How to Find and Hire the Right People


restaurant employee With about 13 million people, the restaurant industry employs one of the largest workforce segments in the United States. There are plenty of potential good hires out there; the trick is finding the right ones for your business concept. Decide on the most important positions to hire first, and consider the requirements or traits required for each position. After that, you are ready to begin looking for people to bring those positions to life.

How to Find Job Candidates

There are several common ways of finding people for your business:

Word of mouth. If you have family, friends or colleagues who know good people or have contacts in the restaurant industry, seek them out. These people are often able to recommend others who are looking for work. These are trustworthy recommendations. You may even ask your most reliable, hard-working employees (if you have them) to recommend their friends or people they know who would be a good fit for your restaurant.

Internet postings. The Internet is a gigantic information hub. Employers have the opportunity to post job openings on a variety of Web sites, and conversely, people looking for jobs can now browse and apply to jobs completely over the Internet.

Newspaper advertisements. Frequently, newspaper ads find themselves in the shadows of Internet Web sites and other online postings. Do some research into the local demographic or the prospective age of your potential hires before deciding to buy space in the paper.

“Help Wanted” signs. Posting signs to your patrons can be useful, although they may end up looking somewhat tacky in your front windows. Assess your restaurant type and see if this is an advertisement you can display without harming your image.

Contact local schools or community centers. Making contacts with local high schools or colleges and posting in their community areas can be a great way to find part-time or after-school help. Be sure to address all postings with school administrators prior to doing so, however. Also, community centers or local hotspots like coffee shops may be willing to have you pin up ads on bulletin boards or other visible spaces.

Family and friends. Many restaurant businesses start out as family-owned companies, and they traditionally hire relatives and close friends to work the business. Hiring family members has its pros and cons, but when you personally know reliable, qualified people, hiring them may prove worthwhile.

Interviewing Guidelines

Before you interview, prepare with the appropriate materials, ideas and guidelines that will help you make the best choices possible for your team and your restaurant.

Be prepared. Have the employment application, job description, interview evaluation form, as well as a general orientation manual with you in case you need to reference it. Be sure you have looked over the applicant’s resume (if attached) and job application so you have at least a cursory idea of the person with whom you will be speaking.

Know what you are looking for. Before interviewing, be sure you know what the position involves and what you expect from the person who fills that position. Some restaurants or managers have their ideal characteristics in mind when they hire, and these can help provide a guideline.

For example, a restaurant business might outline ideal characteristics for their people with an easy-to-remember acronym:

Service acronym

When interviewing someone, a manager can look out for these character traits, or even use them as questions. For example, “What does it mean to be engaged with a customer?” or “How are you responsible in the workplace?

Ask questions mindfully. When interviewing, avoid asking “yes” or “no” questions. These will only get you one word answers. Instead, ask questions that will encourage the applicant to talk about him or herself. This is how you will get a feel for the applicant as a person. For example, avoid asking, “Do you have experience as a server?” Instead ask, “What serving experience do you have, and what have you learned from that serving experience?”

Be wary of red flags. Interviews are meant to help you get a feel for the person you might hire. However, sometimes you will begin to see negative signs or red flags in the person’s responses. Try to give the job applicant the chance to tell you honestly about themselves and their past. However, do not pry and do not accuse. It is important to be aware that these red flags could predict negative situations for you and your business down the road:

  • Candidate cannot give reasons for leaving the last job
  • Candidate does not want his or her references to be checked
  • “Too many” jobs in the last year or more
  • Signs of domestic or personal problems1

Give the applicant time to ask questions. If after several questions you still consider the candidate for the position, give him or her the opportunity to ask questions about wages, policies, training, tip distribution systems, and scheduling. Have your employee manual on hand in case you need to reference it.

Conduct multiple interviews. It is a good idea to have at least two people interview the job candidate2. More than one perspective can help shed light on the candidate’s character and any potential roadblocks there may be if that person is hired. Area managers or shift managers are usually good people to call upon for this.

Know the law. There are legal consequences for asking certain questions during an interview process. Be aware of these questions and explain them to anyone who may be doing interviews for your restaurant. Some of the taboo topics are listed below.

You may not ask:

  • For a date of birth or age
  • For a birthplace
  • For the birthplace of relatives
  • About marital status or children
  • Any questions about religious practices
  • Any questions about race or skin color
  • For a photo
  • For a date of citizenship or arrival in the U.S.3

Do contact references. Make use of the reference list job candidates provide on their applications. Calling past employers, supervisors, teachers, coaches or co-workers can often provide a candid look into the candidate’s prior employment or activities. These names and numbers are there for a reason, and you are obliged to research your potential hires as fully as possible.

Create a team culture. Hire a balance of people—different maturity or age levels, talents, personalities and experience levels can actually be helpful as you build your team. However, do be sure to hire people who fit your concept, values and “culture.” Do not hire someone who would not work well with your managers or their co-workers. Your staff should feel comfortable and confident working alongside one another, so do as much pre-screening work as possible to be sure you build the very best team that you can.

Consider hiring more than you need. Also, it does not hurt to hire more people than you need. Suggestions say to hire about 20% more people than you think you need. The food service industry is one of unexpected occurrences and high turnover, so being prepared with a few extra people will prepare you for the times when someone does not show up or quits unexpectedly.

Take care when hiring family or close friends. When it comes to hiring family members and close friends, be sure to weigh both the pros and the cons before making a decision for your restaurant. Every concept is different, and some restaurants excel with family members on staff where others do not. » Learn More

A Word on Employee Turnover In the food service industry, employee turnover, or joining and leaving a company within a relatively short time, is not uncommon. Be prepared to hire great people and someday lose most of them to another job, higher education, or relocation.

One smart and effective way to retain these employees, however, is to provide them with opportunities for growth and development. Provide the employee, no matter their skill-level, with coaching and feedback. Let them know what they do well and give suggestions for improvement. You might even create a “career” plan for that employee to rise up within the business or company. » Learn More

1 Donald Wade. Successful Restaurant Management: From Vision to Execution. (New York: Thomas DelMar Learning, 2006).
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.

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  1. How would you decide the right amount of employees to hiring if your opening a new restaurant/bar? Is there a general rule of thumb based on size?

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