Ask the Staffing Doctor: Cut to the Chase
B. J. FROM GEORGIA ASKS...
I’m an executive chef at a full-service property in the Southeast. I have a cook who is constantly cutting himself. It’s to the point now where he always has a bandage on, and after washing his hands multiple times a day, the bandage is perpetually wet. He goes through several rubber finger covers a day as well, which is something I didn’t budget for. He’s a good kid, but his constant injuries are slowing his productivity, and I worry about sanitation too if the bandages and finger covers aren’t changed. What can I do?
THE STAFF ING DOCTOR ANSWERS...
Given the large number of incidents, you would be remiss not to review all of your cutting standards and procedures.
Let’s start with the most basic item. Are you ensuring that the knives in your kitchen are sharp? Dull knives require more force to use. They slip/slide along the cutting surface, exposing nearby fingers to unwelcome collateral damage.
As a matter of professional pride, many cooks/chefs carry their own set of knives, but they do not all keep them sharp. My personal preference has always been to find someone in the kitchen who will assume the duty of knife sharpening (yes, for a small bump in pay) and who takes pride in doing it well. Do you have a professional-grade wet stone or chef-level electric knife sharpener in your kitchen? Alternatively, many kitchens use an outside service to provide weekly knife sharpening. This could be an unbudgeted expense for you, but it is worth avoiding the ramifications of a severed finger. All knives can cut; a dull knife is looking to cut you.
Additionally, you might need to evaluate if/how you are training knife technique. Perhaps there aren’t enough cutting boards, or your boards are overly worn and slippery. Maybe this individual is not using cutting boards properly, or under pressure, his knife technique goes out the window. There are many educational sources available that provide videos of proper knife handling in the kitchen. It might be worth the small cost to have you, together with your entire kitchen, review and practice proper knife skills. Many well-run kitchens have regular knife skill “classes” for the cooks, as it is very difficult to advance in the “heart of the house” without knowing how to properly handle a knife. This fellow sounds like many young cooks who haven’t been taught how to slow down and master each step, in order to properly go fast.
Lastly, technology has caught up to cutting gloves. There are times in a kitchen when the use of cutting gloves should be mandatory, and you might find solace in requiring your cook to wear a proper pair more often than not. Your kitchen should at all times be stocked with cutting gloves, as your team won’t use them if they can’t find them.
These are just a few easily implemented ideas you might consider as you undertake a review of your kitchen’s standards and procedures and look to stem the tide of cuts.
Chase LeBlanc is the founder and CEO of Leadagers, LLC, and is a hospitality management performance coach with more than 25 years of experience. He is also the author of High Impact Hospitality: Upgrade Your Purpose, Performance and Profits!