How To Hire Quality Restaurant Staff Candidates Without The Headache


6 Minute Read

Sep 29, 2018

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Life as a restaurateur certainly isn’t getting any easier.

Sometimes it seems like every day brings a new challenge: an impossible-to-please customer, a new round of predictive scheduling regulations, a stubborn pilot light, or everyone’s (least) favorite: an employee quitting.

Most restaurateurs—yes, even the most seasoned, accomplished ones—think of hiring and recruiting as they do laundry: a frustrating, never-ending job.

The good news is you can learn to love laundry—err, restaurant recruiting. Here’s how.

Free Resource: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Hiring, and Managing Restaurant Staff

Common Restaurant Hiring Woes (And What to do About Them)

For the 2019 Restaurant Success Report, Toast surveyed 1,253 restaurant owners, operators, and staff and 1,030 restaurant guests across the U.S. to understand their thoughts on what makes a successful restaurant.

It turns out that being “successful” doesn’t magically exempt you from having to bring on new FOH and BOH staff. The industry leaders who took part in the survey know all too well that hiring and recruiting takes time – time to leaf through cover letters, time to interview candidates, and time conduct a proper job orientation with every employee on or even before their first shift – and time is money.

They also understand that besides the time investment, replacing restaurant employees comes at a cost... and it’s not cheap. This is further motivation to refine your restaurant's recruitment process.

So what makes a staff member more likely to stick around a successful restaurant over one that sees less annual profit growth? It all boils down to one simple word.

(Hint: it rhymes with vulture.)

Though you’ve probably already guessed it, the word I'm hinting at is culture. But, before we dive into what that word means both in theory and in practice, let’s dig a little deeper into the many pains of restaurant recruitment.

Here are three common scenarios that might hit close to home:

1. I’m not attracting the restaurant job candidates I want.

You’re the restaurateur who’s tried everything: you spend your Sunday afternoons sifting through resumes, you’ve asked your industry pals to quality check your interview questions, you’ve established an employee referral program, and you've even issued a desperate plea on Facebook… and still you struggle to attract the right talent to your team. What gives?

We’ve all heard the saying, “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch,” but it’s important to be clear on who the bad apple really is— is it an employee, or your workplace culture?

2. My staff leave after only a few months.

The hospitality sector has earned a reputation for having one of the highest turnover rates on record.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover program, the restaurants and accommodations arm of the hospitality industry has held a steady 73% annual employee turnover rate. Ouch.

Did you know the average dishwasher will hang up his or her apron within a month and 12 days and the average server hangs on for just two weeks longer? Of course you did – you’ve seen and experienced it firsthand!

While there will always be situations beyond your control – an interstate move, a return to school… you know, life stuff – a less-than-desirable restaurant culture can unwittingly send staff and their legacy knowledge out the door earlier than you or they would have liked.

3. I can’t afford to keep good workers—they’ll bankrupt me!

In recent years, restaurateurs have had to adapt to ever-changing employment laws. The introduction of employee-centric regulations like New York City’s Fair Workweek law has seen wages for the leisure and hospitality industry increase by 3.3%.

2018 also marked a nationwide roll-out of increased minimum wage regulations. 

It’s perfectly reasonable for workers to expect their compensation to align with their job responsibilities, but the substantial increase to the budget you allot to cover labor costs could spell trouble for other areas of your business.

While you may not be able to afford to pay everyone on staff $20 an hour, establishing and maintaining a workplace culture where staff are excited to come to work will act as a non-compensation related benefit that will both attract and retain quality restaurant staff.

What Makes For A Good Restaurant Culture?

This is a great, but complicated question.

The folks at Chron do a nice job of summarizing culture:

Culture has visible components in the way that a business looks and how employees dress, but it really thrives in the attitudes of the employees, in the setting of goals and in the communication of business values to workers and customers.

A good restaurant culture starts at the top—with you.

Let's cover some proven ways to build and grow a positive, contagious workplace culture. Making these changes will inch your restaurant closer to that coveted state of staffing nirvana, where you are not only surrounded by loyal, hard-working employees but there is also a steady stream of exceptional candidates knocking down your door to fill open spots on staff.

1. Write down what you believe in.

There’s no overstating the importance of restaurant core values.

If you commit to one thing, let it be this: spend time writing down the qualities, characteristics, behaviors, and values, that matter the most to you, like community, credibility, and enthusiasm, for example. There is significant payoff to a values-based culture, and one of those benefits is attracting a tribe of people whose values align with yours.

Remember: like attracts like.

2. Practice culture early, honestly, and often.

It’s not enough to define your restaurant’s values—you must hold every facet of your restaurant accountable for living these values out loud, from the host stand all the way to the dish pit.

Let’s say you’re big on flexibility and work-life balance; prove it by giving your staff some control over their employee schedules, with the option to trade and pick-up shifts at their leisure.

3. Consider a fresh coat of paint.

If you think paint colors and restaurant lighting are trivial details in a restaurant, think again. Researchers have linked aesthetic and well-being, finding that interior design details can – and do – affect your happiness.

4. Get creative.

Building an attractive workplace culture has very little to do with salaries and hourly wages.

This doesn’t mean they aren’t still important, but restaurant employee benefits can— and should—involve more than monetary entitlements set out in an employment contract. Transportation stipends, paid volunteer time, and professional development opportunities are all fine ways to engage and empower staff.

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