This guide about managing restaurant staff will teach you – restaurant owners, operators, and managers – all about finding, hiring, training, onboarding, and retaining the team of your dreams. It’s time to overhaul the way we manage restaurant teams. In the following nine chapters, we’ll outline the restaurant staffing process from beginning to end, including best practices to take into account every step of the way.
What's Going on With Restaurant Employees?
The restaurant industry is at a crossroads when it comes to hiring and retaining staff.
Restaurateurs know that high staff turnover can’t be accepted as a reality of the industry anymore — it’s too expensive, and it makes for major problems on restaurant teams. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 annual employee turnover rate for the restaurant industry was nearly 75%, the highest it's been in five years.
They also know their staff is the lifeblood of the restaurant. They know they need to create amazing work environments with decent pay and benefits to keep their best workers. From stocking the kitchen and ordering inventory to running food and creating delightful guest experiences, the staff is the heartbeat of a restaurant operation. A meticulously selected and high-performing team is one of the key factors in making a restaurant successful.
But while restaurant owners, operators, and managers are aware of this, they’re still having a hard time finding great candidates, hiring them, training them, and retaining them for years to come.
This guide is here to help. It’s time to overhaul the way we manage restaurant teams. In the following nine chapters, you'll find best practices to use every step of the way.
A meticulously selected and high-performing team is one of the key factors in making a restaurant successful.
CHAPTER ONE: How to Hire Your First Employee
The following section is an overview of the paperwork you can expect to encounter as a restaurant owner or the person who manages a restaurant. It's provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal, accounting, tax, career or other professional advice. Labor regulations, and payroll and tax paperwork and the processes around it. will vary from state to state, so for detailed instructions and advice about how to approach labor law compliance and paperwork and taxes in your area, consult with the Department of Labor, an accountant, or The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) directly for the most accurate information.
So you’ve signed all the licenses and permits for your restaurant’s location, you’ve planned your menu, decorated the space, and decided on company values. Now it’s time to hire your first employee and put processes into place for every time you hire a new one.
Before you start searching for your star cook or server, there are some legal tasks to take care of.
Here they are, according to Nolo.com:
- Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN): EINs are tax identification number for businesses. They are to be used for any business paperwork related to the IRS and Social Security. Only use your EIN for business documents (and never instead of your Social Security Number). You can apply for an EIN online here. The form used to request or apply for an EIN is called an SS-4 form.
- Register with the labor department: Register your restaurant as an employer at the state labor department. This is so you can pay mandatory state unemployment compensation taxes.
- Worker’s compensation insurance: Also known as worker's comp, worker’s compensation insurance exists to protect employees in case they're injured at work. You can find more information about worker’s comp here, including whether or not it's mandatory in your state.
- Set up payroll system and withholdings: You will need to withhold a percentage of each employee’s income to pay into social security, Medicate, and FICA, and for federal (and sometimes state) taxes. For more info, read IRS document Publication 15 or consult with an accountant.
- Research how to pay taxes as an employer. For the full list of IRS tax forms, click here.
Nolo.com also says the following steps will have to be taken every time you hire a new employee.
W4s: All new employees need to complete a W4. W4s help calculate how much federal tax you’ll have to withhold from each employee’s pay. You’ll need each employee’s social security number and full name to fill out a W4 form.
I-9s: Every new employee will also need to complete an I-9, which is submitted to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to make sure they are legally allowed to work in the United States.
Report the employee to your state new hire registries: State new hire registries exist to help find parents who owe child support payments. You can find your state new hire registry here.
Labor laws ensure that work environments are safe for all employees and protect them from exploitation. They must be followed by all employers. It’s your responsibility as the business owner to make sure your restaurant meets the standards outlined below as well as those that apply in your region. Where applicable, hang posters that outline employee rights in a common space in the back of your restaurant. It’s also good practice to outline employee rights in your company’s employee handbook.
According to the The DOL (Department of Labor), some of the most commonly referenced labor laws include:
OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Act), which requires employers to provide a work environment free of recognized safety hazards. This applies to all restaurants, but additional regulations can vary state by state.
FMLA (The Family and Medical Leave Act), which requires that companies with 50+ employees (within a 75-mile radius of the worksite), among other requirements, give job-protected medical or family leave to all employees in the case of their illness or the illness of a spouse, child, or parent.
FLSA, (The Fair Labor Standards Act), which enforces minimum wage laws and overtime laws, which both vary by state. This applies to all restaurants, and we’ll go into this more in the section on staff scheduling.
ERISA (The Employee Retirement Income Security Act), which manages the requirements of employers who provide retirement benefits to employees.
Labor laws exist to protect employees from exploitation and poor working conditions and they must be followed by all employers.
CHAPTER TWO: What Are The Most Common Restaurant Positions?
Depending on your concept, your restaurant might need to hire 10 staff members, 30, or many more. Before you start sharing job postings, it’s important to build a hiring plan of all the restaurant positions you need, in order of priority.
In this section, we’ll share the ideal traits and experience for each restaurant position — in the front and the back of house — as well as how much each position typically earns.
The Three Types of Restaurant Jobs
Restaurant jobs typically fall into three categories: front of house, back of house, and management.
Front of house, or FOH, refers to the public areas of the restaurant, including dining rooms, bars, waiting areas, and restrooms. FOH staff members work outside the kitchen and are customer-facing. These restaurant positions include servers, hosts, bartenders, barbacks, bussers, food runners, floor managers, and cashiers.
Back of house, or BOH, refers to the parts of the restaurant that aren’t seen by customers. The BOH usually includes the kitchen, prep areas, back office, storage rooms, and walk-ins. BOH staff includes anyone who works in the kitchen — head chefs, sous chefs, prep cooks, expeditor, line cooks, and dishwashers.
Management typically works in the back office analyzing restaurant metrics, ordering inventory, and strategizing new promotions. They also mill about between the front and back of house promoting better communication between the two, as well as checking on guests to make sure their experience is going well. Typical restaurant management job positions include owner, bar manager, shift manager, assistant general manager, general manager, and bookkeeper or accountant.
A List of Common Restaurant Positions
In this section, you’ll find an A-Z list of typical restaurant positions as well as work experience required, ideal traits, and average salary according to Payscale.
Assistant Restaurant Manager
The assistant manager is the general manager's understudy; think of them as a manager in training. Typically, the assistant manager takes on whatever tasks the restaurant manager doesn't have time to handle, like approving shift changes, cash-outs, and deciding server sections. An effective assistant restaurant manager will be able to seamlessly step in as the manager on duty.
How Much Does an Assistant Restaurant Manager Make?
- Average Assistant Restaurant Manager Salary: $37,728 a year, $11.95 an hour
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 3-5 years
- Ideal Traits: Extensive industry knowledge, experience working in a restaurant, experience managing employees, strong organizational skills, strong interpersonal skills.
Bartenders are experts at mixology, the art of preparing mixed drinks. If your restaurant has a bar, qualified bartenders are a must. When the line builds up, it's up to them to keep serving drinks with accuracy and flair. You'll also need someone extremely personable behind that counter; this can be a stressful position, so you'll need someone who can get the job done and still have fun with your guests.
How Much Does a Bartender Make?
- Average Bartender Salary: $35,005 a year, or $8.05 an hour, plus tips
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 1 year
- Ideal Traits: Experienced behind the bar, personable, and speedy.
Your bar manager will be responsible for planning everything related to your restaurant's bar and bar offerings. Duties include bar inventory management, creating drink menus and specials, hiring and managing bar staff, and doing bar performance reporting. This restaurant position should be filled by someone who has extensive bar experience. A qualified candidate will follow national beer and cocktail trends, be able to make informed drink suggestions to guests based on their preferences, and have a strong command behind the bar.
How Much Does a Bar Manager Make?
- Average Bar Manager Salary: $38,338 a year, $11.46 an hour
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 2-5 years
- Ideal Traits: A passion for drinks, personable, creative, experience managing employees.
A barback is a bartender's apprentice; this position is typically filled by a person learning to become a bartender. Their responsibilities include pouring beer and wine for guests (mixing complicated cocktails is reserved for bartenders), getting ice, restocking garnishes and glassware, and making sure the bar has everything needed to operate.
How Much Does a Barback Make?
- Average Barback Salary: $30,000 a year, $9.25 an hour, or state minimum wage (plus a nightly tip out from the bar staff)
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 0-1 years
- Ideal Traits: Aspirations of becoming a bartender, good under pressure, determination, patience, willingness to learn.
A busser is responsible for clearing tables and re-setting them for continued use. They need to be attentive during meal service, scanning the room to see if guests have cups, plates, or cutlery that need clearing. Bussers are also responsible for keeping server stations stocked with additional place settings, napkins, and other supplies.
How Much Does a Busser Make?
- Average Busser Salary: $18,434 a year, $8.48 an hour, or state minimum wage (plus a nightly tip out from servers and bartenders)
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 0-1 years
- Ideal Traits: Independent worker, able to anticipate guests’ needs, able to carry many dishes and work in a fast-paced environment.
Take great care to fill this role well. Even teens looking for part-time work or college students home for the summer should be polite, efficient, and accurate. In some restaurant concepts, the cashier is the only person the customer interacts with. The cashier also needs to keep the line moving during busy times without compromising accuracy of orders or quality of service.
How Much Does a Cashier Make?
- Average Cashier Salary: $21,189 a year, $9.35 an hour, or minimum wage
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 0-1 years
- Ideal Traits: Kind, dedicated, and possessing a measurable level of interest in the industry.
All restaurants use dishes, plates, pots and pans, silverware, and cooking utensils. A dishwasher helps speed up the cleaning process so that your entire supply of forks isn’t trapped in a wash cycle. Make sure dishwashers are detail-oriented; one missed spot could result in a lost customer. They must also be reliable, because if they don’t show up when scheduled, the whole restaurant cannot function.
How Much Does a Dishwasher Make?
- Average Dishwasher Salary: $19,515 a year, $9.66 an hour, or minimum wage
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 0-1 years
- Ideal Traits: Attentive to detail, quick, focused, and reliable.
The food expeditor is responsible for assembling orders on the line and sometimes also for running the completed order to the table in a full-service restaurant. The person who fills this restaurant position should be calm under pressure and good at organizing many moving parts, as they'll have many tickets to coordinate at any given time. They’re like the conductors of the kitchen, which is why sometimes executive chefs will expedite. There can also be a brief moment of interaction between them and the guest, so they should be personable, as well.
How Much does an Expeditor (Expo) Make?
- Average Expo Salary: $20,000 a year, $9.12 an hour, or minimum wage
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 2-5 years
- Ideal Traits: Good memory, organized, analytical, speedy, and personable.
According to the National Restaurant Association, "It costs roughly $2,000 to recruit and train a new hire into the restaurant business." For managers, "It’s about $15,000." Most people could be trained to work in a restaurant, but clearly it takes a unique person to manage one. Before hiring or promoting someone to manager, make sure they’re dedicated to both the restaurant industry and working in your restaurant. This person should contribute positively to your culture, since they will be interacting with, training, and managing everyone on your staff. This person should also be qualified to hire, fire, and reprimand employees when necessary, and serve as an extension of the restaurant owner.
How Much Does A General Manager Make?
- Average General Manager Salary: $45,362 a year, $12.28 an hour
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 5+ years
- Ideal Traits: Driven to better your restaurant, experienced in FOH and BOH, fantastic leadership skills.
What is an executive chef? The executive chef — or head chef — conceptualizes and creates your restaurant's menu, oversees daily food preparation, and directs kitchen staff. A culinary mastermind should fill this position, as they're entirely responsible for the flavors on your guests’ plates. An executive chef should have years of experience working in the kitchen, a deep understanding of how ingredients relate to one another, and the ability to whip up recipes that are not only tasty but also keep your operating budget in check.
How Much Does A Head Chef Make?
- Average Head Chef Salary: $59,743 a year, $17.17 an hour
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 5+ years
- Ideal Traits: Familiar with flavors and ingredients, passionate, imaginative, good at managing people, and data-driven.
In full-service restaurants, the host or hostess tends to be the first point of contact for your guests. For all visits — especially first-time visits — it’s crucial that the person at the host stand leaves guests with the best first impression possible. Your host or hostess should be approachable and personable, able to follow the organizational structure of your reservation system, understand your guest seating strategy, be attentive to parties in the waiting area, and be able to coordinate takeout orders.
How Much Does a Host/Hostess Make?
- Average Host Salary: $20,578 a year, $9.21 an hour
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 0-1 years
- Ideal Traits: Polite, calm, attentive, and good under pressure.
Your kitchen managers help run back-of-house operations. They should be able to push for efficiency in the kitchen and motivate cooks on the line. The kitchen manager should also be organized, keeping close track of inventory to make appropriately sized orders to suppliers
How Much Does a Kitchen Manager Make?
- Average Kitchen Manager Salary: $43,234 a year, $12.32 an hour
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 3-5 years
- Ideal Traits: Commanding, respectful, organized, and authoritative.
What is a line cook? In a kitchen, line cooks are given a station to run for the duration of meal service — like pasta, grill, or fryer — and will need to be able to maintain focus on the same task for a few hours at a time. When hiring line cooks, look for candidates who have been trained in basic, universal cooking techniques that they can apply to each of your cooking stations (they may be on pasta one evening but switch to grill the next night). Line cooks typically have ambitions to rise to head chef, so look for candidates who are looking to learn all that they can in order to grow their career.
How Much Does a Line Cook Make?
- Average Line Cook Salary: $29,048 a year, $11.81 an hour
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 0-2 years
- Ideal Traits: Attentive, energetic, fast-moving, accurate, and a great cook.
Prep stands for preparation, so it stands to reason that prep cooks prepare many of the ingredients that go into the various dishes. Prep cooks are often the first in the door. Basic prep cook duties include chopping vegetables, cutting or grinding meat, weighing and mixing ingredients, washing and preparing vegetables, storing food, preparing sauces, and more. The difference between a line cook and a prep cook? Simply put, the prep cook starts the preparation process and the line cook finishes it, actually assembling and cooking the dishes.
How Much Does a Prep Cook Make?
- Average Prep Cook Salary: $29,067 a year, $10.88 an hour
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 0-1 years
- Ideal Traits: Attentive, energetic, fast-moving, comfortable with repetitive work, accurate, and a good cook.
A restaurant owner handles all of the responsibilities of running the restaurant business, including recruiting, training, and supervising staff, managing budgets, planning menus, ensuring hygiene and safety compliance, promoting and marketing the business, ordering supplies, developing business strategy, managing finances, overseeing inventory, and so much more. Often, the restaurant owner has multiple roles in the restaurant; we’re seeing a spike in chef/owners who oversee operations and menu engineering.
How Much Does a Restaurant Owner Make?
- Average Restaurant Owner Salary: $66,135 a year, $14.74 an hour
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 5-10 years
- Ideal Traits: Attentive, energetic, fast-moving, accurate, and a good cook.
Full service restaurants owe a lot to their servers. Guests interact the most with servers, so server responsibilities include taking orders, serving food and drinks, removing dinnerware, answering questions about the menu, and handling any and all feedback from guests. It's best not to hire just anyone for this position; you will want to look for candidates that have the strong server skills needed to deliver a top notch dining experience for every guest. Look for candidates who genuinely want to work in your restaurant, have a passion for hospitality, and are excited to interact with your clientele. You'll need someone who isn't afraid to be social but doesn’t lose sight of the importance of their job.
How Much Does A Server Make?
