According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2017 industry report, staffing challenges remain as the top concern for restaurant owners. When recruiting good restaurant employees is a challenge, how do you choose the right candidates for each job in a tighter market?
One way to find great candidates is to use a job board like Indeed, which sponsored this article. Job boards can offer access to a wide variety of candidates across many industries and with diverse backgrounds to fit your specific needs.
Here are 25 tips from the pros to guide you in hiring the best restaurant employees, from managers to waitstaff.
Restaurant managers are degree holders with related work experience, earning an average annual salary of $47,612 and are responsible for the restaurant’s day-to-day operations. The following tips will help you find the right restaurant manager you need to help run your business.
Marc Prosser, Co-founder, FitSmallBusiness
The vast majority of job seekers today begin their hunt on the internet. Don’t miss out on the opportunities in this talent pool. We recommend Indeed as the best job board for small businesses since they connect you with the most qualified candidates for the lowest price. It’s how we’ve sourced many of our own employees, and you can post an unlimited number of positions for free. Want to reach even more candidates? Get a free $50 ad credit when you sign up.
2. Require Food Safety Certification
Candess Zona-Mendola, Editor & Paralegal, Make Food Safe
When it comes to hiring a restaurant manager, a food safety certification is a necessity. It is these people who usually have a food idea of a restaurant culture based on food safety. When a company puts food safety first, not only are there fewer risks of foodborne illness, but employees are also trained to put food safety first. This is a win-win for the restaurant owner. This will help reduce the risk of foodborne illness outbreaks and, therefore, reduce bad media attention and financial issues. This also will help the company with its health inspections. Restaurant managers who are certified and trained properly will make the connections with the state and local health department to ensure that the owner’s restaurant is always running with food safety in mind.
3. Place Emphasis on Leadership Skills
Rick Camac, Dean of Restaurant & Hospitality Management Program, Institute of Culinary Education
Look for hospitable candidates with leadership skills as a priority. We all get enamored by resumes and bios, but that’s usually a big mistake. Look for the right personality traits such as someone who likes to make people happy, is genuine, smiles naturally, likes to lead and enjoys speaking to groups. To me, a perfect candidate has just the right amount of experience — about two years — and those above-mentioned traits. We can teach the rest. The best test for this is asking at the interview for them to “tell us your story.” If they cannot make that interesting, telling it with energy and enthusiasm and maybe a little bit of humor, why would we think they’re hospitable people?
4. Develop a Clear Profile of Your Ideal Candidate
Dean Isaacs, President & Owner, Patrice & Associates
If you start the hiring process without a very clear profile of your ideal candidate, poor decisions are sure to follow. We recommend that our clients start by developing a position profile. This profile should be far more than a typical job description, be sure to include the specific experience and knowledge this position requires, not just a list of responsibilities and tasks. Include the personality traits and leadership style you’re looking for also. Take the time to understand the candidates experience fit first, and then move on to personality fit. This process will save you time and help you make better hiring decisions.
If you want the next restaurant manager you hire to hit the ground running on their first day, start with experience fit first by understanding if they have a proven track record as a successful general manager, in a similar concept that produced similar revenue volume. There can be a steep learning curve when moving from one concept type to another, a successful QSR [quick service restaurant] GM may not be able to adapt quickly in a fine dining concept. Sales volume can also be an indicator for fit. A restaurant generating $1 million in revenue is a very different business to one generating $15 million.
5. Look for an Applicant’s Achievement That You Can Relate To
Andrew Carlson, Restaurant Coach and Executive Advisor, Carlson Hospitality Group
What I look for on a resume is what they have done in the past that would benefit the restaurant. If they’re a server, did they increase their guest check average by 15 percent to 20 percent by offering options to the customers? If they’re a line cook, did they decrease wait times by helping the team be more efficient? For a restaurant manager, did they increase sales through marketing initiatives and by how much? Personality is great, and I can determine how great it is in the interview. With resumes, I want to know facts, statistics and how you can carry what you’ve already learned into this next position to challenge them and benefit the company.
Chefs, having earned a culinary degree and extensive apprenticeships, are responsible for preparing and making sure that your food is up to standards so expect to pay as much as $62,000 depending on experience and job scope. Use the following guidelines to make sure you hire the perfect chef for your restaurant.
