• Calla Norman

How to Hire Staff for Your Restaurant (and How to Keep Them!)

Updated: Jul 14


A staff member at Go Buddha in Cleveland

Honeycomb crowdfunded loans can help you obtain the capital you need to hire talented employees for your restaurant!


You’ve gone through the steps of conceiving the idea for your restaurant, getting the funding you need, finding a location, and building it out - you’re so close to realizing your dream of opening a restaurant! However, you walk through the front doors of your new location, and you hear crickets. What’s missing?


That’s right, employees! As a restaurant owner, you can’t do everything yourself! Depending on the needs of your restaurant, you need chefs and line cooks in the back of the house, wait staff in the front-of-house, hosts, bartenders, baristas — the list goes on and on.


After all, your employees make your restaurant, arguably more so than the decor, location, and even the food being served! How often have you been to a restaurant and had maybe average food but stellar service? Conversely, how often have you had amazing food at a restaurant, but your experience was spoiled by a substandard server? If you look back on any of those memories, you’d know intuitively how important hiring the right team of employees is to any restaurant.


We know a major challenge for restaurant owners in 2021 has been finding enough talent to hire, because of the imminent risks of COVID-19 and various economic factors. However, if you can offer a nice enough employment package and create a culture that your employees want to be a part of, you can certainly navigate these challenges and be operating with a full staff in no time.


How do you find the right people to hire? How do you make sure they’ll fit in with your restaurant? Most importantly, once you find them, how do you keep them around? Come with us as we discuss the basics of how to hire, train, and retain employees to make your restaurant a success.


In this article, we'll cover the following:

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Why is it important to hire smart for my restaurant?


Cost

It costs money to hire, onboard, and keep an employee! Restaurants on average spend $150,000 on employee turnover, about $6,000 per employee!


That’s the cost of, like, two commercial stand mixers!


What we’re saying is, hiring employees, training them, and keeping them around is an essential investment, so you’d better be smart and hire people who will contribute to your productivity and stick around for a while.


Culture

Hiring employees who share your values and work well with your restaurant culture will improve not only their engagement and satisfaction but will also reflect well on the restaurant.


Employees who promote your restaurant culture and show it to the world aren’t just star workers but are also valuable tools in marketing your restaurant by being one of the first means of showing its authentic self to the world.


Competency

Hiring good people means they’ll do good work. You want to look for a balance of technical skills, social skills, work ethic, and alignment with company culture. This way, your new hires will work well with the team, be well-equipped for the job, and will just overall be good at their jobs.



staff member at Go Buddha restaurant in Cleveland Ohio

Learn more about how Honeycomb helps restaurants unlock capital with the power of community crowdfunding here.


How do I hire staff for my restaurant?


Craft a winning restaurant job posting


You might think that a job posting for a restaurant is straightforward and short. You’re looking for people to cook food and serve it, it’s pretty basic. And it can be, but paying a bit closer attention to detail in your job description can make the difference between attracting a mediocre and a star employee.


If you list your job posting with the bare necessities - wage, hours, position - anyone could see those and think they’d be a good fit. If you’re looking for higher-quality candidates, it would be worth your time to personalize your job posting and include your restaurant's values and culture indicators.


For instance, if you run a farm-to-table restaurant, you should include that in your job posting, because you’ll be more likely to attract candidates who already have a major passion for sustainable food. It’s been proven that having shared values between employees and businesses increases value in the customer experience and in employee satisfaction.


Post your restaurant job where the people are

So now you know what to write in your job description, where do you post it? Well, one good way of attracting employees who you know are already familiar with your brand is by putting job postings up on your social media.


You can also use standard job boards like Indeed and Glassdoor, or look for a food industry-focused job board like GoodFoodJobs or Poached. Seasoned is another great platform to find potential employees - it’s kind of like LinkedIn for the restaurant industry, and it makes recruiting super easy and convenient.


Once more in-person events become a thing again, looking into industry job fairs such as those held by local culinary programs is another great idea to get talented job candidates knocking at your door.


Another way you can sweeten the deal and attract more candidates is by offering a signing bonus - which can easily be funded by a Honeycomb crowdfunded loan! You can also use a Honeycomb loan to obtain the working capital you need to hire employees. Speckled Egg, a brunch restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh, raised $49,500 from 42 investors to start their restaurant, some of which went towards startup labor costs.


Above all, make sure you set clear expectations about the hiring process and what kinds of candidates you’re looking for while hiring. This begins at the job description, making sure you state your values and what you expect from employees and goes all the way to second-round or preview shifts where you get to see your potential hires in action.


Traits to look out for when hiring

One way you can streamline your hiring process is by creating an employee profile. This profile is similar to a buyer persona that you might use while marketing in that it’s the archetype of the kind of person you’d want to see in this role.


Typical traits in an employee profile are years and kinds of experience, personal qualities (are they amiable and laid-back or quiet and determined?), core values, and their own personal and career goals.


While most entrants into the restaurant industry are not looking to become lifers, having goals that align with your restaurant’s values, such as working in a customer-centric field or working in food and hospitality generally is important when hiring.


Craft a fruitful interview


The interview is one of the most important (and most dreaded) aspects of the job search. Some restaurateurs may not see it as a major aspect of the process, compared to the stage or preview shifts for example, but having a chance to sit down with an employee and get a feel for how they’ll fit with your restaurant’s culture and environment is a worthwhile investment of time.


The interview should have a mixture of different kinds of questions. Disarming questions are informal ones not directly about the job, but let you get a feel for their personality. Then, there are standard background questions where you can see what kind of experience they have. Finally, some questions on their personal values and culture can help you see where they fit into your restaurant.


Ask questions that are experiential, such as, “Tell me about a time when you dealt with a customer complaint?” or “What actions do you take to keep up in a fast-paced environment?” This will give you a better idea of how they might react to a stressful situation like a Mother’s Day Brunch, for example.

Create a referral program

Once you have a solid staff going, another great way of finding and hiring new staff would be to start a referral program. This gives your employees a chance to highlight other talented people they know who they think would be a good fit for the company.


You can easily start a referral program by offering some incentives to your employees for referrals that end up getting hired.



A staff member at Casa Brasil restaurant in Pittsburgh

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How do I train staff for my restaurant?


The importance of onboarding

In 2019, the restaurant turnover rate was 78.9%, which has only skyrocketed since the pandemic to 130%. While the pandemic was a major factor in having restaurant employees leave (or lose) their jobs, high rates of turnover have historically been a problem in the industry.


Much of this has to do with industry standards and culture. Many people, especially the young people who make up the bulk of the service industry, see restaurants as a stepping stone to their “real” career, or a way to make some extra cash while pursuing other interests, such as creative endeavors or more education.


However, on top of many other cultural issues and factors within the industry, unclear expectations and poor training are two of the biggest causes of employee turnover in restaurants.


This is why onboarding is so critical for training restaurant jobs. If you just throw a new employee into the deep end without teaching them, don’t be surprised if they eventually swim out of the pool!


Onboarding involves many different kinds of training, from health and safety training to administrative training, culture training, and of course experiential training! Make sure your veteran employees who’re helping out with the onboarding are courteous, welcoming, and open so that new hires feel comfortable asking questions to help them learn.


Some brand-new restaurants reserve the whole week before they open to training employees, ensuring a thorough onboarding process. This week usually culminates with a soft opening, so employees can get a chance to get a sense of the action before the actual opening day.


Provide opportunities for upward mobility and extra training


Hiring from within by promoting star team members is a great way of not only filling your staffing needs but also increasing employee engagement and retention. If an employee knows there are opportunities to climb the ladder at your restaurant, they’ll be more motivated to stay and do a good job.


Including opportunities for extra responsibility and training beyond the requirements of the job are also ways you can increase employee engagement at your restaurant and invest more into your employees. This could be by offering necessary training on different specialized kinds of equipment, or free opportunities to get industry-wide certifications which would mean something down the line to their own professional qualifications (for example, offering free ServSafe or CPR training).


Showing that you’re invested in your employees’ success will motivate them to stick around and take advantage of opportunities that could benefit them in their careers.


Bakery case at UnBar Cafe restaurant in Cleveland


How do I keep my employees happy and motivated?


Culture, culture, culture

While much of the media surrounding restaurants paint them as cut-throat environments, thanks to books such as the late Anthony Bourdain’s irreverent memoir Kitchen Confidential and popular fictionalized accounts of service jobs like Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, these kinds of workplaces are not necessarily effective at retaining employees and creating a positive company culture.


A recent Harvard Business Review article states how negative environments have harmful health effects on employees and negatively impact productivity. The authors suggest that fostering supportive relationships, showing empathy, keeping an open-door policy, and going the extra mile to help your employees will pay off.


How can you actively work toward creating a positive culture in your restaurant? Implementing a mentorship program as part of your onboarding process is a good start. While hierarchies are a traditional method of structuring a restaurant’s organization, look into “flattening” your restaurant’s hierarchy to encourage equal communication amongst the team.


The key to encouraging a positive culture in your restaurant is being consistent about when and how you promote the culture, how you discipline wrongdoings, and how you celebrate victories. This is especially important if you’re introducing a culture shift.


Finally, if you hire with positive workplace culture in mind, your new hires will positively reinforce these values, making it all the easier to cultivate a welcoming culture that will lead to better employee retention and less turnover.


News spreads notoriously fast in the restaurant industry between employees, and as a result, poor treatment can lead to poor hiring outcomes, negative press, and even broader forms of backlash such as boycotts.


Competitive Pay


Offering competitive pay to your employees is arguably one of the most important ways you will be able to attract and retain star talent. We’ve all seen the articles recently about the difficulty restaurants are having with finding labor after the fallout from the pandemic, after all.


Many former restaurant workers are deciding not to return to the industry because they aren’t receiving the wages and benefits they deserve, especially when they risk their own health working during a pandemic.


And why would they want to come back? Restaurant wages have been stagnant industry-wide for years, especially for tipped workers who receive a federal minimum wage of $2.13. The restaurant industry includes 7 out of 10 of the lowest-paying jobs in the United States, and restaurant workers are more likely to live in poverty and live on SNAP benefits.


One example of a restaurant that’s offering a livable wage and benefits is Square Cafe. Square Cafe is one of Pittsburgh’s most popular restaurants for brunch, and recently funded a $250,000 move to a new location through our platform! Owner Sherree Goldstein works to give her employees opportunities for a career and often hires people who might otherwise struggle to find employment to give them a second shot.


Many people, even some restaurant owners, view workers in the restaurant industry as marginal, and this poor treatment and pay leads to high rates of employee turnover. By offering a livable wage to your employees, you show that you respect them and want them to stay on your team, which increases their own engagement in their work, making it a win-win situation!


One Fair Wage is a nonprofit organization that advocates for a $15 minimum wage across the board for the restaurant industry, among other things. Their High Road Restaurants program is a valuable resource for restaurant owners looking to include more equitable employment practices, from wages to racial and gender justice.


Benefits


Beyond the usual opportunities for healthcare benefits, offering gym stipends or public transportation stipends could help you better retain your employees.


In an industry where full benefits are rare, looking into these alternative benefits could be a way to attract and retain employees. This is especially true for benefits that would solve problems many employees have in getting to work, such as transportation and child care.


Hiring the right employees can make your restaurant shine


Having satisfied, competent, and engaged employees under your hire can boost not only your restaurant’s profitability, but can be a boon to you when you look at raising capital for your restaurant!


As we’ve mentioned, your employees are often customers’ first sense of who you are as a company. By making a great first impression through your employees, you have the opportunity for a long-lasting relationship with your customers. This will be such an asset when crowdfunding with Honeycomb!


To learn more about how forming great customer relationships equals crowdfunding success for your restaurant, check out www.honeycombcredit.com/restaurant and sign up below for more information!