- Average Server Salary: $24,703 a year and way up (varies widely due to tips), $6.04 an hour plus tips
- Work Experience Needed in a Related Occupation: 0-2 years
- Ideal Traits: Passionate, talkative, and a great memory.
The sous chef is the second in command in a kitchen, after the executive chef. Sous chef responsibilities include helping in the preparation and design of food and drink menus, producing high-quality dishes, and ensuring the kitchen operates in a timely way that meets quality standards. They will also need to be familiar with recipes and comfortable taking a leadership role when required. Many sous chefs have aspirations to become executive chefs, so make sure this position is filled by someone you can see leading your kitchen one day.
How Much Does A Sous Chef Make?
- Average Sous Chef Salary: $43,211 a year, $14.96 an hour
- Work Experience in a Related Occupation: 3-5 years
- Ideal Traits: Possesses leadership potential, culinary prowess, and a great attitude.
CHAPTER THREE: How to Find Great People to Work in Your Restaurant
As tempting as it may be, never hire just to fill an open spot. If you rush the hiring process — which is an understandable impulse because being short-staffed in a restaurant can be a nightmare — you might accidentally bring someone onboard who could hurt your restaurant’s reputation or ruin the team dynamic. If you want to hire the best people for your restaurant, you need to make sure each and every team member embodies the core values of your team.
How to Write a Great Restaurant Job Description
The first step in bringing on high-quality employees is writing an effective restaurant job description. Your job descriptions should be engaging and grab the candidate’s attention. No need to be formal for the sake of formality.
Glassdoor found in a 2016 survey that “76% of job seekers want details on what makes the company an attractive place to work.” What’s attractive about a day in the life at your restaurant? Paint a picture of the day-to-day for your candidates.
What Are the Components of a Strong Restaurant Job Description?
Here are the components of a restaurant job description that will effectively attract quality candidates:
The Job Title: What role is this person applying for?
A Day in the Life / Daily Duties: Give 3-7 bullets on what a normal shift in the position will look like, what will be expected of them, and what their primary duties will be.
Qualifications: What skills should the candidate possess? If you’re looking for a more junior employee to work part-time as a busser and maybe work their way up to server, the qualifications don’t have to be so rigid. Try something along the lines of “Perseverance, a hard-working nature, a great attitude, the ability to work well on a team, and an eagerness to learn about working in the restaurant industry.” Candidates for higher-level positions, such as manager and sous chef, will need more concrete experience. Make it clear how many years of experience the role requires and, if necessary, see what type of restaurant experience they have. Clearly listing the experience required for the role lets a prospect know upfront exactly what they’re in for during their interview and, ultimately, their first day.
Compensation and Perks: There are pros and cons of listing monetary compensation in your job descriptions. If you feel compelled to list the salary, list the set amount if it’s non-negotiable and a range for negotiable salaries. But there’s more to this section than just money: Consider also including your vacation policy, healthcare information (if applicable), and perks like meal discounts.
About the Restaurant: Here’s where you list your restaurant’s core values. You can also write a brief history of your company and include testimonials or quotes from current employees about their experience working for your company. Remember, if you don’t take the time and effort to reel in the very best applicants, you won’t attract them.
The Best Places to Post Restaurant Job Listings
Now that you’ve written an effective job description, where will you post the job? Start simply by putting up a “Help Wanted” sign in your window and posting the job on the careers section of your website. Once you’ve done that, here are some additional options for sharing job opportunities for your restaurant.
Restaurant Industry Job Boards:
Poached — Only restaurant employees, $49/post
Snagajob — Only hourly workers, $89/post
Culintro — Only food and beverage employees, $50/post
Restaurant Zone — Only hospitality employees, $159/post
HCareers — Only hospitality jobs, $489/post
Only Restaurant Jobs — Only restaurant jobs, Free
Restaurant Careers — Only restaurant employees, $35/post
Culinary Agents — Only food, beverage, and hospitality professionals, $49/post
Sirvo — Only service industry jobs, $40/post
Other Job Boards:
Indeed — Free and paid options
Craigslist — Free and paid options
Monster — Starting at $249/month
Career Builder — $375/post or $219/month
Zip Recruiter — Starting at $249/post
Share Job Listings on Social Media: Post job listings on LinkedIn and Facebook Careers. In addition, share job listings organically across your personal social media channels. Some restaurants have found success with running Instagram ads or Facebook ads that alert the public about open roles in their restaurant. Then, encourage your team members to share the post and any information about the role with their friends on social media. There are also plenty of social media groups on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn for restaurant employees looking for jobs that you can use.
How to Build a Restaurant Employee Referral Program
Restaurant employee referral programs are a highly effective recruiting strategy. For one thing, they can save your restaurant money on recruiting costs by helping you find the right employees faster. In fact, new hires sourced through referral programs produce 25% more profit for their companies than new hires sourced through other means. Your employees will also be happier when they’re working with people they want to work with and know are a good culture fit.
Many restaurants offer employees a bonus for a referral which is a great way to inspire your team to share high-quality candidates. When it comes to rewarding bonuses, cash is king, but don’t be afraid to get creative. If you’re in need of ideas, think about your staff and what sorts of rewards would truly motivate them. Here are a few ideas to get your wheels turning:
A weekend off
Extra vacation days
Free meals — who doesn’t love free food?
Shift preferences for a week or a month
The latest technology — think iPads, GoPros, or a smartwatch
Tickets to a big sporting event, concert, comedy show, or the movies
A free three-course meal for them and a friend
You don’t have to offer your referral program to only employees, either. Tell your loyal customers, and they’ll broadcast it to their networks. Announce it on your personal social media channels. You’ll be amazed at the reach your employee referral program will get.
When it comes to referrals, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to hire every candidate referred to you. Work with your restaurant’s legal counsel to have program terms in place that clearly outline the stipulations for a referral payout and that you are not required to hire referrals. One idea: The referred employee must work at your restaurant for 90 days before the bonus is given to the employee who referred the new staff member.
How to Effectively Read Restaurant Resumes and Applications
Once you’ve attracted quality candidates for your open restaurant position, the first impression you’ll have of them will likely come from their resumes.
When you’re reading through resumes or completed applications for an opening on your team, it's important to remember that resumes and the people behind them may not be an apples-to-apples match for what you were looking for.
For example, say a candidate doesn’t have any experience working in a busy restaurant environment but they have been a camp counselor overseeing a group of twelve six-to-seven-year-olds. This experience could mean they’re a master multitasker who can simultaneously keep the kids smiling while staying on track with the daily agenda. Skills such as these will translate well to a serving role, and, with some coaching, they will likely be a vibrant member of your front-of-house team in no time. You can teach skills, you can't teach ambition and drive.
To better understand what the perfect candidate looks like, you first need to identify what skills you're hoping this new hire embodies. This should take some time, introspection, and a careful analysis of your current staff to really pinpoint what makes them amazing employees. Dive into the specifics of why they're great at their job and what about them you hope to find in this new hire. Maybe it's their ability to remember a regular customer’s favorite order or their knack for supporting team members in the weeds without breaking a sweat.
Once you have your list of qualities, you can assemble your dream resume for this role. Create a mock resume specific to the role that you’d not only be excited to receive but one whose owner you’d likely hire. Keep this “dream resume” on hand as a reference as you start sorting through the submissions you've received in response to your job posting. Create folders or piles for resumes that have 90% of the qualities you're looking for, 80% of the qualities, and so on. This level of organization will help you easily identify who could be a fit for the role, who definitely isn't, and whose resumes or applications you may want to hold onto should another position open on the team.
CHAPTER FOUR: How to Conduct Restaurant Job Interviews
Resumes are a dime a dozen, and sometimes they aren’t the best representation of a candidate. The best way to learn about someone is to call them in for an interview. That’s where you can dive into a candidate’s behavior and values and figure out how they might handle different situations.
