Why do chefs stay? Using repertory grid technique to map chefs’ desire to remain in their occupation and refine existing knowledge of retention in the commercial kitchen

  • Michail Kourtidis

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


To date, the study of Chefs as an occupational group in high-intensity work environments has
tended to focus on the nature and impact of the challenging work conditions of the
commercial kitchen. This focus has promoted an understanding of both the physical and
mental effects of operating in this environment and has been used to explain the high
turnover among professional chefs. However, relatively little attention has been paid to the
reverse side of this issue, namely, given the harsh work conditions, why many chefs choose
to remain in the occupation. This study focuses on this issue by drawing on theories of job
embeddedness (JE) and occupational embeddedness (OE) and questioning the influence of
internal locus of control (LOC) on chefs’ decision to stay in the job.
Through repertory grid interviews with 23 chefs of casual/upper casual and hotel restaurants
in the United Kingdom, the study reveals a series of complex and personal reasons for their
desire to remain in this career and in so doing, it extends our insight into chefs as an
occupation, as well as theories which can be used to explain retention in high-intensity work
The above scope of the study asked for a constructivist research methodology following a
qualitative research method that would reveal idiosyncratic ways of thinking towards
employee retention. To that end, Personal Construct Theory (PCT) was adopted using the
Repertory Grid Technique (RGT). That interviewing method offered an appropriate research
platform to cognitively map chefs’ desire to stay in the occupation. In an attempt to ensure
the validity of the process, RGT was followed by eliciting the research participants’ core
constructs/ core values with the laddering-up process.
The analysis of the findings led to two distinct personal construct categories: superordinate
and subordinate. The laddering-up process did not produce any different constructs but
helped in the deeper interpretation of the cognitive mapping of chefs’ retention. The results
showed that chefs who stay in the occupation long term are firstly intrinsically driven and
then extrinsically driven. The dynamics between those drivers indicated a single direction
from the intrinsic to the extrinsic, where intrinsic drivers play a protagonist role in chefs’
retention and are not dramatically influenced by the extrinsic ones. However, the extrinsic
drivers play the role of flexible regulators, which can shake the construct of retention in
various directions but are not adequate enough to force it to collapse.
The above results contribute to the literature on chefs’ occupation as they refine what is
known about chefs’ retention, not only turnover. Before this study no other research had
explored the thinking process of chefs to stay on the job instead of drifting to other easier
and more profitable careers. The study also expands on the existing knowledge about the
ability of JE and OE to predict chefs’ retention, firstly, by confirming that all domains of the
two frameworks (fit, links, sacrifice) are met in chefs’ retention; secondly, by adding internal
LOC as an essential contributor to the literature of retention which gives further individual
meaning to the dimensions of JE and OE. From a practical point of view, the research findings
are also very timely in the post-brexit and post-covid era in hospitality when the shortage of
chefs has reached high levels in the country. With the emphasis on the intrinsic drivers of
chefs revealed in the study, the results open a discussion about the strategy of recruiting and
selecting cooks that are investible because they have the potential to develop a long-lasting
career in the commercial kitchen. Therefore, focusing on retention rather than turnover in
the commercial kitchen industry looks more promising in the present period. The importance
of this study, finally, goes beyond the chefs’ literature as it paves the way for further research
into retaining highly skilled and talented employees in occupational environments of high
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University

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