Sunny days and warmer weather may still seem so far away, but the reality is summer will be here before you know it. If your restaurant isn’t prepared for the rush it might see in business (or the possibility of existing staff wanting more time off), you could be leaving a lot of money on the table.
Ramping up your kitchen and serving staff to accommodate traffic (and keep tables turning) must be a priority for any manager or owner — and it’s not too soon to start now.
It’s important to start the summer hiring process early to compete with other restaurants and businesses who want to get their best team in place, too. Anywhere from January (at the extreme) to April (think Spring Break) should be marked on your calendar to get the process rolling each year.
You don’t want to be caught understaffed when a flood of new customers — who expect the same level of service in summer months as during the rest of the year — begin to appear.
Nor do you want to face being understaffed if your year-round team all decide they want the last week of August off for a beach vacation. Even if your traffic turns slower in summer months, adding on extra help can ensure you don’t end up in a bind.
Plus, if you hit the ground running early enough, you can take advantage of the extra help on Mother’s Day, a traditionally very busy weekend for restaurateurs. Follow these three steps and you’ll be well on your way to having a team that will impress — not stress — you all summer long.
1. Recruit aggressively.
Start with contacting last year’s summer staff. Going with a known entity can certainly save you time and money. These are employees that have proven themselves to you in the past and with whom you presumably already have a rapport. They understand your expectations upfront, know what kind of benefits and advantages come with the job, and should be well-versed on most of your operations.
Recruiting from your list of recent seasonal employees (assuming, of course, each one is someone who performed well enough that you’d want them back) can make the training process go much smoother.
But be careful not to skip training entirely. Nine or more months away from the daily routine warrants a brush-up, especially if your processes have changed at all in the past year. Just assess their training needs as you go along.
Use your current employees to recruit new ones. If your employees enjoy working for you, they’ll have no problem telling potential recruits about the job. And rock stars generally want to work alongside other rock stars. Your employees have as much at stake as you do in making sure you hire the right people.
Encourage your staff to tell their friends in the industry and any other contacts they think will be a good fit about the opportunity. Don’t forget to include your staff in the hiring and training process, even if it’s just to give a tour or answer questions.
Self-interest can also go a long way: any incentive, cash, or benefits offered for referrals that lead to hires will add a cherry on the top of your hiring effort.
Keep your expectation of the “ideal worker” broad. It’s natural for restaurant managers to immediately think teenagers when considering summer hires. Kids are out of school, looking to make extra money, and have few commitments set in stone until autumn.
But high school and college students are not the only people suited to take on a temporary position. Besides unemployed adults currently looking for work, you will likely also receive applications or inquiries from seasonal workers looking to accent their full-time positions, like teachers, university professors, other university employees, and construction workers in hotter climates.
Be upfront about hours and work schedules to ensure a clear sense of how flexible an applicant is, no matter what their circumstances. And who knows? If someone sufficiently impresses, it might be great to potentially keep on the “best of the best” come the winter months.
2. On-board thoughtfully.
How do the logistics around temporary hires work differently than permanent hires? On the face of it, there should be few aberrations in your normal on-boarding process. Employees you bring on for the summer will generally be paid hourly, like most restaurant employees, and you are held to the same standard of minimum wage as with any other type of employee.
With the controversy of minimum wage increases sweeping certain jurisdictions, restaurants may feel the pinch even more dramatically when it comes to adding on summer staff. But even if your state or local government hasn’t mandated an increase to wages, prospective employees are more cognizant than ever of the debate.
Keep your ear to the ground in your community to hear what expectations are out there among hires and hiring managers. You’d hate to lose out on quality staff because your pay scale is out of touch with perception when your competitors’ wages aren’t.
Of course, standards around discrimination, harassment, and workplace health and safety apply uniformly no matter whether your employee is hired on for the summer or ongoing. Tax reporting responsibilities remain the same — for both you as an employer and your summer employees — regarding hourly wages and tips.
However, the kinds of benefits your seasonal employees are eligible to receive may vary, so be sure to consult the Federal and state department of labor to determine your responsibilities. There may be specific rules applicable to certain benefits, including health care coverage, workers’ compensation, Social Security and Medicare withholdings, and unemployment benefits.
Double check the specifics of Federal child labor laws as well, even if it’s for members of your own family working hours during the summer months. There are restrictions involving work in freezers or meat coolers, and the operation of certain equipment. These restrictions may affect the type of work minors can do in your restaurant — not to mention the number of hours they are allowed to work in a given week.
3. Train thoroughly.
When hiring for the summer months exclusively, you may feel it’s important to get people out on the floor faster; the time investment of extensive training just doesn’t seem worth it for a temporary hire. But carefully trained staff — no matter how long you intend to keep them on — can save you time and money immediately, not just in the long term.
Servers that know your menu inside and out will be able to make thoughtful suggestions that grow a customer’s final ticket size. Kitchen staff that are fully vetted on the chef’s vision will require less oversight and be less likely to deliver an incorrect dish to the expediter.
And everyone working together as one team — not the permanent staff and the temporary staff working separately — will keep morale high and expectations level.
Try to manage all training at the same time to avoid wasting resources. Your time is valuable, but the answer to conserving it is not to shortchange training — just consolidate it. This is where smart and early recruiting can help you get every new employee in for the same first day training, and minimize stragglers who you will need to repeat lessons for.
Training in a group will also promote camaraderie and teamwork, particularly if you get long term employees to help out with demonstrations and walk-throughs. Ultimately, you’ll get the best work out of every employee if they feel like they can trust each other and if everyone is working toward the same goal.
Want more ideas about how to prepare for summer?