Build Your Team the Right Way by Constantly Recruiting

A line cook just gave his notice. Time to put out an ad for a replacement — again. Then, a bartender comes and tells you that she is going to the new restaurant to work. Another help wanted ad.

Does it seem like a revolving door at your restaurant? Well, you are not alone. This is a common scenario more than a few restaurants face. But this shared struggle can be mitigated by implementing a simple shift in mindset and action: Always be recruiting.

The Reason Hiring on Demand Doesn't Work

When you are just replacing stuff as they give notice or get terminated, you fall into a situation where you never seem to get ahead.

When people feel behind and under pressure, many make hiring decisions that could best be described as...well, poor. Panic hiring is an epidemic that plagues many restaurants. When you succumb to that mindset, you are just hiring a "warm body" to fill the space. The sad thing is that what you often get is a person without the real skills or temperament needed for success. Short-term solutions are not an avenue to long-term success.

The Real Cost of Turnover

Hiring people to fill a position is a waste of your time, money, and energy. So, why does it happen? Why do restaurants have turnover and what does it truly cost your organization? It could be easy to place the blame on employees by saying they weren't a "good fit." Well, why did you hire them in the first place?

Maybe they weren't a good fit. However, you need to take some of the responsibility for allowing them to be on your staff. Panic hiring is exactly what the name entails; you panicked and you hired a temporary solution.

It's also easy to blame the industry and say that high turnover is "just the way it is." If you compare yourself to average, you tend to become average. Water seeks its own level and the excuses you cling to like a security blanket do not empower you to build a better brand.

If you are experiencing high turnover, the first thing to do is to look in the mirror and ask yourself a brutally honest question: Are you creating a culture that attracts and keeps top talent? You need to be honest with the answer, because only then will you be able to set a new path.

Experts can throw out numbers on what turnover costs you as far as a dollar amount. How about emotional costs? High turnover really takes an emotional toll on you, your brand, and your team. They might not say it, however, they feel it and it will show in their performance. Your brand will take a hit in reputation too. Top talent is not drawn to places that just "turn and burn" the staff. You'll feel the strain, as pressure to keep staffing levels to where they need to be to reduce guest complaints will increase. It's a downward spiral that causes brand degradation.  

So, how can you turn this around?

Stop the Cycle

If you find yourself in the proverbial "turnover trap," then the first thing to do is admit that the current plan is not getting the results you want. Like Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Time for a new plan. Time to raise your standards.

Take a look at the culture of your restaurant. In other words, take a look at yourself. Culture flows down, not up, and it always begins with you. If your culture is not attracting top talent or creating an environment where the team can grow and thrive, then that's on you. You just need to own it. Once you do, you can start to repair and build a culture that becomes a beacon for better talent.

Become Obsessed With Recruiting

If you only hire on demand and look for people only when there is an opening, you will have a difficult time developing a "deep bench" of talent. The best don't stay on the job market very long (hence why they are considered top talent). You see, there are quite a few variables that come into play when filling positions using the "hire by demand only" model that many do not fully consider.

1. You have an opening.

2. Top talent is looking for an opportunity at the same time.

Maybe you like those kind of odds? Personally, you would have more luck winning the lottery two weeks in a row than finding top talent when you are only wanting to fill that position. You especially run into trouble when you "need" to fill that position immediately. That leads to the aforementioned mode of the panic hire.

Instead, you need to make a recruiting plan that is a commitment each week to actively search and recruit. That means not placing help wanted ads and being passive. It means taking the bull by the horns and seek out what you desire. You need to become a "talent hunter" and you need to dedicate at least a few hours each week into tracking down and securing better talent.

The Cost of C's

Stop wasting time with average, or "C,” players. These employees are never going to get your restaurant to a higher level because they don't possess the skills to take you anywhere but average. Many restaurants keep "C" players because they usually cost less than "B" or "A" players...on the surface.

Let's say you have a rockstar line cook who is making $16 an hour. A real workhorse! Always on point, always brings their "A" game every day. One day, they tell you they are moving out of state for family, and you decide you not going to pay anyone "$16 an hour anymore” to save some labor dollars. Guess what? The new line cook you hired at $11 is a "C" player who can barely keep up during the rush and really struggles everyday. So, you have to bring on another line cook to back them up. Now you're at $22 per hour. That's not saving you the money you thought. Premium talent needs to be paid at premium levels. You truly do get what you pay for.

When you change your mindset and become a recruiting ninja, you want to seek people that can elevate your brand, not just maintain it. That requires looking at not only the hard skills. You also need to seriously look at the other side of the skills coin, and that is soft skills.

Hard skills are what most dial in on and hire for. Those are the mechanical competences or how they execute the job from a technical viewpoint. Take a look at an average job description. Most of the list is hard skill sets. That is what most look for. If you want to bring on better talent, then look at the softer skills, like personality. Most hard skills can be taught. Soft skills require a lot more finesse and they are harder to uncover.

That requires asking interview questions that go a little deeper than the standard, "Tell me about your last job, what you liked and what you didn't.”

Ask them about things that strike emotional triggers and then take in their body language: eyes, smile, breath, body position. Look for the emotional connection to the question asked.

Another mindset shift is to stop conducting an interview and start having a conversation. You are looking for talent that can build your brand, look for those that resonate with that.

Ask questions like:

  • "Tell me about your favorite meal when you were a kid?"
  • "What was the first restaurant you ever went to?"
  • "What would be something you could eat every single day and never get tired of it?"

These types of questions stir up emotions and you want to look for people that can tap into those emotions. Restaurants might sell food and beverage on the surface, however, at its core it is a business of emotions. You want people who have control of their emotions and can harness them to tell a story.... your brand's story.

When you are always recruiting, you will start to notice the soft skills of others more frequently. Keep business card on you at all times when you are out. When you notice someone who has those soft skill sets that resonate with your brand and core values, give them your card. Sometimes the best restaurant hires come from other industries! Don't have a closed mind to just looking for people with "restaurant experience." As the labor pool gets shallower, you will need to look outside the familiar and expand your recruiting net. To capture top talent, you need to become relentless is keeping your eyes open for the skill sets you are seeking.

But that first comes with knowing exactly what you are seeking. What soft skills are important to you and your brand? What core values do you want in others? What are your non-negotiable standards?  If you are not 100 percent sure of what you are looking for, then you'll settle for "C" players.

Actively recruiting is the cure for being stuck in the high turnover game. You must have a bench of talent that is constantly being replenished. Some say work with the "C" players to make them better. It's a waste of time. They are average because they usually do not want to improve their game. Complacency loves company. The smarter move is to recruit better talent and aim for only "B" and "A" players.

Once you get them in you must train, train, train, and train them like your brand depends on it...because it does.