Your favorite server just quit.
The line cook you thought would be with you forever is moving away.
You’ve decided it’s time to buckle down and hire a manager.
Before the job postings, before the interviews … before any final decision, now is the time to ask yourself one very simple question: Who are you really looking for?
Simple, yet not easy to answer. Every restaurant owner likely has a swirl of ideas in their head about what kind of employee will perfectly fill the open role. Some ideas are based on observation of your workers. Maybe some ideas are even based on having done the job yourself once upon a time. But in all likelihood, there are some assumptions at play, too.
Before you commit to your next hire — and potentially the wrong person — there are some key steps you can take to start your hiring process off on the right foot.
1. Think about the entire organization.
This may seem like a ridiculous question, but before you ask “Who can I hire as my next server?” it’s important to ask, “Is a server who I really need to hire?”
That’s not the same as asking, “Do I really need to rehire?” Like most small businesses, the number of staff you employ is likely either less than ideal or exactly what you need to function. But that doesn’t mean everyone is occupying their ideal position.
Every job opening is an opportunity to rethink how an organization is configured, and restaurants are no exception. Has the current structure of your restaurant staff been working? Are there employees working for you now that seem underutilized (or in over their head) in the role they have? The answer could be as simple as shifting one employee over to fill the open role and rehiring for a different one. Or it could end up being a much more strategic — and complicated — restructuring.
This new opening could be your opportunity to re-org. It’s a little bit like musical chairs, and taking a high level view of your entire organization to see what’s missing and how you could better use the talents you already employing takes some time and effort. But in the end, you may end up with a more efficient mix of employees delivering stronger customer service and better results for you as a business owner.
2. Consider your best employees.
Is your vision of the best candidate really what’s best for that position? Often, small business owners look at outside sources to see what works best for their competitors or in totally different industries. Sometimes, managers can get stuck looking for some Platonic ideal of what the perfect waiter, waitress, hostess, or chef is, when reality is so much more diverse and full of potential greatness.
It can help to look to the inside of your restaurant and assess who your very best employee is. What skills does that person bring to the table? What personality traits make them the type of employee other employees (and the public) love to work with? That person may not match the ideal version of a server or chef or host in your head, but they produce success — and that’s what counts.
Look for candidates to interview who mimic the skills and aptitudes of those most successful employee, although not necessarily the superficial aspects of that person. Focus on what those great employees do, the background that got them to this point, and the attitude with which they accomplish their tasks, not who or what they are. And then look for more people like them!
3. Write a great (and accurate) job description.
Key to attracting the right kind of employee for your establishment is describing the job properly. This is not the time to use canned language or go short on details. A strong job description can make or break your recruiting effort. In fact, 77% of candidates say that the job description is the real basis for their final decision.
Some things to consider when first putting pen to paper:
Are you being honest about the job responsibilities? Write down what the job REALLY entails at YOUR establishment, not just what a typical server, host, manager, or line cook would do in another restaurant. This will help eliminate surprises down the road, and may attract staff who are genuinely better matched for you as an employee.
Write about what the job has to offer the employee, not just what the employee has to offer the job. Employers who do that tend to attract much better job applicants. It’s not simply about money, of course. It’s about hours, benefits, environment, what your restaurant does differently than other restaurants, and any opportunities for learning or growth.
Talk about your mission. Why do you do what you do every day? What are the goals for the business beyond just making money? What are you trying to say with your food and your hospitality? Employees — especially millennial applicants — love to know that they’re making a difference on top of earning a paycheck. Let them know upfront that they will be.
Distinguish between must-haves and nice-to-haves you’re looking for in a candidate. This can save a lot of applicants (and you) a lot of time in the process. If you are utterly convinced that you cannot hire any server without 3+ years in the fine dining segment of the market, make that a clearly defined requirement. Otherwise, list it as “preferred experience” so a candidate with and without that experience will understand the expectation and apply if they think they match or can rise to the occasion.
So, what happens if you hire the wrong person?
No one goes into this process determined to find anything less than the perfect person, but mismatches and bad hires do happen. The problem is, these mistakes cost your business money — quite a bit more than you’d imagine.
It’s not just about the time you’ve now put in to acquire this person who is underperforming. It’s the time, energy, and resources you’ll put in to trying to make them fit, whether in their original position or somewhere else in the organization — upwards of 17 percent of your time as a manager, in fact. There’s also the time and resource toll this disruption takes on the rest of your team, who were hopefully used to working like a well-oiled machine before the vacancy popped up.
And then there’s your reputation as a restaurant on the line. Customers yearn for consistent service and quality of product, and are fairly unforgiving when those fall off, even for a short period of time. Getting the right person through the door the first time can help keep your business running smoothly and should improve your reputation online and off with your customers.
Starting off with the right job description and expectations is one thing. But where do you even begin looking for the right person once you’ve decided who they are? We have five different places to begin: