Staffing a Restaurant: Hiring for Front of House Jobs

By: Jessica Reimer

8 Minute Read

Jun 03, 2019

waiter with drinks.jpg

Welcome to the first installment of our 7shifts x Toast three-part ‘Staffing a Restaurant’ series. Over the next few months, we’ll walk you through the do’s and don’ts of hiring staff for front of house (FOH), back of house (BOH), and management. 

Each restaurant staffing guide will cover key skills, what to look for on a resume, how to properly vet candidates, and best practices when welcoming a new hire to your team. 

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the restaurant game for decades, a clear, comprehensive, and actionable staffing plan is crucial, both for you and the people who work for you. Taking a consistent approach to staffing (and communicating this approach to your team) is important. Why? Because it’s one of the first steps you can take to build an engaged workforce. Everyone, from your dishwasher to your lead bartender, should feel like they are a valued, contributing member of the team.

Anyone with hospitality experience will agree: no two restaurants are the same, which means a one-size-fits-all staffing solution is simply not possible. Your restaurant concept informs the staff and skill sets you’ll need to hire, making it critical to consider the nuances between, say, a fast-casual chain and a fine dining establishment. 

Today, we’re kicking things off with front of house restaurant staff—the friendly folks who champion customer service to ensure your guests enjoy a top-notch experience each and every time they visit.

Front of House Jobs

Front of house restaurant jobs are, by their very nature, customer-facing. After all, the front of the house includes any area where customers are allowed. If you’re not a people person—or able to effectively put on a facade like you are—then this side of the restaurant is not for you. Keep in mind that customers are becoming increasingly unpredictable: even the most masterful communicators will sometimes struggle to win over or satisfy their guests. It should come as no surprise, then, that a positive attitude and an ability to effectively handle customer complaints (in the moment and afterwards) are critical. 

So who are these people-persons, and what should you, as an owner, bear in mind to ensure they make meaningful contributions to your restaurant? Let's take a closer look:

Servers

Serving is likely the first job that comes to mind when you think of front of house. Your servers have the most contact with customers, and act as the liaison between front of house and the kitchen. To do so requires strong communication and organizational skills, as well as an approachable, accommodating disposition. This is as true for a sit-down restaurant as it is for a fast food establishment, though the position titles may change (counter staff, barista, cashier, etc.). 

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: Just because an applicant lists previous serving experience on a resume, it doesn’t mean they are a perfect fit for the job. Qualities like agreeableness and empathy are not easily taught, whereas processes – how to do a quality check, for example – are. 

Bartenders 

Bartenders or mixologists will have different levels of customer interaction depending on your setup: if there are seats at the bar, they may take food orders along with preparing drinks for the rest of the restaurant. Like servers, staying organized and on task in a fast-paced environment is key. 

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: Have your bartender prove their prowess. Are they familiar with mixing techniques? Are they trained in the best practices of serving alcohol? Do they have a mental Rolodex of cocktail recipes to deliver on demand? A pre-hire trial shift (paid, of course) is a good way to see their skills in action. 

Hosts

Most sit-down restaurants will have hosts whose job is to welcome guests on arrival and oversee wait times, reservations, and seating. With the exception of perhaps your restaurant marketing, customers’ first impressions are made or broken by the host. These individuals should be friendly, eager, and skilled multitaskers. 

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: Typically you’ll start sending serving staff home as traffic slows, but it’s important to keep at least one host on until you close your doors for the evening. When a restaurant is slow, hosts spend a lot of time standing around, which can tempt them to reach for their smartphones to text or scroll through their social media. Whoever you hire should be willing and able to find ways to keep busy that contribute to the success of the restaurant. 

Expos 

Expos toe the line between front and back of house, spending the majority of their time out of view of the customer. Orders can come in fast and furious at peak meal times, making it advantageous to hire someone who is naturally calm, cool, and collected. 

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: An expo’s primary responsibility is putting the finishing touches on a dish and directing the servers or food runners to deliver the meal to the guest. Having an excellent memory and outstanding time management skills are crucial for this position.

Food runners

The name says it all: food runners are responsible for delivering food from the pass to the customer. Speed and accuracy are must-haves to ensure each dish quickly arrives at its correct destination.  

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: Your food runners should have a solid grasp of your restaurant menu and software, as customers might decide to place an on-the-spot order or request a refill when their food arrives. 

Bussers 

Bussers are the busy bees you’ll see bouncing around the restaurant cleaning tables, clearing dishes, and supporting FOH staff with food deliveries and other small tasks. They keep the place looking clean and comfortable for your guests. 

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: Because bussers may also be tasked with delivering food to tables, they should have a good grasp on your  menu in the event a customer makes an on-the-spot order. Generally, your busser will report the order to whoever is serving the table, but knowing what follow-up questions to ask about a particular menu item will help serving staff place a complete, correct order. 

Specialty positions

Typically found in fine dining, sommeliers, and maître d’s are two examples of specialty FOH jobs that require extensive knowledge and training in a particular area. Some high-end restaurants will have employees dedicated to the position; others may cross-train servers and bartenders to step in as needed. 

  • Reminder for restaurateurs: Even if you yourself aren’t an expert in the area, when hiring you’ll need to have enough knowledge to be able to ask questions or provide scenarios that require applicants to demonstrate just how well they know their stuff. For someone to list “wine connoisseur” on a resume means very little if they aren’t able to suggest wine pairings for what’s on your menu. 

Interview Questions for Hiring FOH Staff

Now that you have an idea of the kinds of competencies you’ll need for your restaurant's front of house staff, and you’ve put together a restaurant job description for each, it’s time to move on to interviews. 

It's not an easy time to be hiring in the restaurant industry. The labor pool is shrinking; meanwhile, restaurant employee turnover rates are on the rise. Modern Restaurant Management estimates the cost of hiring a FOH restaurant position to be around $6,000. 

Retaining a loyal, energized workforce is a process that starts long before an employee’s first day. Interviews are not only an opportunity to vet applicants, but to show off your killer workplace culture, too.  

Here are a few of our favorite front of house interview questions to get you thinking in the right direction:

  1. Have you dined at our restaurant before? If yes, what was your experience like and how do you think you can contribute to or improve it?

  2. What made you want to work in the restaurant industry?

  3. How do you adapt to sudden changes? Competing priorities?

  4. Tell me about a time you went above the call of duty to help someone in need. 

  5. What is your favorite dish? Describe it to me in a way that you think would make me want to try it. 

  6. How would you handle a difficult or demanding customer?

Don’t forget to invite the candidate to ask questions of you, too. Interviews are a two-way street!

Onboarding FOH Staff

Your job is not done once the interviews have been wrapped and the references checked. It’s time to move on to training.

We can’t overstate the importance of a well thought-out restaurant employee onboarding process. If you don’t invest time to build a system that properly orients staff to the workplace, you won’t be giving your new employee a fair shot at being the best staff member they can be. 

Three things are critical for FOH staff to understand from day one:

  1. Your restaurant’s guest experience. How do you want your guests to feel? What about your staff? This is as much about showing (leading by example) as it is telling.

  2. Your restaurant policies. This might include things like dress code or staff meals. Don’t just drop an information bomb on your staff—making it interesting!

  3. Your restaurant software. Technology has helped restaurants become more efficient than ever: in the National Restaurant Association’s 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry Report, more than 80% of restaurateurs surveyed agreed that technology has given their business a competitive edge. Spend time orienting your new hires on things like your restaurant POS software, employee scheduling software, and so on.

Next month, we’ll head to the kitchen to cover BOH restaurant staffing.  To learn more about how to hire the best staff in 2019, check out our free Hiring the Modern Workforce course. 

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