An article by Restaurant Engine identified employees—specifically wait staff—in four of the ten major factors that affect restaurant profits. Hiring the right servers influences the success or failure of your business. With this in mind, we put together a list of expert tips on how to hire the right servers that will help you grow your restaurant
Here are 27 tips for hiring restaurant servers as shared by the pros.
1. Include Role Play as Part of Your Screening Strategy
Julia Poltavets, Marketer, HireRush
The service industry is easy to enter but terribly difficult to stay afloat, and your workers are those pearls whom you rely on every day. But the question is, how do you find them? The best and, probably, most creative way to see if a person can or cannot be a good server is to act out a situation. Play out a stress or conflict scene, and make your potential employee participate and observe. There must be some reaction: anger, confusion, action, whatever. It’s eccentric, yet so up to the point. You hire a team member responsible for some work, why not then try him/her out? You have to be sure he or she will cope with the situation at work, after all.
2. Communicate and Manage Employee Expectations During Training
Kevin J. Berk, Founder and CEO, ServiceGuru
Traditionally, the restaurant industry is looked at as a first job for many young adults, and they therefore don’t come equipped with much or any training. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on a restaurant to create great service staff from a blank slate. One of the best ways to train anyone is to communicate and manage expectations. Share with the staff what is important to the restaurant and find a way to track and measure these goals.
Given ServiceGuru’s extensive work with restaurants, we have found key attributes that most, if not all, restaurants track (positive, neutral and negative): Greeting (greeted fast, faster greeting and no greeting), Knowledge of menu (knowledgeable, more knowledgeable, not knowledgeable), Attentiveness (very attentive, more attentive, not attentive), Personality (great personality, more personality, no personality), and Helpful (helpful, more helpful, not helpful). These attributes make it very clear to the staff what the restaurant is looking for and therefore, very clear to the staff what they need to do. As Jay Baer says, “Customer service is the new marketing.”
3. Focus Your Search on Outgoing Personalities
Jason Keeley, Manager, MountainJobs.com
When trying to hire a good server, you should think about the position from the customer’s perspective. Ask yourself, “Is this someone I would enjoy having help me throughout my meal?” With that in mind, you should focus on candidates who have outgoing personalities, make a good first impression in the interview, and maintain eye contact during conversations. Be sure to ask candidates how they would handle different service scenarios, what their values are, and how they execute teamwork. Be sure to give candidates with customer service experience outside the restaurant business proper consideration as well.
4. Hire Someone with the Right Attitude
Ketan Kapoor, CEO and Co-Founder, Mettl
An exceptional restaurant server must showcase a heartwarming nature and an innate passion to serve customers despite the odds of facing rigid, rude or unempathetic customers. No matter what, the only perk for them should be a smile on the customer’s face after receiving a heartwarming service. You can look for instances that can prove that an individual is genuinely concerned about a customer’s expectations, and inability to do so might cost them a night’s sleep. Scan their resume for any volunteer work that validates the “joy of serving” without having any expectations or perks attached. Other than that, you can check whether the candidate has received any awards or recognitions for going the extra mile while displaying an eccentric level of customer service.
If that’s questionable, check for mentions about customer appreciations or testimonials that prove the person finds joy in serving customers.
5. Use a Job Search Platform to Find Applicants That Match Your Criteria
Jeremy Marsan, Editor, Fit Small Business
As a restaurant owner, it’s important to find waitstaff who are the right fit for your business. However, this becomes a difficult task while trying to run a restaurant. To make sure that your job ad is able to reach the talent you’re looking for, use a job search platform like Indeed. Indeed lets you search their database of over 100 million resumes and specify your search by industry, location, education, title, skills, and more. You can also review applications and schedule interviews all in one place. Create an account now and get $50 in free advertising credit with Indeed.
6. Update Your Hiring Questions
Jen Ackrill, Mixologist, Cocktail Artist
In order to set a fun and younger tone during interviews, we’ve changed some of our hiring questions. For example, instead of asking typical “guest walks in, phone rings, to-go food is ready” questions in relation to the host position, we ask to prioritize the following: you have 30 minutes to do the following: laundry, walk the dog, make coffee, take a shower and post to your Instagram story. For our servers: you are hosting a pool party at your new condo, what will people say tomorrow about your party? This shows us how they view hospitality while, hopefully, remaining professional with their answers. We have our bartender candidates color a printed picture of a Moscow Mule and walk us through the process of making an old fashioned, a mojito, and a pisco sour.
The process shows us that the candidate can deal with ridiculous requests, which can happen when working 19 stories above Waikiki. We want to see that they can multitask, have knowledge of drinks, and a good sense of humor. We also reevaluate ourselves on a very consistent basis—thinking about how we can adapt to stay current with an ever-changing workforce and their idea of the perfect job.
7. View Your Wait Staff as Customer Service Experts
Jonas Sickler, Reputation Strategy Advisor, Reputationmanagement.com
By hiring excellent wait staff, restaurant owners can prevent poor reviews from crushing their company’s reputation and draining profits. Even the best servers in the world make mistakes, but what sets them apart is their ability to handle errors.
Waitstaff should be viewed as customer service experts rather than order takers, and be able to:
- Take criticism without getting flustered or angry
- Be empathetic toward upset customers
- Stay organized under stress
- Have the ability to read customers and prevent them from leaving angry
8. Look for Someone with a Mindset That Matches Your Restaurant’s Values
Chef David Grillo, Executive Chef, Cantina 76
We always hire the person who is eager and auspicious over someone with a shiny resume but a not-so-shiny mindset. This requires more than just a quick glance over a resume—it requires investing in who you are hiring and getting to know them as another human being, not just as a set of skills. If you’re impressed by the interviewee’s past work experience but not by how they interact with you and their potential co-workers, chances are they’re not right for your particular business.
It might seem a little time-consuming to spend an interview feeling out someone’s personality compared to quickly browsing through their resume but, in the end, *it pays off*. Hiring someone who is new to the food and beverage industry might seem like a risk, but if you feel the less trained individual is more excited to be a part of your team, the risk will be worth the reward. Happy staff = happy restaurant, always.
9. Post Your Job Ad in Hospitality-Focused Boards
Lauren Duttenhofer, VP of Operations, CUPS
Having worked with hundreds of small business owners needing to staff their locations, my advice would be to avoid posting the role on general employment websites. Employers will waste time and money weeding through hundreds of irrelevant candidates. Instead, I’d hone in on one or two hospitality-focused boards such as poached.com, coverthatshift.com, harri.com and goodfoodjobs.com, and while the recruiter will likely see less volume, they will receive better suited candidates. It seems like an obvious suggestion, but I know that many restaurant professionals are not aware that these industry-focused job boards exist.
10. Use Social Media to Find a Great Culture Fit to Your Restaurant
Geoffrey Meeker, Owner and Founder, French Truck
Social media has always been a vital way to connect with new and current fans. As I’ve continued to grow French Truck Coffee’s presence on Instagram, it has become much more than a tool to share my coffee adventures and sneak peeks of new products. Most recently, I took to Instagram to recruit employees for a new store front. With a single (and free) post about job openings, I was able to source applicants who were a great culture fit for the company—they were already big fans and followers of the brand and also knowledgeable about the company. I encourage other restaurant owners to consider using social media to hire new employees.
11. Assess What’s Missing to Create a Strong Team
Michael Maxwell, Partner, BLUE ORBIT Restaurant Consulting
Being armed with a job description is not nearly enough. Consider the dynamics of a team change every time you lose or add a player. Assess the missing pieces in the team and search for that individual. Experience in the position is helpful but not the only requirement.
Do you need a grill cook used to working with a wood burning grill or a gas grill? Do you need a grill cook with the ability to learn other jobs quickly because there are significant amounts of time that the cook will be alone on the line? Does the cook need to also have a variety of cooking skills because he will be butchering meat or making sauces in down time? Do you need a server who is an expert salesperson—or a server who will assume leadership roles quickly—or a server who is detail-oriented and will make sure the dining room is always clean? Do you need a bartender who is creative or one who will follow recipes and never step outside the box? Know exactly what you need down to the tiny details and ask interview questions that search for that exact person.
