Chefs in a restaurant kitchen

How to Leave a Job in the Restaurant Industry

Prominent pastry chef Rory Macdonald reminds young chefs that there is still a right way to quit.

It’s never easy to leave a job, whether it’s an environment you really hate or a dream job with a great team. When the time comes to move on, a tough conversation can be necessary.

Here’s how I recommend handling the situation to best develop your professional reputation and respect the team you work with.

Be Honest

My advice to anyone thinking about making a move is to always be honest. Whether you have a good or bad reason for leaving, when you give an honest reason, you can always leave with your head held high knowing you did the right thing. For me, and for many of the chefs I know, people who can do this will always leave on good terms. This is really important, as this is such a small industry, something you do early in your career (good or bad) could really affect your career later. You may not realize it now, but believe me, it’s a small world.

"When we’re looking at hiring, first I look to see who they worked for that I know. Everybody that knows anyone calls to find out if they should hire that person or not," Border Grill chef and restaurateur Susan Feniger told ICE students in April. "I look for longevity, how much they jumped around, and when I see short stints I want to know why."

Give Notice

There seems to be a trend now with younger chefs to give notice on the spot or maybe just a couple of days. This is a big no-no. Of course, there are different scenarios. If you really can’t handle your job, I’m not saying you have to stick it out and suffer. However, if you are leaving because you have another job, do the right thing: Give the right amount of notice, which can be negotiated with your manager. If your new job is pressuring you to start ASAP, respectfully say that you have to give notice, and if they don’t respect that, you may want to reconsider your new employment choice.

If I offer someone a job, and they say they could start tomorrow and would just leave their current job – I would not hire them. How can I not expect them to do the same to me a few months later?

Take responsibility for the job you are leaving, respect your current employer and team and have an understanding of what will happen after you leave. Will they be able to fill your position, or will your teammates have to cover and take on more work? Sure, if you are leaving, that’s not your problem, but how would you like it if the shoe was on the other foot? This goes back to doing the right thing and being honest.

How Much Notice?

There is not a set rule for this (unless contractually applied), but the general rule of thumb is a minimum of two weeks. If you can offer more, I recommend it so that your transition is seamless and your relationship is maintained on a positive note. As you move up the career ladder, that notice period will generally increase, and as you become more senior and take on more responsibility, it will take much more time to replace you.

For management positions, I suggest a minimum of three months. In many cases, when you are open and honest, your current chef or employer will help and assist you to find your next move, which is why, if you burn your bridges when you start your career, it will come back to haunt you one day. For example, all of my jobs have been recommendations from my previous employer. In such a small industry, this is really vital to get the jobs that might not be advertised, with the end goal that you no longer need to apply for jobs and people reach out to you directly. I can guarantee this won’t happen if you have just walked out of your last three jobs.

How Long Do You Stay at Each Job?

The industry has changed greatly over the last 10 years. When I was training in Europe, a minimum of one year was the standard. Some Michelin-starred restaurants expected two years. From an employer’s point of view, it has to be worthwhile to spend the time to train you. If you leave after three months and someone else has to be trained, it’s been a waste of time.

At that stage, the industry was much harder – you worked until the job was done, you couldn’t leave early for a dentist appointment or start late because you closed the night before. It was very unforgiving, with the mentality that if you didn’t like it, you could leave.

Things have changed, for the most part for the good. It’s important to have a happy staff however, my advice is to still always do the year minimum. You may not love it every shift, you may miss some birthdays or holidays, but always think of the big picture. Every position is a stepping stone to where you want to be. I always tell my team not to think in five-week or five-month mindsets. Think bigger – think about where you want to be in five years, and work out a path to get there. This may not be your dream job; maybe you’re not a sous chef yet, but this job and maybe this chef can open the door to where you want to be or the next step you need to take.

Take your time, the race is long and age is just a number – you may not have three Michelin stars when you are 22, but it’s okay – when you get them (or achieve whichever goal you have), they will mean so much more because you worked your way up to it.

Be Selective

It’s really important, especially when you’re at the start of your career, to choose the right job for you. Just because a restaurant is famous or is trending at the time, doesn’t mean it will be the best fit for you. You need to be in an environment where your training is just as important as the restaurant – no restaurant can run without its team. Choose carefully, maybe it’s not the most famous place but maybe it’s an environment where you will learn a lot with people who care about your future. Stay focused on your future goals.

“I always staged in so many places because I think it’s so important to find the right fit,” ICE alum and Majordōmo chef de cuisine Marc Johnson (Culinary, ‘04) reflected in April. "I have things I want to learn and do personally as a cook, and I think that I can find those within the cooking walls of Momofuku, so I’m pretty happy where I’m at.”

Do Not Chase Money

Everyone wants money. However, think big picture, and get yourself to a place where people are approaching you and you can tell them how much compensation you need, rather than vice versa. Moving jobs every three months for an additional dollar will not help your career. In fact, you will be going backwards. Everyone has bills and rent to pay, but again, be honest with your employer. If you have a great job where you are learning and growing, but you are struggling to pay the bills, speak with them. Maybe you can pick up some extra shifts, get a raise or they can help you secure a part-time job. Moving around frequently just for money means short-term gains for long-term losses.

Every situation is different so it’s impossible to have one rule for everything. If you can be honest and give as much notice as possible, the end result will always be a positive one and that will only help your future plans.

Learn more about navigating culinary careers in ICE's diploma programs.

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