The Formula For Better Hires at Your Restaurant

Hiring can suck. In an uber-competitive and growing industry like restaurants, you can feel like your back is against the wall. 

Desperation creeps in as you attempt to find a warm body to fill those empty spots on your schedule. Then desperation turns into panic and you do the one thing that signals the decline of your culture, you feel as though you are forced to compromise your hiring standard. 

This is commonly known as "The Panic Hire" and it is safe to say that every restaurant manager or owner has done it before. Ultimately, you are going to pay a cost for allowing this to happen. You don’t see it at first. In fact, when you hire that person you feel relieved. Finally, someone showed up for an interview and they were breathing!

You talk to yourself (pretty much just convincing yourself) that “it’ll be okay”, “they just need some (a lot) of training." Denial is your friend in times like these.

Here’s the first rule to better hiring: Stop lying to yourself. 

Reality check time. Are there restaurants in your market that have some amazing staff? Do you have at least one A player on your team? If yes, then there is some real talent in your market, so it’s probably just your formula for hiring needs to be changed.

Your hiring formula (or recipe) may have worked for you over the last few years (or decades). Look around and you’ll see that times are changing and those that fail to update their formula to hire will soon be left with the less desirable employees. Cream does rise to the top and those with the best talent gravitate towards the restaurant brands with a solid reputation.

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Here is a five-step formula for better hiring.

1. Recruit Better

It all starts here. Recruiting is the only way to secure top talent. Placing help wanted ads on the internet (or social media) and just waiting for people to contact you is a passive activity that returns little rewards. Besides, it’s probably a blow to the ego when you don’t get as many applicants as you thought you should. It's time to take the game to them. 

The first step is to make sure you have a culture that screams “you want to work here”. Replace some of those food photos you post every day with a few of your team having a good time. You have to communicate that your brand is the place in town where the “A” players want to work at! If you don’t go out of your way to show potential employees that you are different than the thousand other restaurants in your market that are also looking for staff, then you just look the same. Same is equal to being average and average attracts average. 

The next step is to become a recruiting ninja! There are talented and personable people in your market right now that could be working for you. You just haven’t met them yet. The sad thing is you won’t either if you fail to turn on your recruiting radar all the time. That smiling, kind, and friendly young lady who checks you in at the gym and also says “have a great day” when people leave. Is she happy there?

That young man at the car dealership who gladly opens the door for you and goes over in detail what they did to your vehicle and happens to mention he loves to cook and thought of being a chef. Could he fulfill those aspirations working with you?

You don’t know unless you ask. You should always (always, always, always) have some business cards with you. 

Give them a general pre-frame with a sincere compliment. Something like this:

“Look, you are really amazing with people and I think you would really shine at my restaurant. I’m not sure if you are looking for a new opportunity, however, if you are (hand them your business card), I would love to discuss it with you. If nothing else, have you been to (insert your restaurant name here)? You should at least come and see what we do.”

Does this work every time? Of course not. In fact, you’ll probably only get two out of 10 that will contact you. You only need one A player to start. Then you get another and another and another. Soon, you’ll have an all-star lineup.

You might say there are no good people out there. The truth is you just have been closed minded to looking around.

2. Interview Better

Now that you have improved your recruiting superpowers, time to check your interview game. Those standards boring questions that everyone asks at every interview have got to go!

Tell me what you liked about your last job?
What would your last supervisor say about you?
What is your 1,3, and 5-year goals?

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

You are setting yourself up for failure when you throw easy questions to a candidate that they have rehearsed for. Everyone asks these same lame questions. You need to challenge their thinking and bring down the wall between the person you think you are interviewing and the real person behind the facade.

Here are some examples:

  • If you had a superpower what would it be and why?
  • So why did the chicken cross the road?
  • Without over thinking this, quick: tell me one person alive or past that you would want to have dinner with tonight?
  • What’s your favorite junk food?
  • Name one of your guilty pleasures?
  • If you had a time machine, what year would you visit first?

Now we have an interview game! Develop a series of questions that challenge them and require them to show some personality. That is what you are really hiring for. You can train almost anyone if they have the right personality. We tend to have that focus backward when interviewing. We tend to look for skill and personality second. Flip that around immediately.

You must look at interviewing as a game of chess and not checkers. You must be strategic in your questions with each one revealing another layer of their true self.

3. Onboard Better

Okay, you are a recruiting badass and your interview game is back on point, now what? Welcome them to your team like it was a homecoming for a long lost family member!

Sadly, onboarding employees are where many drop the ball. 

Picture this: You are working at a retail store and the owner of a restaurant complimented you on your natural people skills. They hand you their business card and say to call them. You think that you really did want to go back to school part-time and that the restaurant might be a better opportunity. You call.

They schedule an interview where the owner introduces you to the general manager where you have a thought-provoking interview. They asked some odd questions that made you laugh and think. You like the energy here. They say you would be a great addition to their team and they want you to think about it tonight and call them at 10 am sharp if you want the position on the team.

You are excited and tell your friends about your new opportunity. You call the next day and 10 am and they are as excited as you that you want to be on the team. They tell you to come in on Monday at 9 am for orientation.

On Monday, you walk in the door excited and ready at 8:45 am. A manager you never met before asks you if he can help you. You tell him this is your first day. He says, “no one told him that anyone was starting today.” Then he tells you to have a seat in the booth in the corner. You wait 15 minutes and he finally comes out with a stack of paperwork and a pen. He barks, “Just fill these out and when Jen (the lead server) comes in she’ll get you started”. You sit there filling out paperwork and start to question if this was a good idea.

The scene is familiar because it’s played out in many restaurants every day. Then they wonder why they have a hard time getting people to work there. They have developed a bad reputation for a lot of hype in the interview and a big let down when it comes to the onboarding process.

Here the new rule: If you hired them, you should make an effort to be there on their first day! Is this always possible? No. However, you can communicate with the new hire and the team what the game plan is. Introduce them with a conference call or include them on an email explaining what the steps are going to be when they start.

  • 9 am - meet manager
  • 9:15 am - orientation and tour
  • 9:30 am - paperwork
  • 10 am - introduction to the brand/culture
  • 10:30 am - training schedule and outline
  • 11 am - day one training

Not taking the time to onboard people on your team is just being lazy. Lazy doesn’t instill confidence and trust in your team or your leadership. Do better by being better.

4. Train Better

Another classic failure is the lack of training due to the fact you need them working a shift or station since you are in panic mode. You rush them through the training that should take at least a week in two days. They jump into the fire of a busy dinner rush and struggle. The young manager is barking at them all night. They start feeling not so good about the restaurant and the lack of leadership so they go home and get online looking for a new job.

Selection is critical to long-term restaurant success. Who you allow on your team is the tipping point for developing an outstanding culture. Training is the fuel that feeds that culture.

If you purchased a world champion Thoroughbred horse with the dream of winning The Kentucky Derby and didn’t train the horse properly, your chances of winning are nonexistent. The same for when you hire great people and fail to give them the tools and resources to become their best. You spent all that time and energy recruiting, interviewing, and on-boarding just to watch them leave sooner than you expected.

The sad thing is that you can stop that slow turnover bleeding by committing to training you people better than any other restaurant in your market! That should become a burning desire to train like your brand depends on it...because it does.

Train your team consistently and constantly. High performers want to grow. If you have done your job in the first three steps you’ll have the makings of a team that can help you dominate your market. Take it to the next level by creating a learning culture where personal growth plans are formulated and required.

"We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training." -Archilochus

5. Retain Better

Here we are the final step. You have spent considerable time and resources getting here and the last element is probably the most important...do everything you can to keep them

Here is where it’s easy to take people for granted. There is a common psychological term The Law of Familiarity. In a nutshell, it states that when you are around things (or people) you tend to take them for granted. It’s like falling in love. When you first date someone you are head over heels! The world just so amazing! 

Then after a year (or two or three), you stop making the same effort. You stop doing the little things you used to do. It’s not that you stopped caring, you just committed the number one sin of life...you got complacent. 

How do you change that? Make a decision today to treat your team with respect and appreciation every day. Treat them with that same energy and enthusiasm when they first started. 

Fall back in love with your brand and your restaurant. Look for the good things your team is doing instead of nagging them about all the crap they are doing wrong (BTW: if you are constantly training your staff this should fix most of those issues). Say “please” and “thank you”. It doesn’t make you weak to be polite and respectful. It makes you a leader to give before you get.

Hiring is the formula you must get right of your want your restaurant to thrive and not just survive in the years ahead. The storm of restaurant saturation is coming. Those that see the warning signs and make adjustments today have the best chance to make it through the industry storm on the horizon.