Preparing for restaurant employee interviews involves much more than just brushing up on which questions to ask and which answers you hope to receive. Before you even connect with candidates to schedule the interview, sit with your management team and decide who your ideal candidate is for this role, which qualities the ideal candidate has, and why these qualities are important to you.
How to Make Your Restaurant Employee Interviews More Efficient
People who work in the restaurant industry know how valuable time is. That’s why it’s important to make your candidate interviews as efficient as possible. Here are four ways to do that:
Keep the Small Talk to a Minimum. Truly getting to know someone takes time, so it’s crucial to use the time you have available with the candidate wisely. When you start, some light chit-chat is standard but make sure to keep it to under a minute. Ask the questions you feel best gauge the candidate's fit for the role. This will help you make an informed decision about next steps if you run out of time.
Be prepared. Study the candidate’s resume ahead of time. You're in a time crunch as it is, so you don’t want to waste valuable time asking the candidate about their professional life story when you could be hearing examples of their multi-tasking skills. If you have an understanding of the candidate’s general background beforehand, you can be more efficient with your time by asking more targeted questions about their experience.
Address logistical questions first. These are the ones that include salary requirements, scheduling, availability, and other logistics. Asking these questions early on is helpful in determining the direction of the rest of the interview. If expectations don’t line up, be upfront about it from the beginning.
Consider a phone interview. If you’re especially short on time, do a brief phone interview with many candidates to narrow it down to the ones you want to take the time to meet in person. Make sure their requirements line up with yours before meeting in person.
Red Flags to Look Out for When Interviewing Restaurant Staff
Not every interview is going to be perfect. People are bound to get nervous and stumble a bit, but there are some glaring warning signs you can’t ignore.
Arrogance: The line between arrogance and confidence can be thin, but if candidates come out of the gate as know-it-alls, they may not open to learning or receiving input.
Blatant disrespect: This goes without saying and shouldn’t be tolerated.
Rambling: Getting lost in an answer could be a sign of nervousness, but if candidates are overly repetitive or taking up a lot of time, they may be dodging your question.
Late arrival with no excuse: If a candidate is really passionate about the position, they will do their best to be on time.
Bad-mouthing previous employers: No matter how terrible a work experience may have been, a candidate disparaging a past employer is unprofessional.
Not asking questions: Those interested in the position will have invested time in researching your restaurant and the position. If they don’t have questions, they likely didn’t do their research and aren’t expressing a strong curiosity for the job.
Poor references: Always follow up with a candidate’s references. Ask the reference if they would be willing to hire or re-hire this person if they had the chance. If they respond with a “no,” you should, too.
A lack of passion for the restaurant industry: Part of the reason the restaurant industry is rife with turnover is because staff members see working in a restaurant as a job, not a career. If you hire people who aren't passionate about the industry, hospitality, food, or beverage programs, they probably won't stick around for long and you likely won't be happy with the quality of service they're able to give.
Always follow up with a candidate’s references. Ask the reference if they would be willing to hire or re-hire this person if they had the chance. If they respond with a “no,” you should, too.
Questions to Ask in a Restaurant Interview
While it’s not the only thing you should do to prepare for a candidate interview, researching common interview questions and practicing your answers is a good place to start. While the best answers to these questions will depend on your business’s specific needs, they will help you gain much better insight into a candidate that you won’t be able to get from a resume.
Here are six restaurant interview questions you should ask candidates.
Why do you want to work in the restaurant industry? The best restaurant employees take pride in their ability to provide guests with a wonderful experience: The desire to make people happy is a must. Are your candidates having trouble coming up with an answer? Or are they excited to tell you why they want to be a part of this challenging industry? Hopefully it’s the latter.
What does “hospitality” mean to you? The dictionary defines hospitality as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” A great candidate will sum this up in their own words. Bonus points if they give you an example.
Tell me about your most memorable hospitality experience as a diner. Tack this onto restaurant interview question #2, and see how it connects. Do you feel the candidate is being genuine in their answer? Do they go into detail? This should give you insight into what type of service they will provide to your guests. A thoughtful, detailed answer shows that you’re interviewing someone who will put a lot of thought into their job.
How would you respond if a customer wrote something negative about your service online, which you know to be inaccurate, and you later saw them at the restaurant? Sometimes the best way to smooth over a difficult situation is to leave behind ego. You know you have a great prospective team member when the focus of their answer touches on understanding what happened from the customer’s perspective or understanding how they might handle a situation better in the future to make things right again. If someone has experience in hospitality, you might get a more detailed answer with some examples of how they handled issues in the past. Take note of whether or not the answer aligns with how you’d like staff to handle conflict resolution.
Tell me about a conflict you’ve had to deal with involving your co-workers and how you handled it. It’s easy to focus on guest satisfaction, but being a team player is just as important. With this question, you can judge someone’s maturity level and their ability to overcome difficult situations in a team setting. Patrons absolutely love to be taken care of by a staff that is clearly having fun and enjoying the time spent with their coworkers.
What would your references say about you? If you’re hiring someone new, you will likely ask for a few references. See how the candidate’s answer lines up with the conversation you have with the reference. Don’t forget to close the loop on this very important part of the hiring process.
At the end of the interview you should have a strong understanding of the person sitting in front of you, hoping to be welcomed into your restaurant team. Now it’s time to go with your gut. You know your concept and values best and what it takes to mesh well with your team and customers.
How to Write a Restaurant Job Offer Letter
You’ve interviewed candidates and found the perfect person for the job. Now it’s time for the main event: the job offer letter.
The offer letter is more than just an official invitation for employment — it's an additional chance to showcase your restaurant brand to a future staff member and start clearly, openly communicating about your goals, restaurant mission, and values. Your offer letter needs to have a few fundamentals, including the restaurant's name, the date of the offer, the expected start date, and a signature of agreement.
The letter should then briefly cover the basics about the role, its responsibilities, and your expectations, and add in some details about any workplace perks and benefits that make the role and working for your restaurant even more exciting. Consider plugging these in:
A brief welcome message from you and the team
Your restaurant's mission, vision, purpose, and values
Information on benefits and time off
An encouragement to read more in your restaurant’s employee handbook
Give the candidate all the information they'll need to make an informed decision about the role and your restaurant and leave your contact information for any questions they may have.
If your offer letter is excellent, the candidate should have no problem signing, sealing, and delivering it immediately. Include a decision deadline — typically one week after an offer has been extended — as well as the preferred delivery method of the offer letter. Once the candidate has signed, it's your job to follow through with the expectations you've set regarding hours, pay, benefits, and workplace culture.
CHAPTER FIVE: How to Onboard New Employees
When onboarding new staff, it’s important to strike a balance between giving them as much information as possible and giving them time to integrate into the team and learn by doing.
On the employee’s first day, you’ll want to introduce them to the team and set them up with a buddy. A buddy is a person who has volunteered to take on the new team member for their first week (or longer). Make sure your new team member understands that there are no stupid questions in your restaurant and that it’s always better to ask tons of questions now so they can learn the ropes quickly.
These first few days are crucial for showing off your company’s culture and mission in action.
The fast-paced nature of restaurant work can mean that a new employee is bombarded with information for hours at a time, so it’s important to have a great employee handbook that they can refer back to. Don’t just throw together a list of rules and regulations.
Start with your mission statement.
Outline workplace behavior policies relating to attire, harassment, cell phones, alcohol consumption, and anything else you feel is important.
Give a “week in the life” outline where you discuss job requirements, shift policies, scheduling and time off/sick day policies, health and safety standards, and your policies on things like allergies and comping.
Outline your payroll and compensation policies, as well as information about breaks, employee meals, benefits, sick leave, family leave, and more.
Provide the answers to some frequently asked questions in an FAQ section.
You can also use our free employee handbook template to build your ideal employee guide.