12. Don’t Rush Through the Interviews
Christie Schatz, VP, Learning and Development, Sonny’s Franchise Company
Most managers will tell you that hiring is one of the most important functions in their business, yet in many cases, their actions imply something entirely different. They get caught up in their day-to-day and rush through interviews. They sometimes end up hiring a candidate who they feel has enough skill or experience in other restaurants, and equate that to automatic success in their restaurant. Yes, there are some positions that need a level of skill and experience, but on the front line, the skills can be trained, especially if you have a candidate who is highly motivated. So, when trying to find talent that can engage with guests, be sure to spend quality time with each candidate. Don’t rush through interviews!
Ask questions that will help you imagine how a candidate will perform on your team. Whether they go the extra mile with a guest, have the gift of gab or can just plain move like lightning, these future team members will add to your culture, and are crucial to your restaurant’s success. It takes time to find the right person, so don’t be hasty just to fill a spot.
13. Appreciate a Well-Prepared Resume
Kathleen Smith, Founder, The Restaurant Canvas
Look for a detail-oriented resume. If someone can’t take the time to create a resume with everything spelled correctly and some general highlights about their experience, they’re not going to take care to get the details right in your restaurant. Also, there are a few good places to find employees. For one, there is a growing trend for local communities to have “jobs” Facebook groups. Post a link to your application form in the group. Be very specific about what you’re looking for (roles, experience, FT/PT, etc.) and let people self-qualify.
14. Be Strategic When Sourcing for High-Quality Performers
Andrew Carlson, Restaurant Coach and Executive Advisor, Carlson Hospitality Group
The best way to find high-quality performers would be to look at your current roster of high-performers and ask for referrals. If they don’t have any, then it’s time to look at sites like Snagajob and ZipRecruiter. The best way to attract high-quality talent through those is to post an ad that’s enticing. Think of the benefits the employee would get out of working there and make it unique. If you post only the job description, that’s boring and doesn’t tell the potential candidates why you’re the best place to work in the community.
15. Automate Your Applicant Tracking System
Gavin Graham, Editor, Fit Small Business
Businesses like restaurants go through multiple hiring activities on a regular basis, which can make it difficult to manage. By automating your recruitment management system, you don’t run the risk of missing out on hiring your most qualified applicants. Freshteam is an easy to use applicant tracking system that helps manage huge files of potential candidates. It also integrates seamlessly with other applications like Freshdesk, Facebook and Google Calendar to assist in your talent acquisition process. Start using Freshteam for free today.
16. Use a Pre-Screening Service to Shorten the Hiring Process
Carisa Miklusak, CEO, tilr
The current hiring process is boxing out a critical cross-section of the restaurant workforce by making them wait a month for a $15 an hour job offer or forcing them to create a resume for a quick-service restaurant position. This elongated time-to-hire costs restaurants money and delays the replacement of much-needed employees.
Restaurant hiring managers can save a lot of time and money to find the perfect candidates by going through a service that pre-screens employees for them and allows them to hire on-demand. This enables them to fill positions with qualified workers within a day, rather than waiting a few weeks. Another upside is that they can try out these employees before bringing them on full-time to ensure they’re a fit for the position and the restaurant.
17. Determine Your Applicant’s Honesty Through the Interview
Bryn Butolph, CEO and Founder, Eat Clean Meal Prep
I am looking for honesty and integrity. I have found that the best way to screen for this is to have an open conversation with the applicant about whatever topic they’d like to choose. Tell me about yourself, what would others say about you, what goals do you have, etc. That is where you will see their personality shine. Some people interview terribly, some people do well—so I try not to focus on that. My focus is more on their character and ability to be confident about their answers when given the opportunity to talk about something they are an expert at—themselves.
