truckee, California worked in kitchens for over 30 years before he stepped out into the sunlight. He went to work as a food rep that put him through mind-blowing training. “As a chef, I just never knew how much was out there. I can actually use my talent, be around my people, and make a real living. There’s so much more to learn, I’m developing parts of my brain I never used in my pastry chef job and I feel alive for the first time in years.” There are classes and workshops built for food workers who feel stuck like chef Jon who don’t know their options (check out and who want help to deciding which of the five paths is the best fit to take them from where they are in the kitchen to their next great career chapter.

Jerks matter less when they’re in the rearview mirror.

Step 3: Decide If You’re With The Right Team And The Right Employer

There’s a movement afoot in which more workers are feeling empowered to call out managers, but it’s a futile activity for a worker who doesn’t belong there to begin with. So only after careful reflection that this industry is the place to be, and only after determining the job and career track you’re on is something you want and which holds a future, then and only then is it time to start examining and pointing the finger at others.

No one has to work with, for, or alongside jerky people, and thank God the tolerance for doing so is shifting. At age 49, chef Letrice Curry finally left a job she kept for 13 years to pursue her next culinary chapter. “My dad had a career with the City of Los Angeles and taught me that it was important to stick with a team for as long as possible.” But the slights add up, and as she watched others leave she struggled. “There was a war in my head about how I was being treated by others and how I could have more peace by doing what I was born to do. The debate became meaningless when I focused on my priorities.”

Every company understands how important it is to keep good talent. And nothing thins out a workforce like bad behavior. Jerkiness, like incompetency, takes a toll so it’s becoming as important for employers to screen for nonjerkiness as it is to recruit for technical skills. Likewise, employees need to learn how to be better ‘pickers’  instead of just trying to pass an interview.

You have the right and responsibility to choose jerk-free zones.

Work Will Always Be Work, But We Have Choices Which Have Nothing to Do With Jerks

As in the corporate world, in kitchens there are no more excuses for expletive-laden monologues, throwing colleagues under the bus, refusing feedback and ignoring belligerent behavior. There will always be a thrum of unpleasantness and accumulation of indignities in any job. Reporting to work has always involved accepting and shrugging off a variety of unpleasantries: the commute, chitchat with people you wouldn’t choose as friends, the hours. Likewise, there will always be people who would like you to do the things they tell you to do. And jerky people will always walk the face of the earth. Progress will inevitably reshape the face and behind-the-scenes world of the food and beverage industry. Take heart and content yourself with time spent doing something better than pointing out the jerks. Feeling empowered by the right to do so and recording a QuitTok to celebrate leaving a toxic culinary playground is a victory in a battle that needn’t be fought. 

We design our lives not through finger pointing, but through the power of choice.

The solutions are simple. Chefs who are themselves bosses and who have a boss to report to can choose to develop their skills at leading instead perfecting insults. Restaurateurs who have jerks on staff or who have themselves been regarded as one, can choose to change their workplace without waiting for legal reform to force them to do so; they can learn to conduct interviews that assess the personality fit of job candidates for the team and role. And finally, anyone else in the food and beverage industry who works alongside someone who qualifies as a jerk (that includes bosses, coworkers and customers) can choose to take ownership of and selectively make career choices. Like rising to the challenge from a paper tiger, the short-sighted trend of naming and shaming mean colleagues is irrelevant. The solution to workplace jerks lies in your power of choice.

Columnist Holly Powers-Verbeck, founded and continues to operate Lake Tahoe’s premiere culinary staffing company HeyChef! since 1997. For a short time she owned a restaurant, too.  In 2018 she formed MakeYourBusinessCook! to help food and beverage professionals get free by launching profitable private chef businesses. If you’re unsure if you should stay, go or remake your life in food and beverage, take the quick 7-question quiz that will tell you for sure at  For more information contact