The restaurant industry is known for having a huge employee turnover rate. But hiring and training hostesses, servers, and bartenders is a time-consuming and often costly venture, which means it’s important to get it right on your first go and hire people who fit your business model and want to stick around for a while. Here are five tips to consider when hiring these critical positions. (Spoiler alert: The last one may be our favorite.)
Take Your Time During the Interview Process
There’s a reason they say the best managers are “slow to hire and quick to fire.” You want to find managers who will be very methodical during the hiring process to avoid a high turnover rate. It’s important to go into this process with a clear idea of what the restaurant’s values and mission statement are so that you can use that as a guide to hire people who fit within that culture. Have the applicant meet with at least two people who ask different questions. This is also a time to take note of the little things like how the candidate is dressed as well as eye contact, facial expressions, and the overall way they present themselves.
Ask Hard Questions
While it’s important to discuss things like availability and previous experience, it’s also important to find out how front of house employees will handle different situations, what sets them apart from the competition, what they love (and don’t love) about their work, how they handle difficult customers, what they’d do if a customer was unhappy, a time they disagreed with a co-worker and how they solved the dispute, and any food or wine questions you may have to determine if they are qualified. You may also want to ask about their favorite dishes or cocktails around town just to get a sense of how they talk about food. It’s also important to see if they have any questions for you. If they don’t, you might want to rethink how prepared the candidate is and if they’re really enthusiastic about the job.
Have Candidates You Like Do a Trial Shift
There’s no better way to see if a candidate is a good fit than trailing them for a couple of hours while they work a shift or shadow another server, hostess or bartender. The candidate should show up on time, be dressed properly, and have at least a fair understanding of the menu. This is a perfect opportunity to see if their skills and demeanor will be a good fit and if they’re up for the job. It’s also only fair to pay them for their time, regardless of if you’ll be hiring them when it’s over.
Call Their References
Reach out to past employers and character references to verify the candidate is being truthful about past experience and key competencies and to also get a better sense for the applicant’s personality and work style. This is your last chance to get outside opinions about the person, so you want to take advantage of it. A great question to ask is if the person would rehire the candidate. Keep your ears open to really decipher if the reference is just trying to be polite and put a positive spin on things or if she truly believes what she’s saying.
Ignore All of This Advice
We spoke to Gianpaolo Paterlini, partner and wine director at 1760 in San Francisco’s Nob Hill, to get his advice about interviewing and retaining help. He said, “When we hire people, it has absolutely nothing to do with experience or skill; it’s strictly about personality.” Paterlini insists he can teach anyone what they need to know, so it’s most important to make sure he thinks they’re a good fit for the staff and patrons. “I ask them simple questions like what their favorite dish is and why,” he says. “I don’t care what dish they describe. I just want to know if they can convey a dish or drink with some emotion and if it feels authentic.”
But don’t think he spends a lot of time with these questions. “I talk with them for five or ten minutes at most. If you’re a diner, how long do you have to feel out your server? Not much. You’re just going to have quick little interludes. The first impression matters the most, so I just go off of the vibe they give me,” he says.
Paterlini is so reliant on his first impression of a person that he says he’s actually never called a single reference. “I try to hire people with no experience,” he says. “There are so many bad habits people pick up that I want a blank slate when I train someone.” Of course, this means you have to be willing to be patient, help employees learn, and really put in the training. “It’s all about giving people a chance,” Paterlini says. “People aren’t just employees, they’re family.” And that’s why his employees choose to stick around.
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