Staffing a Restaurant: Hiring for Back of House Jobs

By: Jessica Reimer

8 Minute Read

Jun 24, 2019

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In the first installment of Toast x 7shifts’s Staffing a Restaurant series, we covered the do’s and don’ts of hiring for your restaurant’s front of house (FOH) — the people who directly connect with your customers the most. However, although your servers, hosts, and bartenders tend to be your brand’s biggest ambassadors, they’re only one piece of the puzzle of your restaurant operation.

Today, we’re talking about another staffing group: back of house (BOH) employees, from the dishwashers to the executive chef.

Back of house staff work in close quarters and high temperatures, and under a lot of stress. In this BOH restaurant staffing guide, we’ll cover key skills, job descriptions, how to interview, and how to onboard staff for these tough roles.

A few reminders before we get started:

  • Start with a staffing plan. As you’ll see, there are differences when hiring for FOH versus BOH, but adopting a consistent approach across both groups will help you build an engaged workforce and more efficient restaurant operations. What kind of boss do you want to be? What kind of personalities are you looking for? What roles need to be filled? What can you pay? Think through all of this before you begin.

  • Design a plan that works for your restaurant. Your restaurant concept informs the staff and skill sets you’ll need to hire. If you’re a fine dining concept, it’ll look very different to a staffing plan for a QSR.

To begin, let’s take a closer look at who falls under the BOH umbrella. 

Back of House Restaurant Jobs 

When it comes to delivering a positive guest experience, great customer service is essential, but so is what’s on the plate. Often, your food is what convinces customers to venture through your doors in the first place; knock it out of the park, and you boost your chances of a return visit. 

Customers in the retail and restaurant industries tend to cheat (only 3-4% of guests are deeply devoted to a particular brand), so it’s essential to do everything in your power to make your restaurant their first — and favorite — choice. Incredible food will help you gain customer loyalty and regulars.

Two must-have skills for all BOH staff are time management and stress management. There isn’t a single job in the back of house that doesn’t hinge on these abilities. Let's dive in.

Executive chef 

The executive chef (or simply “chef”) is in charge of everything that goes on in the back of the house. The chef gets to be creative, thinking up specials and putting together the menu and the recipe bible, but they also have to possess strong managerial skills – during the chaos of service, they’re the ones steering the ship. Sometimes they’re in charge of expediting orders, and some spend more time cooking than others. If something breaks or goes wrong, it’s the executive chef and the sous that often have to step in and problem-solve at lightning speed.

Sous chef

The sous chef is the second-in-command to the chef. They’re in charge when the chef isn’t there, and they’re often found receiving inventory deliveries, cooking, and putting out fires (both figuratively and literally) all over the kitchen. 

Line cooks (including garde-manger, grill and other stations)

Your line cooks are in the trenches, cooking all the food and making sure meal orders are properly timed out so appetizers and entrees are served at the right time. Depending on the size of your kitchen, you may have line cooks dedicated to a specific part of the line, like the grill or the salad station. 

Prep cooks

Prep cooks are usually the first ones to arrive at the restaurant in the morning. They are responsible for ensuring the individual ingredients — like produce, batters, sauces, and more — are prepped and the kitchen is stocked for a busy day ahead. These are the brave souls that end up having to dice 10 pounds of onions at a time.

Specialty chefs

Like the name suggests, specialty chefs have experience and training either in a particular culinary style or item, like pastry.

No matter your job title, to thrive and survive as any kind of cook, you’ll need to be able to manage an influx of orders, effectively communicate with fellow kitchen staff, and prepare food to perfection, even during peak meal times when things start feeling a little crazy.

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: How your cooks respond to customer complaints matters… a lot. Typically this information is received second-hand, whether delivered by a server who returns to the kitchen with a guest’s meal, or from a member of your management team. If they take negative feedback personally, chances are it’s going to disrupt the flow and potentially generate even more complaints.  

Dishwashers

Loading, unloading, and cleaning dishes is not glamorous work, but it’s the most important role on your staff. An eye for detail is key to success in this role: spotting a rogue piece of food or soap scum on a plate or piece of cutlery before it makes its way to the customer will maintain your restaurant’s sparkling reputation for cleanliness. 

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: Previous dishwashing experience is not a must — it’s a skill that can be easily learned. Consider, instead, how someone works under pressure. If they’re able to remain calm and composed in the face of a growing pile of dishes and sometimes flaring tempers, you’ve made the right choice. They must also be reliable — shifts where a dishwasher no-shows are the worst kind of shifts — without clean plates, everything comes grinding to a halt.  

Interview Questions for Hiring BOH Staff

Now that you know who you need to hire and some of the key skills they should possess, it’s time to put pen to paper and build a thoughtful restaurant job description. These job descriptions provide the foundation for job postings, the necessary starting point for restaurant recruitment

Once the job posting is live and resumes start rolling in, you’re ready to interview.

I mentioned this in my last post, and I’ll say it again: building and retaining an energized, engaged workforce isn’t an isolated action — it’s an ongoing effort, one that starts before an offer is inked. Interviews aren’t just for screening candidates: they’re also an opportunity to promote your restaurant’s values, culture, and employee benefits to a captive audience. 

Oh, and if there’s one rule to follow when interviewing candidates for one particular job, it’s this: use the same questions every time. This allows you to make accurate comparisons between candidates and pick up on response patterns (liked or disliked) that may lead you to rethink how you advertise the position in the future. 

Here are a few of our favorite BOH interview questions to get you started:

  1. Have you dined at our restaurant before? If yes, what was your experience like? 

  2. How do you adapt to sudden change? Competing priorities?

  3. What’s your favorite dish to cook and why? 

  4. What skills do you bring to the table that you believe will help us run an effective, efficient kitchen? 

  5. How do you ensure the quality of your work? 

  6. What made you apply with us and not another restaurant? 

Bonus tip: give candidates plenty of opportunity to ask questions, too. If a potential employee doesn’t have anything to ask, it could be a red flag that he or she is underprepared or unenthusiastic about working for you. 

Onboarding BOH Staff

So you’ve made your picks and have signed contracts in hand. Congratulations! Now you’re on to the final and most important step: training your new BOH hire on the policies and procedures that make your restaurant run smoothly.

Much like a restaurant staffing plan, having a formalized, well-documented restaurant employee onboarding process is a must. How you train someone in the kitchen looks different to how you’d train a customer-facing team member: In most cases, these staff are working directly with food, so policy compliance is of the utmost importance. This is where on-the-job training comes in: it provides opportunity to evaluate performance in real-time, allowing you to better gauge whether additional training is required. 

There are three key things every BOH staff member needs to know: your restaurant’s recipes, its schedule and behavioral policies, and the rules of food safety. Train your whole BOH staff in these three areas when they’re onboarded, but don’t stop there — ongoing training helps develop your staff’s skill sets, and shows you care about them and their career paths. It also helps to reduce turnover. 

In a few weeks, we’ll be releasing our third and final installment: how to hire restaurant management. 

Until then, check out Toast’s Hiring the Modern Workforce course for all kinds of free recruitment and training tips. 

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