Chefs need to do more than cook food, retailers told SN. To justify the labor cost, it's important to maximize the chef's on-site presence, they said.
theast regional chain who asked not to be named.
"The more visibility, the more communication with customers, the better. Familiarity breeds trust. Their people skills are much more important than their kitchen skills," he said.
The source said that his chefs' first priority is to manage numbers "to pull a profit," and then to manage people and talk to customers. His or her kitchen skills are third down on his company's criteria list, he said.
"A customer isn't going to mess with dinner, not when he's putting it on the table for the whole family. He has to have absolute confidence in it, and anything the chef can do to boost that confidence helps. It creates loyalty," he added.
Jacob Bonar, a chef and a 15-year food-service veteran of Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., explained that an on-site chef who interacts with customers lends credence to the whole array of prepared foods, and beyond.
"You become, in the customers' eyes, the food expert for the whole store. You almost take on the role of his or her personal chef. In that pivotal position, you can help them decide what to have for dinner, make them comfortable by taking some of that indecision away and even help coordinate their purchases in the other fresh departments."
Bonar, a principal in Culinary Retail Solutions, a Scottsville, N.Y., consulting firm, works with supermarkets and other food retailers.
Another supermarket executive in the Midwest, who has had experience with startup food-service programs at retail, warned that having a restaurant background doesn't necessarily equip a chef for the give-and-take with customers that's necessary in the supermarket.
"Retailers think if they get someone with restaurant experience, that takes care of everything, but that's not so. You can have a very good restaurant chef who's turning out 110 covers a night and never see a soul, never speak to customers. In a grocery store, it takes a different set of skills. In the supermarket, a major part of his job is to sell trust."