Set up Employee Benefits
If you offer benefits at your restaurant, part of your onboarding process will include helping your staff get set up. If your business has 50 employees or more, you are required to provide health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Consider using a platform like Health Care HQ or others like it designed for restaurants. They have plans for small restaurants, large restaurants, and individuals.
Set up a Check-in Schedule
It may seem a little corporate, but setting up a timeline for when you’ll sit down with your new employee over the first few months is a great way to keep track of how they’re doing in the new role, and more importantly, how they’re feeling.
If on a 30-day check-in, you’re noticing that the employee seems a bit jaded or overwhelmed, you can troubleshoot the issue before it spirals out and leads to them leaving.
Even if you only have 15 minutes for a quick check-in on a break, prioritize making it happen. It’ll show that you care about the employee’s success, happiness, and growth.
Finally, it’s good practice to start a file (physical and digital) on each employee where you can keep all their tax forms in one place, plus any certificates of training or other paperwork.
CHAPTER SIX: What Training Should Your Restaurant Provide?
Employee training is essential in the restaurant industry, but many restaurant professionals still haven’t cracked the code on the best way to engage their teams to learn new skills. Is it best to throw new cooks into the fire — literally — on their first day in the kitchen, or to send them home with videos to watch and homework to do?
Turnover rate in the restaurant industry is at 74%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, and the cost of bringing on a new employee is $2,171 per front of house employee, $2,809 per back of house employee, and $15,521 per manager, according to TDn2K. Over time, those numbers can directly impact your restaurant’s bottom line.
Successful staff training can prevent turnover. Rather than a “fail fast” approach to training employees, where employees make mistakes often but are quick to learn, restaurants should test new training methods.
Restaurant Training Strategies
The modern learner is impatient and easily distracted. They unlock their smartphones nine times an hour and won’t watch videos longer than four minutes. You only have a few seconds to grab their attention – even when it comes to restaurant staff training – so how can you get all the important information across and make sure your staff are equipped and ready to take on meal service?
Information snacking is a method that makes information more appealing. It involves creating smaller, more digestible training content that is precise and easy to access. When developing training courses or documentation for your staff, consider dividing them by topic instead of making every training course a deep dive. Make sure information can be accessed at any time on-demand, like online on a website that’s password-protected
Here are five methods you can use to appeal to modern learners:
Video: Provide micro-learning with videos less than four minutes long to keep the attention of your staff. Videos can be uploaded to YouTube (in a private link) for free.
Mobile and tablet training: Make learning mobile rather than banning phones. Phone-checking is a compulsion that’s hard to break, so embrace it: Move away from paper training and make training and information available on a phone or tablet. QR codes that open to an interactive training course are a great way to do this. Provide access to a hospitality focused e-learning platform, like Typsy or Toast University, helping your employees learn, expand their skill sets, and hone their crafts, helping your restaurant succeed in the short and long term.
Peer-to-Peer Mentoring: Certify trainers who can mentor new hires. Being paired with a coworker makes new employees feel more comfortable.
Gamification: Make team competitions or daily leaderboards based on quiz results or training progress. Give out badges, points, or prizes to motivate your staff. Wright’s restaurant, at the Arizona Biltmore, saw that “servers responded really well to the friendly competition and seeing who can top who each day,” according to Avero. Train your staff on new wine offerings, and then create a daily leaderboard for wine sales to motivate them. Wright’s did this and increased revenue by $45,000 year-over-year in wine sales alone.
Types of Training for Restaurant Employees
What specifically should your restaurant staff learn and when? New staff members should undergo orientation and read a restaurant employee handbook, but after that, consider maintaining a regular on-the-job skills training calendar. Training every three to six months will help you keep your turnover rates low by increasing loyalty and will leave you with employees ready to get their jobs done efficiently
You can choose to require staff to individually partake in training at different points in their tenure (like 60 days on the job, six months on the job, nine months on the job, and so on), or you can have the whole team come together for trainings you feel would benefit the group as a whole.
There are some restaurant staff training courses that are often mandatory, like:
ServSafe (Food Handling): ServSafe is administered by the National Restaurant Association and has a number of courses for food handlers, managers, and servers, focusing on food safety, allergens, and more. It’s important that your restaurant can handle, prepare, and store food in ways that prevent food-borne illnesses. Food safety considerations include the practices containing food labeling, food hygiene, food additives, and pesticide residues. Many states require staff to obtain ServSafe certification; find the regulatory requirements for your area here.
Alcohol Server Training: Most states across the U.S. require a license before a person can sell or serve alcohol. Alcohol safety is paramount, so require your bartenders and barbacks to have their ServSafe Alcohol certification — and don’t forget to check if it has expired. BarSmarts by Pernod Ricard is another great resource for bar staff looking to add to their bar skills toolkit.
For servers, training should also include
Menu updates: Whenever there’s a change in the menu — whether to a price, an item, or even an ingredient in a recipe — your servers need to know. They’re on the front lines with your customers, answering questions about certain dishes every day. Train them during your family meal and quiz them at the end of their shifts to make sure they retained the information.
Steps of service: Every restaurant may have different steps of service. They usually start with greeting guests, taking their drink orders, sharing features or specials, taking food orders, delivering the food and checking that everything’s okay after two bites, clearing the table, and dropping the bill. Whatever your steps are, train your staff to follow them.
Workplace harassment training: Harassment in the restaurant industry is a pervasive problem. Servers can experience harassment from customers as well as from fellow staff members. To combat this issue, consider creating a harassment training program with all staff members like Erin Wade, owner of Homeroom, did.
Back-of-house training should include
Shadowing: In the back of house, shadowing is essential. Face-to-face training with fellow chefs on the line can help staff understand exactly how each dish is made. Consider having cooks shadow the front-of-house as well so they understand the full guest experience, from soup to nuts.
Chef training: Different stations in the kitchen have different rules, and it’s important that you pass on the various nuances during training. The new chef can start by doing prep, keeping the station clean, replenishing the mise en place during service, and cooking sides. After a few days of this, the chef on the line can swap, so the new chef is cooking the main dishes while the existing chef is watching. After a week of this, the new chef should be able to pull the station by themselves on a busy day without a problem.
Kitchen safety: Chefs in the back of house should learn a few basics when it comes to safety tips in the kitchen: washing hands after washing raw meats, keeping perishable foods to a refrigerator, keeping cooked food away from cutting boards that have had raw meat on them, learning how to extinguish a fire, learning how to use appropriate knives, wearing safe clothing (including closed-toed shoes), and how to handle burns. Consider having staff complete a ServSafe Food Handler certification.
Workplace harassment training: though they don’t interact with customers, internal harassment is unfortunately also a huge problem in restaurants. Train your staff on what constitutes harassment and what they should do if they experience it or see it happen.
Additional Restaurant Skills Training to Consider
Some restaurants may also choose to “open the books,” providing all employees visibility into the restaurant’s financials. This is called open book management. If you choose to open your books, though, it’s important to train employees so they understand the metrics they’re looking at:
Revenue by shift, day, week, and month
Revenue per menu item, including specials
Cost of goods sold
Cost of staff (but not individual salaries or pay rates)
Cost of benefits provided to staff (health insurance, comped meals)
Cost of property lease, utilities, and any vendor services
Loss from inventory waste or comped tickets
Debt from loans, advances, or investor pay-out
Not every server or line cook has aspirations to operate their own business, but for those who do, watching your success and failures from the front row gives them something even business school students don’t often have access to.
CHAPTER SEVEN: How to Make a Schedule for Restaurant Staff
Making a schedule that balances employee availability, maintains labor law compliance, prevents “clopens” (when a restaurant staff member closes the restaurant, then opens it the next morning), and ensures your top performers are working on your most popular shifts can make you want to pull your hair out.
Before you’re ready to make a schedule for your staff, it’s important that you know and understand restaurant scheduling-related laws and regulations, like fair scheduling laws and overtime laws. Failure to maintain compliance could have costly consequences.
