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How to Recruit, Train, and Keep Top-Notch Restaurant Staff

High turnover rates are a perennial challenge in the restaurant industry, with many contributing factors. But while many restaurant owners and managers shrug their shoulders and dismiss the problem as something they can do nothing about, there are in fact several practical things you can do to recruit, train and keep top-notch restaurant staff. In a business where people are your only true sustainable competitive advantage, it’s a wonder why more restaurants don’t make the effort.

Hire the Right People

If you want top-notch, high performing staff, that are engaged and loyal to your restaurant, you need to start by hiring the right people, right from the start. Here are some practices you should adopt to make your hiring more effective:

Track the effectiveness of your “Sources of Hire”
It’s important to keep track of each employee’s source of hire (i.e. where did you get their resume from – job board ad, agency, referral, walk-in, school, etc.), then map that to their performance in the first year. Watch for trends. Do your best employees tend to come from one or more particular sources? Do problematic employee tend to come from the same source? Trends in employee performance related to source of hire can help guide future recruiting efforts and make them more effective.

Assess Key Competencies in the Interview ProcessHiring Restaurant Staff
Figure out what the key competencies are for both your restaurant and the role. (Competencies are also referred to as skills or behaviors.) Then make sure you ask questions in the interview that help reveal the candidate’s abilities in those areas. For example, if your establishment is more formal, you might want to assess potential customer facing staff on their manners and etiquette. If you cater to families, you’ll want to make sure staff are child-focused. By identifying your key competencies up-front, and assessing candidates’ demonstration of them, you increase the quality of your hires.

Consider “Cultural” Fit
Every workplace has a culture. Is yours formal, friendly, trendy, casual? Think about the work atmosphere you want to create. Now when you interview, ask yourself if the candidate will be a good cultural fit for your workplace. If they fit in, and get along with your existing team, they’ll likely stay and be more effective in their role. If they don’t, you’ll likely run into problems.

Use Employee Referrals
Your existing employees are sometimes your best sources for new candidates. Afte all, they have a vested interested in getting someone good in the new role. Ask them for referrals or recommendations for new hires.

Make Employee Development a Priority

Provide Ongoing Development
Often restaurant owners and managers think of employee training as something you do when you hire a new person. The goal is simply to get them up and running as quickly as possible. But good employers make employee development an ongoing priority. Train to refresh skills. Train to expand skills. Train to develop abilities or expand career potential. Train to keep abreast of innovations or trends. And make use of all the development media/vehicles available to you: webinars, seminars, courses, job-sharing, job-shadowing, mentoring, reading, podcasts, etc. Being given the opportunity to develop on the job is one of the key enablers of employee engagement and retention.

Support or Subsidize Ongoing Career Development
As long as the employee wants to advance their career in the restaurant or hospitality industry, you really can’t go wrong by fostering their career development. Where possible, financial support or subsidies are a great help. But you can also support career development by allowing time off, accommodating shifts, temporarily reducing workloads, offering work practicums, etc. Think of it as an investment in both your restaurant’s, and your employee’s future.

Crosstraining develops your workforce in two powerful ways. First, it broadens your available talent pool, enabling you to use your existing staff to fill in quickly when someone is sick, someone is on vacation, someone leaves, or the workload shifts. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it helps to build a more cooperative and appreciative workforce. When you know and understand someone else’s role, constraints and pressures, you can work better and more effectively with them, because you understand the impact your work has on the other.

Address Engagement Needs
A quick web search on “employee engagement” reveals a number of studies on the contributors to employee engagement and satisfaction. Among these factors are: getting feedback on performance, having a context for your work, having opportunities for development (as stated earlier) and being fairly rewarded or recognized for good performance.

Give Ongoing Feedback on PerformanceGive Restaurant Staff Feedback
Make sure your employees know what they’re doing well, so they can continue to do it, where and how they can improve, and what they need to stop doing. We all need performance feedback on a weekly, if not daily, basis so we know if we are on track and meeting expectations. This kind of ongoing feedback is the best way to foster high-performance.

Engage Employees in Achieving the Restaurant’s Goals
Research repeatedly tells us that employees need a context for their work, so they feel they are “making a difference”. So share your restaurant goals with your employees. And make sure they each have individual goals that link to your higher level restaurant goals. This kind of goal alignment has been shown to increase both employee performance and engagement.

Recognize and Reward Great Performance
While this certainly includes your compensation program, which should correlate to employee performance, not just seniority, inflation or other external factors, it really needs to go beyond this. A simple thank you, some paid time off, a complimentary meal, acknowledgement in front of peers – all these are ways to recognize and reward great performance and encourage more of it. Be creative and find consistent, effective ways to reward your staff.

These basic “people management” practices can go a long way to helping any restaurant hire, develop and retain a high performing staff. And isn’t that really what we’re all after?

About Sean Conrad

Sean Conrad is a Certified Human Capital Strategist and food lover who knows that good people management practices mean good business. For more of his insights on talent management, read his posts on the Halogen Software blog.

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