18. Hire Someone with Presence of Mind
Nan Wilkinson, Owner, Helpknx
If I had to pick two things, it would be that the person is attentive and observant. I believe if they have these things, then the rest will fall into place. Attentive people will tend to be on time for work and care about the guest’s needs. Observant people will learn the menu and make sure things are right for the guest or pick up on when it’s not. I would say that these people will also have a professional appearance, since they would have a solid attention to detail and that would show through in how they present themselves. The server or waitperson is the face of the business. So it’s important to have the people who will best represent your business.
A strong employee referral program lets you tap in to sources that would otherwise be unavailable to you, especially in times when you need to hire quickly due to time constraints. Your best employees can be your quickest source of potential new hires, keeping in mind that the referring employee has already assessed their referral as someone qualified for the job. Make sure that you comply with the incentive policy set within the program to keep your employees motivated in finding a suitable team member for your company. Find more ideas for an effective employee referral program in this article.
Your restaurant’s image to your employees is as important as how customers view your business. An unhappy employee can just as easily post a review of your business and discourage potential great hires to knock on your door. On the other hand, having a positive restaurant culture will not only help you retain your current employees and save you training costs, it will also attract the most qualified applicants looking for the best employers to work for. Here are some useful tips on how to improve your restaurant culture.
Applicants for restaurant server positions are usually first-time job hunters or those who are only waiting for better opportunity to arrive in the future. As a result, you will seldom see the type of enthusiasm you would want, and this can easily affect how they interact with your customers. Consider offering an internal hiring opportunity as part of your employee retention package. Once job applicants know that there is a career path available for them, they will start to look at their job in a more positive light. You’ll find this and more ideas, plus a guide on how to provide a career path for your employees, in this article.
Just like most startup level jobs, chances are you’ll encounter a wide variety of applicants with different backgrounds and personalities. With the responsibility of managing the day-to-day restaurant operations, it’s likely you might not be able to be as attentive to waitstaff applicants as you’re supposed to be. When this happens, it can be difficult to remember everything you should be looking for, so in times like these, it’s also a good idea to know what you’re not looking for in a server. Know how to spot red flags during job interviews to help you manage your hiring process.
The job description in your job ad is your first line of filtering in the hiring process. This simply means that whatever kind of response you get is a result of what you have included in the description. Start by having a concrete idea of the general requirements you are looking for in your applicants, followed by identifying specific criteria you need for the particular post. Do you need someone who can work specific hours? Or someone who understands a different language or sign? List these qualifications to start your draft, then check out this article for guidelines and examples you can use for your own.
As the first to interact with guests, restaurant servers are expected to hold certain skills and personalities in order to perform their job well. Without these basic attributes, you would likely be better off hiring someone else. This article explains keywords that you need to look for while interviewing and testing server applicants.
An interview is a powerful tool in the hiring process. When done right, it helps restaurant owners make the best hiring decisions to improve their business. And depending on your company culture, the right questions will help you decide whether an applicant is the right fit for your team or not. Have a look at these 20 sample restaurant questions you can use next time you look for a new person to join your waitstaff.
Every seasoned restaurant server applicant expects to encounter some form of written server test. Most of them come prepared and would probably get the answers right. So how do you find out which ones only know the right thing to do and those who apply this knowledge by heart? The trick is to give them questions that they should know, but don’t expect to get asked. This article is called a server’s bible and it provides 101 restaurant server tips that any experienced applicant should know.
Restaurant business owners have a responsibility to its customers in ensuring that their food is handled properly. This includes restaurant servers, so it’s important to ask applicants for food handling certifications. It’s best to put those who hold this accreditation as a priority during the hiring process. These individuals are trained in serving best practices and in recognizing and preventing food-related health hazards. While this is not available in all states, consider investing in this when possible, as it improves your business brand and reputation to your customers and employees as well. Read this article to know more about the different accreditations available for restaurant server staff.
Over to You
Your wait staff is responsible for the first impression that customers get as they enter your restaurant. Make sure that you hire servers who fit right into your business culture with these expert tips as your guide.
Have more tips for hiring restaurant servers worth sharing? Let us know in the comments.