6. Identify Your Brand Values to Know the Type of Person You Need
Sean Arnold, Chef-owner, The Left Bank Restaurant & Bar
We work in tight quarters, and it can get intense at times, so we seek resilient personalities with positive attitudes and a desire to be the best. We also aim to find individuals who are open to learning and are determined to improve always. In order to conduct effective interview practices that allow us to pinpoint character and behavior traits that align with our experience, we start identifying what our brand experience is and what type of behavior and personality is needed to create success. That hard part is weeding through those who think they are a reflection of our brand vs. those who actually are.
Teamwork, hard work and mutual respect are core to our restaurant, in addition to our commitment to nurture people. If these are not core to the person’s mindset that we’re hiring, we know it won’t work out for long. That means we have to conduct the interview in a way that presents opportunities to question and understand their decision-making process in scenarios that will test their patience.
7. Expect to Provide Training Instead of Looking Hiring Experts
Matt Ruley, Owner, Work From Home Office
I’ve seen a ton of chefs come and go over the years. As odd as it sounds, the ones with the most impressive resumes are usually the ones who don’t work out. You want and need someone who is not just talented but is a leader who has a personality that jives well with the rest of the staff. Finding this person is definitely a needle in a haystack kind of situation. There are some things that you can coach/teach and some you can’t. If a candidate is lacking in an area that you can help them out with, then go for it. If they lack in an area you can’t remedy, it’s best to pass on the candidate.
If you’re in the process of hiring a chef for your restaurant for the first time, it’s important to be as prepared as the chef you expect to apply. Make sure to do your research and know exactly what you need and how much you are ready to pay. Know the kind of compensation package you are ready to offer and be ready with alternatives. Ask the right questions that will reflect the skills you are looking for. This article gives you an idea of questions to ask when looking to hire chefs for your business.
Hiring chefs without tasting their food is a serious oversight. You need to know that they do have the skills listed on their resumes. Remember to pay close attention to the way they work. Ask questions and observe their body language. Have your checklist ready to evaluate not only their final dish but their behavior as well. This and other tips on hiring chefs can be found in this article.
Cooks in the United States earn an average of $10.92 an hour and don’t have the culinary education of chefs, but have cooking skills that come from experience, so they are always highly trainable and great at multitasking.
10. Prioritize a Candidate’s Length of Previous Employment at Previous Restaurants
Cy Sadaka, Head Chef & Owner, King Crab House Chicago
When it comes to hiring line cooks one of the most important things to look for on their resume is how long they have stayed at a restaurant. When doing the interview, Sadaka does a trial run for prospective employees in the kitchen to see if they can get along with current staff members. He also looks for things in the interview whether it is phone screening or in-person interview for manners and respect throughout the conversation. Learning to cook can be taught, but a hard work ethic starts at a young age, that is why paying attention to the interview process with their respect toward to those in charge. It is also important to have restaurant references and be able to call upon two or three of those references.
11. Look for Reliability
Matthew Green, Director of Culinary Operations, BLUE ORBIT Restaurant Consulting
Reliability is the number one thing I need in a cook. Will they come to work on time, every time, ready to go? Everyone says yes, of course, when asked in an interview, so I tend to dig into their work history to find out the truth. Why did they leave each job? Are there gaps in employment history or the jobs they left off? Multiple reference checks are crucial to find someone who will give an honest and complete assessment of a candidate’s past reliability. Asking interview questions without yes or no answers helps to get past the obvious answers. Tell me about a time when you were running late for work and how you handled it.
Hiring cooks is like filling up a roster on a team, you are always looking to balance with the players you already have, so the particular skills and history you need changes all of the time, but you always need someone who will show up.
There are aptitude tests available for hiring cooks. This is important because cooks are not only responsible for food preparation, they can also be assigned to handle record keeping, inventory management and pricing. It also tests more basic knowledge like sanitation and safety. Aptitude tests can determine if your applicant has the knowledge and skills you need. Find out the different skills test available for cooks in this article.
Line cooks are responsible for handling food, so when it comes to hiring one, interviews are as critical as testing their dish. During interviews, you get to observe their behavior and the way they process situations. You can use these observations and responses to compare during actual cooking demos. This article gives you a rundown on operational and situational questions you can use when conducting interviews for your line cooks.
A hosting staff’s hourly salary comes to $10.32 — maître d’s earn around $14.47 — an hour, and are responsible for taking care of your guests as soon as they arrive, so hire someone who’s personable and sociable and are quick learners in order to have a firm knowledge of your menu, promotions and reservation system. Use these guidelines when hiring your next restaurant host or hostess.
14. Focus on Personality
Kelley Jones, COO, Hospitality Alliance
This position is all about personality. We do give out screening questionnaires with our employment applications that we ask potential candidates to fill out with questions that will vet their experience level, but we also look for a bright smile, outgoing attitude and good grooming. We can train the rest. A spirit of hospitality and a warm, personal and engaging attitude trump the mechanics of this position every time. I can train mechanics but not personality.
15. Look for Someone Detail-oriented
Kathleen Smith, Founder, The Restaurant Canvas
Look for hosts who are detail-oriented. Dining at your restaurant is not just limited to the food in your guests’ eyes, but the overall experience from the time they walk in the door until they leave your parking lot. How frustrating is it to have to wait for a drink refill or send a dish back because it had something that should have been 86’d based on the order? Even fast casual and quick-service concepts’ success is contingent upon how well those details are managed for the guest. Ever have someone forget the ketchup in your to-go order? Missed details add friction to the guest’s experience, and the details are what separate a decent restaurant from a wonderful restaurant.
Wonderful is what keeps guests coming back to visit again and again even in a market that’s full of restaurants to choose from. Repeat visits are what increase your top-line revenue.
16. Make Sure You Only Hire Service-oriented Applicants
Scot Hulshizer, Founder, The Resume Expert
Service-oriented employees will go out of their way not only to take care of a customer but also to ensure that the letter and spirit of the management team’s requests are upheld. They work well with vendors and with their peers. They are the kind of person who changes the experience of customers and the staff purely by virtue of their presence in the establishment. These personality types are hard to find, but not quite as much of a unicorn as you might think. A great place to look is in traditional retail. Often, highly service-oriented people with limited academic or experiential qualifications will find themselves in a role where they are working with customers on a sales floor or in a call center.
It’s not hard to tell who has the gift — watch the faces and body language of the customers with whom the unwitting candidate interacts, including yourself. Resist the urge to hire from within the restaurant industry. Just because someone is in the biz doesn’t mean they are a perfect fit for your theme or the experience you’re trying to create. You can train someone on the business, but you can’t train someone to care.
Your hosts provide customers their first impression of your business so it’s important that you hire someone who will always put your restaurant’s best foot forward. When hiring your hosting staff, make sure that applicants have the basic knowledge of hosting tasks. While it’s true that an outgoing personality is key, an applicant who has no idea what is expected of them in the job is a major cause for concern. This article gives you a list of 10 critical task that every host or hostess should know.
Earning an average hourly salary of $5.40 plus tips depending on the location and restaurant type — sommeliers average salary is $14.10 while bartenders anywhere between $7 to $11 per hour — your wait staff is the bridge between the dining room and your kitchen, so some form of training or experience is usually required. Apply the following tips to make sure you hire the right waiter or waitress for the job.
18. Hire a Quick Learner
Mehdi Zarhloul, CEO, Crazy Pita Rotisserie & Grill
The most important strategy we implement when hiring entry-level fast-casual wait staff is to notice their attitude and ability to learn skills. We look for candidates who’ve been able to hold past positions for approximately one year. This shows that they’ve had a certain level of success in past positions and may be seeking new opportunities to advance their career, as opposed to being asked to resign. When hiring entry-level candidates in restaurants similar to Crazy Pita, many applicants don’t have significant experience. However, skills can be taught — attitude cannot. This is why, when hiring for these types of positions, it’s important to hire candidates who have a proven strong work ethic, are self-motivated, have the drive to succeed and are willing to learn.
We have had success investing in these types of candidates and developing a strong training plan for them to grow. Ultimately, through the training process, they become loyal employees and prove to be very valuable members of our thriving team.
19. Look for Salesmanship
Walt L. Jones III, PMP, Principal, SEQ Advisory Group
Arguably the most important skill that a FOH [front-of-the-house] employee should possess, but Is often overlooked, is salesmanship. Servers are the front line of customer service for any restaurant. While you want them to be personable, more importantly as with any sales job, you want to be sure they can sell the product. Additionally, part of the training should include knowing which menu items have the highest margins and how to sell those items. Owners and managers should ask more sales direct questions during the interview process like, “Describe a time when you made a great upsell.” Owners and managers could also do a mock table scenario. As the restaurant industry has become more saturated, restaurants must look for ways to maximize the effectiveness of the staff they hire, reducing turnover and ultimately maximizing profitability.
20. Hire for Talent over Experience
Kim Turnage, Ph.D., Director, Leadership Consultants, Talent Plus, Inc.
Lack of experience might be the only job qualification that is self-correcting. If you’re looking for someone with a year of experience, the person you hire today will have a year of experience one year from now — and that experience will be of the kind and quality that matters to you. Focus less on experience and more on those qualities that can’t be learned or acquired through effort. Look for a person who is a natural smiler, quickly builds a positive rapport with people and has a genuine heart for serving. Look for a person who notices details, takes the initiative to make things better and goes above and beyond to create excellent experiences for other people.
These natural behaviors are aptitudes for top performance. Hiring for those aptitudes then giving people the training and experience they need will optimize performance for your team and your restaurant. If a candidate has the right aptitude, you can teach them the skills they need.
Hiring specialty employees like bartenders usually requires you to be aware of the basic skill sets for bartending. However, don’t stop there. New restaurant owners might not be aware that bartenders can hold specialized certifications, so it’s important that you ask. Some bartenders can also be sommeliers and cicerones — skills that can help elevate your restaurant’s services. Read this guide to make sure you hire the right employee for your restaurant.
While these positions are often part-time and given minimum wage, runners, bussers, and dishwashers are indispensable members of the restaurant family who help maintain the smooth running of the establishment before, during and after service is over, so look for someone who is reliable and works well in a fast-paced environment. The following tips should help you find the best support staff for your restaurant.
22. Hire an Applicant Who Lives Near Your Restaurant
Carol Wood, People Operations Director, Homebase
Oddly enough, an applicant’s distance to your restaurant can be a significant predictor of future turnover far more so than reviewing a resume for job hopping history. One of our Homebase merchants noticed that 100 percent of employees more than 10 miles away left the job within 6 months. When this merchant looked at his longest-tenured employees, all of them lived within 3 miles of his restaurant. Many restaurant managers look for job hopping history, but new research shows that you may be weeding out candidates unnecessarily. A study by Evolv looked at more than 1,000 employees and analyzed future job hopping based on a past history of job hopping. They found no correlation or ability to predict future turnover based on an employee’s past history of job hopping.
If you like a candidate but are only passing because of job hopping, you may want to rethink, especially if that candidate is within walking distance of your restaurant.
23. Look for Consistency
Bryn Butolph, CEO & Founder, Eat Clean Meal Prep
I look for consistency, where have they worked and did they continually advance in their career as the years go on? Sure, I pay attention to the formatting of the resume, but I would never pass on someone because they have misspellings in their resume. Sure, restaurants are hard to run, and owners like me obsess over the details. However, at the end of the day, I have to remind myself it’s just cheeseburgers and beers. I say that because I think it’s important to give the younger generation a fair shot at a first job. Too many jobs out there want an unattainable amount of experience for their applications. For me, I want someone who will show up and grow with our team.
24. Hire for Attitude, Not Skills
Brian Lillie, President & CEO, The Party Staff Inc.
A motivated individual with a great demeanor is almost always a great hire, regardless of their work experience. Training for technical skills is a breeze while rewiring someone to be a people-person is next to impossible. As long as you have the right training programs in place, hiring for attitude is a no-brainer.
Even part-time workers in restaurants should be considered for basic background screening as much as they are valued members of the team. However, not all restaurant owners feel that there is a need for background checks which is a shame because the amount of trust customers place in your restaurant should make it imperative that you hire trustworthy staff. Background checks also benefit applicants who may initially be considered unfit if they come back with great feedback compared to other applicants with more experience. This article will help you decide if background checks will benefit your business.
Over to You
Restaurant.org estimates that the industry will be needing 16.3 million employees by 2027. Make sure that you continue to run a tight ship with these restaurant staffing tips to hire only the best candidates for the job.
Got more tips on how to make the best hiring decisions for restaurant employees? Share them with us in the comments.