What is Fair Scheduling?
Fair scheduling laws — sometimes referred to as predictive scheduling laws, secure scheduling laws, predictable scheduling laws, or restrictive scheduling laws — outline the legal rights of hourly workers and the legal responsibilities of their employers with regard to scheduling. Though the specifics of fair scheduling laws will differ from state to state, they tend to include stipulations around:
How far in advance a schedule must be distributed to an hourly employee
How many times a schedule can be changed once distributed to an employee
Compensation requirements for on-call hourly employees
Legally mandated break time between shifts
Legally mandated break time during a shift
How long an employer of hourly workers must keep scheduling records
To learn about the predictive scheduling laws in your state, reach out to your state’s Labor Commissioner's office.
Time and a Half, and How Overtime Works in Restaurants
The Fair Labor and Standards Act [FLSA] states that restaurant employers are legally obligated to pay any hourly or non-exempt salaried staff member an overtime premium — typically 1.5 times their usual hourly wage — when said employee exceeds a 40 hour work week. A work week is largely defined as seven consecutive 24-hour periods.
Time and a half is the term we commonly use to refer to the above mentioned “overtime premiums.” Restaurant management typically use the phrases “time-and-a-half” and “overtime” interchangeably.
How to Do Staff Scheduling for Restaurants
Now that you’re familiar with the legal requirements related to restaurant scheduling, let’s break down how to make a schedule for restaurant staff that checks all the boxes.
Making a schedule for a restaurant will depend on:
Your concept (full service, quick service/fast casual, food truck, etc.)
Your hours of operation and the number of shifts per day
Whether you’re making a schedule for front of house or back of house
When it comes to physically making a schedule for your restaurant staff, you have a few options for tools.
Restaurant Scheduling Templates and Apps
The world of restaurant employee scheduling technology has come a long way in recent years. For a long time, restaurants would either create a schedule by hand or use a printed-out Excel spreadsheet. The modern version of this simple scheduling method is using a free, online restaurant scheduling template to make a schedule that employees can access on their phones or computers
Another option is to pay for restaurant employee scheduling software that collects all of your valuable scheduling data — open spots on a shift, employee availability, and hours worked, for example — in one place and helps restaurant management build schedules that factor in these considerations while also maintaining FLSA compliance.
The more robust restaurant employee scheduling software providers will integrate directly with your restaurant point of sale, providing restaurant management with one place to go for labor insights and time tracking.
Here are six digital restaurant employee scheduling solutions worth considering:
Now that we’ve covered the tools available to help you make a schedule, let’s walk through the process of making a schedule for front of house and back of house in full service restaurant concepts and fast casual/quick service restaurant concepts.
How to Make a Schedule for Full Service Restaurant Staff
Making a Work Schedule for Front-of-House Staff
Step 1: Break up your hours of operation into eight-hour shifts. The lunch shift/dinner shift model is a great place to start, but it by no means applies to every restaurant. if your restaurant also serves breakfast or stays open late night, add shifts; if your restaurant only does lunch or dinner, remove shifts. Many restaurants have a shorter lunch shift and a longer dinner shift. It is important to know exactly how long a lunch shift is, how long a dinner shift is, and how long a double is so that your schedules don’t violate labor laws and you can know when an employee reaches the overtime threshold.
Step 2: Break up your floor plan into sections. Give every table in your restaurant a number. It’s a good idea to give tables within a row, column, or specific area sequential numbers. Example: the row of high-tops close to the bar is the 200s; the booths on the left wall are the 300s, and the booths at the back wall are the 400s.
Next, calculate the average table turn time for the different seating options in your restaurant. Your two-tops will likely have a different table turn time than your six-tops; your four-tops will likely have a different turn time than your eight-tops. Now you’re ready to break up your floor plan into sections. Print out a picture of your floor plan and write the corresponding turn time on each table type. You want to make sure to balance table types with a significantly faster table turn time with those that are slower; you also want to balance tables with fewer seats with tables that have a higher number of seats. Sections should also be comprised of tables in a confined area.
These are all tactics that keep your restaurant seating strategy running smoothly. You will be able to accommodate parties of varying sizes without worrying about overloading your servers with too many guests; it also should prevent the host stand from double or triple seating (seating parties back-to-back, or back-to-back-to-back, in a section) a server, potentially overloading them and compromising the quality of service they can provide.
For example, you would never create a section with four six-tops, and you would never create a section with five two-tops: In the former, the server would be overloaded with 24 guests to look after at once, in the latter, your server could be overloaded with tables that turn rapidly and may result in a double or triple seating. It’s all about balance.
This step will take some time, analysis, feedback from your front-of-house staff, and trial and error.
Step 3: Consult your employee’s availability, then schedule as many front-of-house staff members as you have sections outlined for that shift. Do not schedule employees outside their available hours. Server sections for a lunch shift will often look completely different than those for a dinner shift. This is mainly because there’s less volume during a lunch shift and tables turn slower, so a server can feasibly handle a larger section without being overloaded. During dinner service, where there is significantly higher volume and faster table turn times, servers have sections that allow them to provide a high-quality guest experience without getting overloaded. As shifts progress and you cut staff members from the floor, sections can be distributed among the remaining staff.
Step 4: Choose a handful of staff members to work both lunch and dinner shifts. Restaurants often do not employ enough people to have a different team on lunch vs. dinner; that’s why the double exists. If your restaurant runs on a gratuity-based model, double shifts typically lead to double the tips, so servers are incentivized financially to work doubles. Schedule doubles based on your employees’ availability and their proximity to overtime laws coming into effect. Again, only schedule staff members for doubles if their availability allows.
Step 5: Choose two closers from the pool of staff members who will be joining you to work the dinner shift. Closers are responsible for closing out the restaurant. They stay until the lights come up, making sure the restaurant looks in tip-top shape and is ready for the next day’s meal service. Some responsibilities include shutting down the point-of-sales, mopping the floors, emptying server-station cleaning buckets, checking the server side work checklist has been completed, etc.
Step 6: Distribute the schedule to your employees at least two weeks in advance. The majority of predictive scheduling laws have stipulations that outline how far in advance hourly workers are entitled to receive their schedule; many states have adopted a two week minimum. Two weeks is the minimum time an hourly worker needs to plan for child care, arrange for transportation, or swap/drop shifts with a fellow employee.
Making a Schedule for Bar Staff
Step 1: Break up your hours of operation into eight-hour shifts. As stated in the front-of-house section above, the lunch shift/dinner shift model is a great place to start, but it by no means applies to every restaurant. Bar shifts can be unique or the same as server shifts — it’s up to you. If you find you don’t have strong alcohol sales during lunch, maybe only schedule one or two people; if you have a great happy hour menu that starts at 3pm (and your dinner service starts at 4), require that the dinner shift comes in earlier to handle the happy hour crowd.
Step 2: Break up your bar into sections. Add one or two additional staff members to handle the service bar. Add one to two bar-backs to support your bar team during service. Seats at the bar have a uniform table turn time, so the above approach to breaking out sections won’t work here. You can create bar sections a million different ways: you can base them off of seats (seats 1-6 are a section; 6-12 are a section) base them off of general areas (you take this half, I’ll take that half) base them off of the shape of the bar (if your bar is a free-standing rectangle, put two bartenders on each long side, one on each short end) or just have a free-for-all (though that’s not recommended). You should also schedule one or two bartenders to cover the service bar. The service bar is the section of the bar reserved for fulfilling front-of-house drink orders input by servers; these are not drink orders coming from bar patrons. It’s a good idea to have your service bar staff be more senior, as they’ll need to be able to recall the specific recipes for the drinks on your drink list from memory very quickly. You should also schedule one, two, or three bar backs, depending on the volume during a shift.
