One of the most difficult and important things you have to do as a restaurant operator is build and maintain a staff. These are the people into whose hands you entrust your investment, your assets, and your passion. And yet, according to the National Restaurant Association, our industry experiences a 66.3 percent turnover rate on average. That means for every three employees you have right now, odds are, you’ll be replacing two of them within a year.
Think about that for a minute. You could be replacing two employees for every one you hold onto.
And it’s not just the disruption that kind of turnover causes in your processes, in the morale of your remaining staff, and for the experience of your diners. Hiring also takes time away from other things that demand your attention as an operator. There’s got to be a better way to keep your business running.
At the recent 2015 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, Jim Knight of People Forward and T.J. Shier of SMART Restaurant Group both held sessions on how to hire, train, and retain staff, and reduce the restaurant turnover rate that’s getting in the way of greater success. Below are five of the most effective (and fastest) ways you can ensure you’re getting the right person right away for your team:
1. Advertise the right way.
Take a look at how you’re posting about your hiring needs. Do you have a sign up that says “Now Hiring” or “Help Wanted”? You may be sending the wrong message, and not just to potential employees. Diners who see these messages may be inclined to believe you’re understaffed, and that their experience will suffer for it.
Having recruitment collateral that uses the phrase “join our team” doesn’t indicate whether you’re in a desperate situation, and also emphasizes the importance of teamwork in your workplace culture. Anyone can run a generic text ad, but putting a bit of your business personality into the advertisement — as Starbucks did with its Dream Venti campaign — will attract the type of employee who loves your brand.
Ultimately, though, the best advertisement for a new employee is your existing ones. If you have hard-working and enthusiastic employees, that energy is going to draw in like-minded servers, kitchen staff, and management. But if you have a number of long-term, less-than-stellar employees on your roll, consider what effect that may have on your recruiting effort. Rock stars won’t want to work alongside lip-synchers.
2. Don’t throw softballs.
Establishing a formal, obligatory interview process is another way to weed out potential pitfalls to your bottom line. A lot of businesses, whether they realize it or not, have very subjective hiring systems that don’t spend enough time on skills and behavior-based questions. Every interview is going to have some factor of likability to it, but if you stop there, you may be risking making an uninformed choice. Making it mandatory that more than one person separately interviews each candidate can help to even out personal preferences and provide you with alternate perspectives on their suitability for the position.
Stick to a proscribed plan with every interviewee, asking the same questions every time. Role-play to get at how an employee would react in a tense or troubling situation. Every applicant is going to say they would never condone stealing, but ask if they had ever witnessed stealing or other employees falling down on the job at a previous place of employment, and what they did about it. You will likely get a more telling answer.
But no matter what you encounter in an interview, treat every applicant with respect. They may not be right to come work for you, but they are still potential guests of your restaurant. Even an unsuccessful interview can be a positive, loyalty-building experience someone shares with their family and friends.
3. Look for the three Cs.
The reality is, by the time you hire an employee, there’s no changing who they are. No employer is going to be able to change a working adult’s personality or attitude. The best you can hope for is that your passion for your business will be infectious to those who are already passionate about other things.
With that in mind, there are three core things you can identify in a potential employee that will build your team into a powerhouse crew over time:
- They are solidly competent (as opposed to necessarily experienced).
- They exhibit strong character (don’t judge anyone simply based on looks).
- They will represent your culture appropriately (i.e., that elusive thing called “fit”).
It’s important not to just start and stop with experience. The employee who has 20 years of experience in service or has made a career at big name restaurants isn’t necessarily the best choice for you. Questions you should be asking yourself include: Will they adapt well to my way of running a restaurant if it’s different than what they’re used to? Do they speak positively about their last employer(s) and their previous experience? And how will they mesh with my existing staff?
4. Get a peer perspective.
Introducing new team members to your staff can be difficult at times, as well, so it’s nearly as important to get their buy-in as it is yours. Make no mistake, the decision of who will work at your restaurant is yours and yours alone to make, but it’s never a bad thing to let employees feel like they have a hand in maintaining your business’s success.
Engage your current employees as part of the interview process by arranging a facility tour for each applicant with someone in their peer group. Not only will you get additional feedback that will go a long way toward ensuring a positive culture fit, but you may even get a few tidbits out of the interviewee that they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with an authority figure. And the more invested your current staff are in maintaining what they believe to be a positive environment, the more likely they are to help identify potential risks to workplace harmony.
5. Find out what motivates the best workers.
If you want to catch a big fish, you have to cast your line into the ocean. You don’t wait for them to wash up on shore. If this sounds tricky, well, sure it is. Finding the right person for the right job always is.
Employing a recruiter or making use of a social media service like TweetMyJobs to reach out to potential employees may be a timesaver, and can unearth possibilities you wouldn’t come across otherwise. It’s important to stay ahead of the curve as every single one of your competitors have the same laundry list of needs and challenges regarding turnover that you do. It’s difficult to be the employer that always pays the highest wage, so understanding what motivates your ideal team player in addition to money is key. Your clarity on expectations, opportunities, and the culture you want to build can go a long way toward assuring someone they’re ready for a change.
Continue on for part two in our Staffing for Success series for tips on how to train employees once they’ve accepted a position with you: