The hardest question to answer in the restaurant business was sent in by Maria, a student at BriarCliffe College in Bethpage, New York. Aside from attending college, she has a catering business and intends on opening a bar-lounge next year. She’s looking for advice on how to hire and keep staff.
That dilemma causes most of the problems in a restaurant. Finding staff, and keeping them are two completely different segments of the business. And, once you find them, you’ve got to hire them. That in itself is a difficult task.
I always looked for staff in other restaurants that I enjoyed eating in. I certainly wouldn’t come right out and attempt to steal a good waiter or waitress, but I would give them the opportunity to pick up a few shifts in my restaurants. By doing that, I already had performed part of the interview process while dining. Many employees work at more than one restaurant, especially when they are first breaking into the business, and are excited about being offered other opportunities.
On line communities are also a great place to find staff. Craigslist is the premier community and works wonders. In college towns, posting ads on bulletin boards and in job placement offices works well. In large urban areas, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, the city colleges, art academies, and of course, the culinary schools always worked for me.
If you’re just opening, while still under construction, get the biggest banner you can find announcing yuour hiring. This doesn’t fall under the sign in the window- you’re not open yet. Plus, its good advertising to the neighbors that you will be open soon.
Have a job fair at the location and get as many resumes as you can. This will be a tremendous asset, even if you don’t hire some of the applicants, you can always call them in the future to get connections to others looking for shifts. Naturally, many of these who apply will work elsewhere, but restaurant employees and owners are a club within themselves. They all know someone in need of work. I had a call on demand list that I used whenever I needed someone to fill in.
Once you find people to interview, the criteria used for hiring is often difficult to establish. I hired on instinct almost as much as I hired on credentials. Especially since credentials in the restaurant business can be easily faked and altered.
Most of the time those instincts proved true. However, on occasion I was burned by an employee. But that, unfortunately, is part of the game.
Keeping employees is another aspect of the business all together.
I always considered my entire restaurant a ball club. It didn’t matter if it were baseball, basketball or football. The philosophy was the same. We were a team. In my line-up card, the owners were the head coaches, the managers the assistant coaches, and the staff, team players. And, depending on how well you played the last game, that’s how I fielded a team for the next night.
Of course the kitchen was the backfield, or the infield, and that seldom changed. But the front of the house was rewarded by performance. The bigger the sales, the better the average cover, the better sections that wait person got. They worked the busier nights. They got requested days off more frequently. And, I always knew my stars would eventually get a bigger offer from a busier restaurant down the street or across town and I could move the players in the line up to better positions. Naturally, some stars stayed forever.
I would bonus tip the kitchen staff on busy nights without flaws, mistakes, or plates that were sent back. Usually on a Saturday night so it didn´t matter what happened after we closed.
The staff ate well. We always served a staff meal. Nobody drank in the restaurant. It was a rule. It is smarter to give the head waiter fifty dollars for drinks and send him and the staff to a neighboring restaurant than it is to offer any employee a drink at the bar. By doing that you know its only going to cost fifty dollars. If they drink in the restaurant nobody knows what it cost. Believe me. I worked in New York.
And, I would suspend and penalize players who didn’t perform to their capabilities. A bit more side work, a bathroom tour, polish more glasses.
Now, this plan isn’t for the meek, but it proved to not only be efficient, it was fun for the staff, because we were a team. And we all thought that way. If you didn´t you were traded.
Less cooperative players got traded quickly. One thing to always remember-the most important position on a team is the bus driver. Without him, you forfeit away games. In a restaurant the most important player is the dishwasher. Always treat him with respect. Without plates, the best food in the world never makes it off the stove, never mind to the table.
Good Luck Maria.
If anyone has any other tips for the newest Bar owner in Bethpage, New York, send them in, we’ll make sure she gets them.