Step 3: Choose 2-3 closers from the pool of bar staff who will be joining you for the last shift of the day. Many bars and restaurants also keep on one bar back to close out the bar. Together, your closing bar staff will make sure the bar is clean, organized, and ready for tomorrow’s service.
Step 4: Distribute this schedule to your employees at least two weeks in advance.
Making a Schedule for Back-of-House Staff
Typically, you’ll want to have your prep cook be the first person in, as they’ll be preparing the ingredients for both shifts. Some prep cooks work from 9am to 6pm and then leave because all the ingredients for the dinner shift are good to go; others work doubles and work as support staff in the kitchen during service. Prep cooks often also sign for shipments that come in throughout the day, so make sure they’re scheduled within the time frame that shipments typically arrive.
The kitchen manager (or general manager), chef, and sous chef come in next, and then the cooks for all the different stations on the line trickle in as well, most arriving at least an hour before service, if not more.
To prevent overtime, schedule the cooks to come in at different times throughout the week. There’s no need to have all hands on deck every single day for hours before service begins.
The dishwasher typically comes in last, just in time for service or just before, because they stay the latest cleaning up after the shift.
Once lunch service is over, whoever isn’t working a double will make sure their station is clean and ready for the next cook coming in to take their place.
When dinner service is over, all back-of-house staff are typically required to clean for at least an hour, depending on the size of the operation, so the kitchen is ready to go for tomorrow — so make sure to include that time in a schedule. The shift doesn’t end when service does.
Step 1: Break up your hours of operation into two shifts: lunch shift and dinner shift, if applicable. Choose a handful of cooks to work lunch, and one or two more to work dinner. Make sure you have a dishwasher scheduled for every single shift. Often, sous chefs and chefs work double after double, which is why they’re salaried employees: Their hourly rate would be way into overtime territory.
Step 2: Choose which cooks will work which stations during each shift. Different combinations of cooks, based on availability, will be in the restaurant every week — and each cook will have different preferences for line stations. But all stations need a cook during every shift. Depending on who’s working a shift, you may have two people who prefer the grill, but one of them will have to take the salad station. When building your staff schedule, make it clear who will be working which station for every shift.
Step 3: Create your schedule and distribute it two weeks in advance.
How to Make a Schedule for Fast Casual or Quick Service Restaurant Staff
Step 1: Break up your hours of operation up into eight-hour shifts. Quick service and fast casual restaurant concepts don’t typically ascribe to the “lunch shift/dinner shift” model; many are open early for breakfast, late-night, or 24 hours.
Step 2: Identify how many individual roles exist on the line and in the kitchen. If your QSR or FSR fulfills orders on a line in-front of customers, spend some time thinking through how many unique roles exist on that line and create “stations,” (for example, one person creates the base of a meal, a second person adds proteins, a third adds toppings, etc. If your QSR or FSR needs kitchen support to fulfill orders, spend time analyzing your ticket fulfillment time to better understand how many line cooks should be scheduled per shift.
Step 3: Consult your employees’ availability, then schedule as many people on the line and in the kitchen as you have available roles. You also need to schedule cashiers, and, if your restaurant has a drive through, drive through cashiers and food handlers.
Step 4: Distribute this schedule to your employees at least two weeks in advance.
CHAPTER EIGHT: How to Run Restaurant Payroll
This guide is purely informational. For the most accurate, reliable payroll and payroll tax related advice, consult an accountant or contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) directly.
For a very thorough guide on everything you’ve ever wanted to know about payroll, check out Toast’s How to Do Payroll Guide.
How and When to Pay Your Staff
There are a few options for how you can pay your staff, but the most common methods are direct deposit — which is when employees have money deposited from the employer’s bank account straight into theirs and they receive a paper payroll receipt — and traditional payment through checks — where employees must go to the bank or use their online banking app to deposit payment every pay period.
To set up direct deposit, you’ll need your employee’s ACH billing information, which includes their account number and their wire-routing number. Both can easily be found on an online banking portal or on the bottom of a check, which is why many employers ask for a voided check when setting up direct deposit.
Some restaurant owners choose to open a payroll bank account, which is an account used exclusively to pay employees. Why? Because you never want to reach a payday and realize that there isn’t enough money to pay your employees. If you only have one big bank account for all business expenses, an unexpected expense like an equipment repair could cut into the funds for payroll.
Most employees in a restaurant are paid hourly, with or without tips, except for managers, chefs, and sous chefs, who typically make salaries. This is why it’s so important to diligently track every employee’s hours, because most paychecks will fluctuate every pay period depending on the week’s schedules.
If an employee makes more than $30 a month in tips, they qualify as a tipped wage employee. Tipped wage employees, typically in the front of house, get a small check every pay period, but they also generally take home tips at the end of every shift, often in cash. Tipped minimum wage is much lower than the standard minimum wage, but it’s made up through tips — and if a server has a slow shift and they don’t make any tips, an employer is required to pay the difference to meet the full standard minimum wage for those hours.
According to the IRS, an employer must ensure that the minimum total tip income reported by employees during any pay period is equal to 8% of your restaurant’s total receipts for that period. The reporting process is done quarterly, through payroll, using Form 941.
The Department of Labor has guidelines for how tipped employees should be paid:
The current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
Employers must inform tipped employees of the cash amount of their direct wage — the minimum required cash wage for tipped employees is $2.13 per hour.
The maximum tip credit an employer can claim is $5.12 per hour.
The tip credit claimed may not be higher than the amount of tips the employee earns.
Employers must be able to substantiate that the total wages are meeting all minimum wage requirements.
If the tip credit is not enough to meet minimum wage requirements, the employer must make up the difference.
Deductions for walkouts, breakage, or cash register shortages are illegal.
Overtime is calculated based on the full minimum wage — not the cash wage payment minus the tip credit.
If your employees pool tips, all front-of-house employees contribute their tips to one big pool, which is then divided equally among the contributing staff. Some workplaces also have a tip out system in place, where they must share a percentage of their tips with support staff like bartenders, bussers, and sometimes even back of house. If a server was only paid tips on credit card transactions — not in cash — sometimes restaurants pay out tips to servers in cash at the end of a shift.
All tipped workers are responsible for reporting their tips so they can be taxed. For more info on taxing tips, click here.
How to Calculate and Pay Payroll Taxes
The following section is an overview of the payroll-related taxes you can expect to encounter as a restaurant owner or the person who does payroll for a restaurant. It's provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal, accounting, tax, career, or other professional advice. Payroll taxes and the processes around them will vary from state to state, so for detailed instructions and advice about how to approach payroll taxes in your area, consult with an accountant or The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) directly for the most accurate information.
Payroll tax is a wage-related tax paid by a business to the IRS upon paying their employees. According to the IRS, “Your tax responsibilities include withholding, depositing, reporting, and paying employment taxes. You must also give certain forms to your employees, they must give certain forms to you, and you must send certain forms to the IRS and SSA.”
There are various due dates that correspond to different forms — (more info from the IRS about what to submit and when can be found here). As an employer, you must pay social security tax and Medicare tax (which, combined, are known as FICA), and federal unemployment tax (known as FUTA), and submit whichever of the forms listed here by the IRS correspond to your business.
The amount you’ll need to withhold from an employee’s paycheck for federal income taxes is determined by their gross annual pay and your state’s unemployment insurance rate. To calculate your withholdings, you’ll need the employee’s W-4, the most recent withholding tables from the IRA (known as Publication 15-A), the current FICA withholding percentages, the current maximum Social Security withholding amount, and the employee’s gross pay.
For a thorough guide to payroll taxes, click here.
Calculating Gross Pay & Net Pay
Gross pay is all the money you pay a salaried or hourly employee, including bonuses and overtime, during a given pay period.
Net pay is all the money received by a salaried or hourly employee, including bonuses and overtime, during a given pay period, minus federal and state tax withholdings, as well as any other deductions.
What is Labor Cost Percentage?
Labor cost is how much you pay for all of your employees to keep your restaurant running. This is typically one of the biggest operating costs, aside from rent and food costs. This includes all wages (salaried, hourly, and overtime), taxes, and employee benefits like bonuses and health care.
There are two important calculations when it comes to labor cost percentage:
Labor cost as a percentage of sales, which is your labor cost divided by total revenue and multiplied by 100 to get a percentage.
Labor cost as a percentage of total operating costs, which is your labor cost divided by your total operating costs and multiplied by 100 to get a percentage.
How long you're legally required to keep your payroll records depends on how the following statements apply to your restaurant:
Keep records for six years if you don't report income that you should report and it's more than 25% of the gross income shown on your return.
Keep records indefinitely if you do not file a return.
Keep records indefinitely if you file a fraudulent return.
If none of the above apply to you, keep your payroll records for three years. There are tons of different scenarios that require you to keep records for longer, so consult this full list from the IRS for more information, and talk to an accountant if you have any doubts.
Still have questions? Refer to this page from the Internal Revenue Service's website.
CHAPTER NINE: How to Retain Restaurant Staff
What is Turnover?
Turnover is the term used to define the phenomenon where one entity is replaced by another. As it relates to employment, employee turnover — sometimes referred to as employee churn — is the act of one worker ending their employment then being replaced by another.
Annual turnover, as it relates to employment, refers to the rate at which employees leave a business and are replaced.
The restaurant industry has a well-documented employee retention problem. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019 Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey [JOLTS] the restaurant industry had a 74.9% annual employee turnover rate, the industry’s highest recorded annual employee turnover rate in the past five years.
To put this in perspective, say your restaurant started 2018 with 100 employees. If your restaurant has a 74.9% annual employee turnover rate, approximately 75 of the original 100 employees who began the year working at your business were gone by December 2018 end and were hopefully replaced with someone new.
The average tenure of a restaurant employee is one month and 26 days, with managers lasting an average of four months and four days and hosts lasting only an average of one month and nine days.
Why is the turnover rate for the restaurant industry so high? Restaurants have earned a reputation for being a high-stress, low-reward work environment; the hours are long, the work is physically demanding, the pay is unpredictable, and the benefits and opportunities for career advancement are few and far between. Restaurant job seekers also have the upper hand: The restaurant industry is now growing twice as fast as the rate of the population, meaning a restaurant industry professional can leave an unsavory work environment and, in many markets, find ample restaurant opportunities open to them.
Employee turnover is not only an operational nuisance, it’s a money pit: On average, it costs 33% of a departed employee’s pay to replace them. Investing the time, energy, and effort into retaining employees is not only good for your workplace culture, it’s great for your bottom line: A 25% reduction in restaurant staff turnover can save restaurants over $60,000.
How to Retain Restaurant Employees
When it comes to how to retain employees, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, though there are similarities between businesses with strong employee retention rates, including:
- A workplace culture grounded in strong core values
- An emphasis on employee happiness
- Employee benefits
- Career development and growth opportunities
- An emphasis on work-life balance — work- life balance is a term used to describe the harmonious balance between an employee’s work life and personal life without one taking up too much time and energy over the other.
- Management that values the personal wellbeing as much as (if not more than) the professional well being of their employees
Today’s job seekers want to work for companies that treat them like humans, not cogs in a wheel. Helping your employees with their lives outside of work will help them be more productive and efficient while at work.
How to Keep Restaurant Employees Happy
One of the most effective ways to improve workplace happiness is to solicit employee feedback. Hearing directly from the people who work in your restaurant about what matters most to them in the workplace will help you find specific ways to keep your employees happy.
Ask your employees questions like these to gauge how happy they are working at your restaurant.
- How happy are you in your current position (server, bartender, line cook, etc.)?
- Would you recommend our business as a great place to work? Why? Why not?
- On a scale of 1-10, how impactful are our employee benefits? What employee benefits would make the biggest impact in your life?
- Do you feel like management has your best interest in mind? Why? Why not?
- Do you feel like management promotes work-life balance?
After collecting feedback from your existing staff members, spend some time with your restaurant management team reading, analyzing, and deciding how you will incorporate this feedback into your employee management strategy. If you hear work-life balance is a problem for many members of your staff, it may be worth reevaluating your approach to employee scheduling, offering paid time off (PTO), or mandating employees take a break after working six or more shifts in a row.
Learn about how SuViche Restaurant Group prioritizes employee happiness, which leads to customer happiness, by listening to our interview with Ryan Egozi, below.
How to Keep Employees From Leaving
With over 660,000 restaurants (and counting) in the United States, restaurant job seekers have no shortage of work opportunities available to them. To decrease employee turnover and increase the number of applicants to open spots in your restaurant, you need to make your restaurant an attractive place to work.
Here are some specific ways to keep employees from seeking employment elsewhere:
Start an employee incentive program in your restaurant. Incentivizing hard work with financial and non-financial rewards is proven to be an effective way to boost employee morale, make progress on your goals, and improve employee workplace happiness.
Provide career growth opportunities. — No one wants to stay in the same position for the rest of their life. If you want your employees to stick around long term, give them a reason to with career development and growth opportunities in the form of skills training and promotions. Hiring from within — meaning when you have an opening on staff, looking at your existing employee base to find suitable candidates — encourages employee loyalty and provides your restaurant with a new generation of leaders with experience and intimate knowledge of your restaurant. Big brands like Costco and Nordstrom have a strict hire from within policy: Every member of their corporate team had to first start out on the floor.
Promote hospitality skills training with free courses, seminars, and speakers. Helping your employees become expert hospitality professionals through consistent skills training is a win-win: Your employees benefit from being able to hone their craft, up their game, and make more money, while your restaurant benefits from an elevated dining experience that only well-educated, seasoned professionals can provide. Typsy and BarSmarts by Pernod Ricard are both great.
Provide employee benefits that make your employees’ lives easier. Free meals while at work, a transportation stipend, scholarships, employee bonuses, contributions to child-care costs, paid time off, paid parental leave — these are just a few non-traditional employee benefits you could consider offering your restaurant staff. Today’s job seekers want to work for companies that treat them like humans, not cogs in a wheel. Helping your employees with their lives outside of work will help them be more productive and efficient while at work.
Provide earned wage access for employees. When restaurant employees feel supported by their employer through great pay and benefits, they’re happier and can do their best work. According to Market Watch, more than half of American consumers (56%) said they are living paycheck to paycheck and restaurant employees are no exception, many of whom have limited or no emergency savings. The ability for your employees to access their wages when needed, before payday, is becoming more and more essential. Financial stress is a significant mental burden that can lead to burnout, absenteeism, and turnover, and earned wage access can help alleviate these issues. Offering earned wage access can improve restaurant employee experience, increase financial stability and improve retention. According to a PwC employee financial wellness survey, one in four employees were distracted at work by personal finance issues in the past year and 54% said financial or money matters caused the most stress. By providing earned wage access, employees can reap the benefits of greater financial flexibility.
Schedule one-on-one meetings regularly with every member of your restaurant staff. — Connecting regularly with each employee is an essential part of improving your restaurant’s employee retention rate. One-on-one meetings are a private check-in between a manager and an individual they manage. During these chats, the employee is encouraged to share how things are going at work, ask for help overcoming obstacles, set professional development goals, and hear feedback from their manager. There’s never enough time when you’re working in a restaurant, but scheduling one-on-ones with your staff will help you identify early on if an employee is unhappy or struggling, then put together a plan to turn their experience around and prevent them from seeking employment elsewhere.
Go and Find Your People
The restaurant industry is constantly changing, and it seems that every year a new challenge is lobbed at restaurant owners. But with the right people on your team, you’ll be able to overcome these challenges and keep doing what you love: Delighting your guests with amazing food and service that keeps them coming back.