The Truth That Sets Chefs Free (+ How Restaurant Owners Can Get Theirs Too)

Here’s a headline worth reading: The National Restaurant Association’s 2021 Restaurant Trends Report just came out. Sitting at number two on this list is “an overwhelming shift to off-premise dining”. While at first glance this appears to be a measure of the number of take-out meals restaurants are now making, behind this trend lies hard truth restaurant owners and chefs alike should sit up and take notice of.

The Truth That Sets Chefs Free (+ How Restaurant Owners Can Get Theirs Too)

The Truth Will Set You Free But First It’ll Piss You Off! is a fiery phrase often attributed to Gloria Steinem (though Apostle John would argue rights to his original version). What’s certain is no one in the food and beverage space can argue, nor could anyone have predicted how prescient those words are for restaurateurs and chefs today.

Here are two truths that will set restaurant owners and chefs free, right after they get over pissed off at the message.

The Truth That Sets Chefs Free (+ How Restaurant Owners Can Get Theirs Too)

Truth #1: Dear Restaurant Owner: Chefs Don’t Need You Anymore

The truth is chefs can go out on their own. I’m not talking about restaurant ownership or commercial kitchen activities like catering, either. It’s now easier than before to freelance and make more money working as an independent chef. Not only that, the demand for domestic chef services is skyrocketing, not just as daily live-in or live-out, but as independents serving groups of clients, specializing in private events. Chefs who desire creative expression, more reasonable schedules in addition to greater appreciation and credit for their work can leave formal employment in restaurants and spend their back-breaking hours building their profits instead of yours.

Truth #2: Dear Chef: Restaurants Don’t Need You Anymore

The truth is restaurant owners don’t need you, chef. They only need one chief. Their chief needs to be at least as strong in leadership, management, finances and systems, and training and accountability as they are at cooking because that’s what kitchen chiefs spend their time doing. A restaurant owner doesn’t need your creativity. If you can’t handle all the business portions of running their kitchen, they don’t need your culinary talent. They need you to cook. The restaurant owner only needs one awesome chef. The rest are cooks who are expected to show up, put up food and do their job.

Restaurant owners still reading this are likely abuzz with colorful thoughts like: “Oh yeah, so you think you can run a business, chef? Then go ahead, let’s see you do it!” At the same time chefs are reeling and screaming “All my talent is going to waste in a dead-end kitchen job where the boss just needs me to flip burgers all night!” 

Thankfully, there’s a solution, and it will set you free. Right now the need for independent chefs is so large solutions actually exist for both restaurant owners and chefs. Chefs with an entrepreneurial spirit can freelance and go independent on their own. Keen restaurant owners with an eye on profit margins that exceed alcohol sales can offer premiere off-premises chef services to their top clients who desire restaurant-quality dining experiences for the medium to large size in-home dining events. It’s true chefs can do this without a restaurant. It’s also true restaurateurs can use this added income stream to retain their top talent by developing their skills and creating a profit center that gives chefs the freedom of both worlds.

Columnist Holly Powers-Verbeck, founded and continues to operate Lake Tahoe’s premiere culinary staffing company HeyChef! since 1997. In 2018 she formed MakeYourBusinessCook! to help chefs launch private chef businesses and guide owner-operators who want to add private chef services to their operations to create revenue beyond their restaurant walls. For more information contact