No matter how turbo-charged your business might be, no matter how realized and genius, you can accomplish little without a fantastic team.
When you set out to hire employees, you are making the most important of business decisions—your staff will make or break you. This holds especially true in the food and restaurant worlds. Servers are the face of your restaurant. They have the power to secure lifelong customers and work public relations magic. Conversely, an inept or rude waiter can wreak fast havoc. Likewise, your fabulous menu is only as fabulous as the cooks you have executing it.
Finding good people can be mind-boggling hard. But resist the urge to hire the next person who walks through your door. Putting in the work and time to staff your restaurant with rockstars will pay off big time.
Degrees mean little
I believe in education, in principle. But someone who’s had a year in a restaurant can most likely run circles around a candidate with two years in culinary school. Experience is the best education.
On the other hand, anyone with a quick and open mind can learn. When I was in college in New York, I had trouble finding a position as a server. I had experience in hostessing, working with cheese, and writing about food—but had never waited tables.
I got my foot in the door at a great wine bar with a smart owner. He said, “You love food, you get it, you’re intelligent. Waiting tables is not rocket science.” Even more elaborate and advanced skills are worth teaching to an ambitious, serious person with fire in the belly. Your investment will be a terrific one.
Do your due diligence
Check references. The food world is a tiny one, and people usually come with reputations. I could have avoided hiring a bar manager who seemed promising but ended up scaring away our regulars with a persistent case of grumpiness. My boss was eager to fill the position, so we had her start right away. Later, we learned she had a history of short stints with unhappy endings at many nearby bars and restaurants.
Pick people you like
I got great advice from a manager at a restaurant where I worked. “You will see these people every day. You will spend more time with them than with your family. You will go through stressful, crazy and great times together. Make sure you like them. Or at least make sure you won’t cringe when you walk into work and see their face. Don’t hire your employees as if you’re searching for friends, but do realize their personality and energy are as important as skill-sets.
Your employees will have to work well with you and your team. A sour attitude can spoil the whole atmosphere, like bad milk.
Trust your instincts
Your intuition probably knows best. If you’re loving someone right off the bat, or the other way around, it’s probably for a good reason.
But first impressions are not always the most accurate, especially since the job searching process can be a nerve-inducing one. Find someone else you trust to join you on an interview, or interview the candidate separately. Listen to them. If my boss could have heard my reservations about the mean barkeep, we could have had a chance to avoid serious and ugly drama.
Put them in the line of fire
Interviews, resumes and references are all valuable tools. But I’ve found the best test comes from the “trail.” This is restaurant speak for a day of trial work, watching and sometimes pitching in.
It’s always a little awkward for the trail-er, but you will learn a lot from watching them in action. How do they interact with coworkers and customers? If they’re a cook, it will be easy to size up their comfort level in a busy kitchen. Same for a busser or server in the front of the house.
Anyone can be on their “best behavior” for a 10 (or 60) minute interview. You will see true colors much clearer during a long, eventful shift. You can watch your potential employee make decisions and take actions in real time. If they are impressing you now, they’ve passed the test.
The candidate can also see if they like the place, the ethos, the speed. They can get a feel for the fit of the job for them. If they’re not happy, they won’t be the ideal employee.