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How to hire restaurant employees

Restaurant owners face unique challenges when hiring employees. The pandemic over the past year has introduced significant hurdles for the restaurant industry—many restaurants lost staff due to mandatory closings and struggle to replace team members.

But the demand for restaurant service continues to skyrocket as customers return to normal activities and are starved for dining experiences.

If you’re looking to hire restaurant employees, your hiring practices must evolve. Here are strategies to help you find great restaurant workers and get them to stay with you long-term.

1) Review your business support systems

Before you start posting job openings, get organized and create a game plan to streamline the operational side of your business. It can help you stay focused on the task of finding new employees.

Whether you’re starting a new restaurant business or have long been established, take a moment to make sure your record-keeping, tax reporting, and restaurant insurance are in order.

Insurance and licenses

You may have let some expenses lapse during the pandemic because you found it unnecessary or unaffordable. For example, you may have canceled your small business insurance if you closed your restaurant during the pandemic.

Now that you’re reopening, review your restaurant and bar policies and restaurant licenses to make sure they’re up to date.

Financial management

If you didn’t have a bookkeeper before the pandemic, you might want to bring in a bookkeeping service or consider online services as an affordable alternative. Outsourcing these tasks can benefit your business in several ways:

  • Reduce errors in income, expense, and tax reporting
  • Free up your time to focus on company-specific goals
  • Streamline your process to comply with the latest regulations

Before hiring team members is also an excellent time to offer direct deposit for your employees’ paychecks if you didn’t do that previously.

Website

The pandemic was a trying time that required many restaurateurs to adapt their business hours, menus, and practices. But did you update your website or social media profile to reflect the changes?

Consider reviewing your site and update it with the restaurant's current business hours, menus, and online ordering systems.

It can help you attract great candidates, too—job seekers expect websites to be user-friendly and mobile-optimized. But suppose they pull up your website on their phone, and it doesn’t have the information they need?

They can get the impression that you’re out of touch with business trends. So, remember: An outdated website can turn off an applicant before they ever read the job description.

Online review websites

Just as your website is essential, so are your online reviews—your applicants will check what other people are saying about your business before sending an application.

Look at the leading review sites like Google, Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor to find out what comments people left about your restaurant. If they aren't as good as you hoped, marketing and public relations professionals can help you get them back on track.

2) Identify which roles you need to fill

Before you start recruiting, take inventory of the resources you have and what your business needs. For example, if you’re hiring your first employee in Georgia:

  • Do you have enough dining room servers, bartenders, bussers, or dishwashers?
  • Could you benefit from a new executive chef or sous chef?
  • Would having a few more line cooks get food out faster for a better customer experience?
  • Do you need a back-of-house restaurant manager or front-of-house staff?

You should also consider how much help you need. For instance, would a full-time employee be your best option? Or do you only need part-time help for a few hours per week or a seasonal staff member during peak months?

These decisions help you plan where and how you can find employees for your service restaurant.

Set goals

Make a wish list of the jobs you want to hire and consider what backgrounds or experiences would work best for the position.

You could also ask your current staff about the duties they’re already performing to get an idea of gaps you might need to fill. Knowing this upfront can help you decide what to include in the job listings.

3) Know the challenges you face

Restaurants have different needs than other businesses. For example, dining establishments are notorious for high employee turnover—the average turnover rate is nearly 75%, according to the National Restaurant Association.

The restaurant industry is the economy’s largest employer of teenagers, and the high turnover is partly because of the age of workers. Other reasons include seasonal staffing rotations and the ability for restaurant employees to quickly move from one restaurant to another for upward mobility and career growth.

As a result, attracting and keeping good workers can be a struggle.

Location and competition

Suppose you’re looking to hire your first employee in Texas, and your restaurant is in a seasonal area or a small town. In that case, you’ll likely face different obstacles to hiring than a restaurant in a metropolitan area.

Small towns don't offer as many qualified candidates. But you may have an advantage because a small restaurant can set itself apart from others more readily than in a big city. It can create a reputation of quality and service that makes customers return again and again.

On the other hand, restaurants in the city have more options to recruit restaurant employees.

Employee benefits

Larger restaurants with multiple locations or corporate headquarters typically offer more competitive pay and, often, employee benefits. Smaller restaurants can find it challenging to stay competitive—offering benefits like health insurance, retirement savings, and paid time off are added expenses that can pressure a company’s finances.

Still, you might have options to help with employee retention. Check with an accountant or health insurance agent to see what health plans and retirement programs you might be able to offer your staff. They’re not always cost-prohibitive.

Changes in pay

Another consideration is your restaurant's pay structure. According to the Department of Labor, the standard minimum wage for a tipped employee is $7.25 per hour. The employer pays an hourly wage of $2.13, and customer tips are supposed to make up the difference.

And if the tips don’t fill the gap, the Fair Labor Standards A t (FLSA) requires the employer to chip in. (Check the laws in your state because they may be different.)
To attract employees, some businesses in the hospitality industry are increasing pay. For example, Darden, the company that owns Olive Garden, is raising hourly rates to allow employees to earn at least $10 per hour in response to the labor shortage, according to a report by CNN.

Offering to pay higher wages may help you attract more candidates for your open position.

4) Write job descriptions

Writing job descriptions can be tricky if you’ve not done it before. It’s best to start with the basics. Every description should include basic information about the role:

  • Job title
  • Job duties
  • Preferred skillset
  • Required experience
  • Employment type (full-time, part-time, contract)
  • Salary or hourly pay range

For example, suppose you need to hire servers as your first employees in California. However, at your restaurant, servers occasionally do double-duty as bartenders. In this case, mention that servers would also need bartending experience.

Check your competitors

If you get stuck creating your posting, look at job ads from other restaurants to see what they include. Make a note of whether they mention pay scales, benefits, or anything else that sets them apart.

Make it about them, not you

When in doubt, imagine the job description from the job seeker’s perspective. Ask yourself, “What would I want to know about this job before submitting my application?” Job descriptions should answer that question.

By focusing on what the employee gets out of it, your job ad is more likely to get attention than if you only mentioned your business.

For example, seasonal restaurants may offer stellar scenery, a lively after-hours social scene, or close proximity to a beach, lake, or mountain range. Paint a written picture of what working with your restaurant would look like to get an applicant's attention.

5) Get creative with job postings and outlets

Now that you have the business maintenance set up, it's time to put yourself out there and find some fresh faces. Restaurant owners have a variety of outlets to get the word out and discover talent.

Traditional outlets and job boards

Because working at a restaurant is a local job, you may have luck posting your help-wanted notice using a traditional method like a flyer, newspaper, or classified ad.

States can also have government employment offices that will post your job listings for free or a small fee.

To spread the word even further, consider an online job board. Many small business owners scour recruitment websites like Indeed, CareerBuilder, Monster, and LinkedIn.

Business networking

If your restaurant is part of a business guild or chamber of commerce, put out the word that you’re looking for help. Local businesses can be an excellent source of referrals.

Social media

Social media can be an excellent outlet for attracting job candidates. But first, make sure your business has a social media presence. Then, post that you’re hiring and ask your friends and customers to share posts announcing your job openings.

Facebook and Instagram ads can also be effective—and they’re relatively affordable. For the most significant impact, post your food or restaurant images and target people who already work in the business. Creativity can pay off if it separates you from other companies that might be hiring.

6) Selecting the best candidates

The selection process can be grueling. But it’s an excellent opportunity to review your hiring process and create a template. That way, if you need to do another round of restaurant job postings and screenings, you have procedures already in place to save you time.

Streamline your time

As you review applications, have a bullet list of requirements. It’ll be easier to quickly scan and sort applicants according to how qualified they are for the position.

It’s also helpful to prepare a list of interview questions ahead of time. You’ll have the information ready when interviewing your candidates over the phone or in person.

Check the applicant's social media networks

When you find candidates that might be a good fit, search their online social profiles to learn more about them. According to a Harris Poll survey on behalf of CareerBuilder, it's common practice—70% of employers use social media as a screening tool before hiring.

Check their social media networks to determine whether their resume aligns with their online profiles.

Batch interviewing

If possible, set up all of your in-person job interviews for the same day. It provides the convenience of being more organized and ready with questions. You'll also have fresh memories of other candidates to make the decision process faster and simpler.

Make an offer

Congratulations! You found the best candidates, and it is time to make offers of employment. In some cases, it may make sense to have a written offer or employment contract. Otherwise, a phone or email offer might be all you need.

When offering the position, schedule a time for them to come in for onboarding with your training program.

7) Onboarding process

Onboarding a new hire is a great responsibility. It provides a first impression of what working for your company might be like. Introduce them to restaurant management and other restaurant staff. Take time to show them around, so they become familiar with the working conditions and work environment.

Keep in mind that you must collect the required forms and authorizations before your new team member can start:

  • Contact information, including mailing address
  • Social Security Number
  • IRS Form W-4 tax withholding form
  • IRS Form I-9 form proving employment eligibility

If appropriate, you may also need the employee to sign a:

  • Direct deposit authorization
  • Job description
  • Offer letter
  • Acknowledgment of receiving the employee handbook
  • Consent for background check
  • Non-disclosure agreement

Finally, let your new employee know their starting schedule to report for orientation and training. And remember: No matter the size of your restaurant, you can be successful in hiring great employees.

At Huckleberry, we partner with small businesses to protect your livelihood from unforeseeable events. Even though you take precautions to keep your employees safe, every restaurant needs reliable worker’s compensation insurance. It only takes 5 minutes to get a quote (and there are no boring forms to fill out).


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Disclaimer

All content on this page is for general informational purposes only and does not apply to any specific case, is not legal, tax or insurance advice and should not be relied upon. If you have any questions about the situation for your small business or the latest information in your state, you should contact an attorney for legal advice, an insurance agent or broker, and/or your state's labor or industry agency, board, commission or department. Please note that the information provided on this page may change at any time as a result of legislative action, court decisions or rules adopted or amended by any state or the federal government.

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