Knowing what kind of employee will suit your establishment best is only half the battle, unfortunately. Actually finding that perfect chef, line cook, server, host, or manager is a real challenge in itself.
The job market for restaurants, no matter what economists have to say about employment overall, is always competitive. With turnover throughout the hospitality industry around 72 percent, it’s fair to say there’s a lot of deliberate movement happening within the restaurant space for employees looking at better wages, better environments, better hours, or simply a better fit.
Combine this sense of mobility with an actual chef shortage in the United States and you have the makings of a difficult recruitment process. Even well known operations like Block 16 Hospitality have walked away from job fairs with one-quarter of the applicants they expected for a brand new 12,000 square foot restaurant.
Today, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 9 percent annual job growth for chefs and head cooks over the next 10 years, and a 7 percent annual job growth overall. More available jobs, a smaller pool of chef applicants, and a propensity for remaining staff to turn over quickly means it could take more work for restaurant owners to acquire the best staff possible.
Where does one begin?
With Current Employees
Often the best place to start looking for new hires is by talking to the people who know your business best: your current employees. They have a unique perspective on what it takes to be successful working for you, and in reality, have as big a stake in your decision as you do.
Consider this: your current employees have to work alongside that person you hire, and for that reason they will want the best possible candidate, just as you do. It’s not simply about finding someone to get along well with your staff, but about finding someone who will hold up their end of the work load and not disrupt the flow of your environment. Wanting a smooth work shift is alone a great incentive for your employees to help you find the right person among their friends and acquaintances to fill any open position.
Another great incentive, of course, is cash. A lot of restaurant owners find it’s helpful to offer a small signing bonus for employees that refer new staff that get hired. Of course, the candidate must be qualified, and once hired, they have to stay on for a proscribed amount of time. That caveat should avoid any abuse of the system, and give your current staff even more reason to identify reliable candidates for your review.
With Your Customers
Beyond your employees, no one knows your brand as well as your devoted customers. While it’s probably gauche to go table-to-table asking patrons if they know anyone interested in work, there are some subtle ways you can get the message out there to customers who love your establishment enough to want to work in it.
A variety of signage can be printed to alert the public that you’re looking for new employees, but be wary of sending the wrong message. A traditional “Help Wanted” sign in your window may seem innocuous, but it could be saying to potential customers that you’re understaffed and the quality of your service will be diminished.
Instead, consider taking a more positive approach with signs and table tents that ask you to “Join Our Team!” and then list some of the benefits of working for the company. It may seem like a small difference in tone, but this kind of approach focuses much more on what you have to offer a potential employee and doesn’t specify the immediate need. The interest it can drive up, however, remains the same.
Like job openings in every other industry, there is a place online that an interested candidate will go to search out jobs. The website they choose depends a lot on the position, though. A qualified senior manager condition probably wouldn’t look for positions on Craigslist.com and a hardworking bus person probably isn’t expecting to find job listings on LinkedIn.com. Knowing the right place to advertise for the specific job you’re looking to fill is going to produce faster results, and inevitably, save you money in listing costs as well.
There are a number of restaurant job boards and online communities devoted to the hospitality industry that can help employers and applicants connect, particularly in large metropolitan areas. These will likely be more useful for filling higher-paid positions, such as head chef, maître d’, or restaurant manager, than for locating servers, kitchen staff, and bus persons. For those positions, you’d be better off listing on Indeed.com (or going back to trying through word of mouth via employees or customers).
At Schools and Job Fairs
Many institutions like the Culinary Institute of America are designed to help with job placement for its students as they reach the completion of their program. And with chefs in such short supply these days, going directly to the source of new, unbridled talent is a great opportunity for both you and the next generation of young cooks and chefs.
And while many culinary students are fresh in the industry, many students have worked in kitchens as cooks prior to enrolling, but went to school to refine their skills — so not all students/recent graduates are completely green to the industry. Even graduates who went to school without being in the industry first have to do internships towards the end of their program, and they’re pretty much always occupying paid kitchen positions in restaurants.
There may even be opportunities to bring on students for part-time work, to fill gaps you have that don’t require a full-time employee.
True, you are unlikely to find someone with enough experience to head up your kitchen at a job fair. But for larger establishments employing multiple assistant and sous chefs, seeking candidates just out of school is a great way to ensure your next employee has sharp skills and a bundle of fresh ideas to bring to your head chef’s kitchen. The real test will be temperament and fit, so make sure your head chef and restaurant manager are both in on the decision-making process.
By Training from Within
Ultimately, one of the best ways to continuously acquire strong employees for your restaurant is to cultivate that talent from within. Talk with each and every one of your staff and find out what their aspirations are. Does your dishwasher work on his knife skills in his spare time? Does your best server have the temperament and responsibility to manage the entire front of house? Could that bus person who noticeably gives 110% every day be your next best server if given the chance?
Take the time to share knowledge about your business if that’s something that interests a particular employee. Every job, from top to bottom, can be an opportunity to learn something new and to progress. If you put in the time, and have a little bit of luck, you could be grooming employees for advancement, reducing your turnover, and minimizing the need to hire brand new, higher end staff — all at the same time!
And don’t forget about your most valuable resource: yourself. Always have business cards on hand to share with retail workers or other service professionals that impress you. If you are at a community meeting or talking to other business owners or managers in the market, ask. Be prepared with your brand pitch and exactly why a talented person should want to come work for you. But always remember: hiring starts with you.
Want some more insight into hiring, training, and retaining the best staff possible? Download our free eBook on “Restaurant Management for Success” today: