What do you do when your chef leaves?

Amongst the culinary choices here in Portland, both mobile and stationary, many of the shining stars are those that have invested in recruiting and training world-class chefs. Unlike in other cities where a private corner table will suffice, diners here actually clamber for those coveted spots overlooking the kitchen so that they can see these master chefs at work. So, if your restaurant has invested in a top-notch chef, what do you do when that chef takes his or her talent, and possibly your recipes, elsewhere?

Employers generally cannot make an employee stay with them if the employee doesn’t want to. However, if it is absolutely essential for your chef to stay at your restaurant for a given amount of time, consider employment for a specific term instead of at-will employment, where either the employer or employee can end the relationship any time. Although employees can still leave under a contract for a term, this type of contract will allow you to seek damages for breach of contract if an employee leaves before the term is over.

Another possibility is to sign a noncompetition agreement with your chef and other key personnel. If you choose this option, however, remember that most states have specific requirements for non-competes to be valid [link to blog post about noncompetes].

Because your recipes are your main stock in trade, you should also consider how to make sure your former chef doesn’t take your recipes to his or her new restaurant. Recipes themselves, in the form of lists of ingredients and instructions, are not copyrightable [link back to copyright post]. However, there are other ways you can prevent your employees from taking your recipes with them when they leave, either by protecting them as trade secrets [link back to trade secrets post] or by requiring employees to sign confidentiality agreements.

Your restaurant can make it through even the most drastic changes if you’ve protected yourself, and the protection you need is easy to get with the help of an experienced attorney. So rest easy hiring that master chef and perfecting those recipes, and bon appetit!

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