Successfully Hiring and Training Restaurant Staff

// By Kristin Fenchak // , Jun 23, 2020

Topics: Restaurant Management

The hiring process is a dreaded one for bar and restaurant owners. The hospitality industry experiences more turnover than any other industry, and a rotating crop of employees is costly for your bottom line.


If you find yourself constantly hiring and training new staff, then you’re wasting your time and resources (and you’re probably sick of learning new names every other week).

Rather than asking what they are doing wrong, ask yourself how you can make the hiring and training process better in your restaurant. Some adjustments on your end will help you make smarter hiring choices, and lead to a stronger staff. 


Candidates sitting in line waiting for a job interview and holding resumes


Promote From Within


Have you considered that maybe you don't need to hire at all? Sometimes the perfect candidate is already working for you.


In a study conducted by Matthew Bidwell, he discovered that external hires are 61% more likely to be fired than someone who was promoted. His study also reveals that external hires tend to be paid more, even though they generally don't perform as well as internal hires.


By promoting from within, you're going to keep your payroll costs low, and you're giving an opportunity to a deserving member of your team, rather than taking a financial gamble on a new hire. 


Hiring from within also raises your retention; if other staff members see their coworkers moving up the ladder, it will signal a potential for growth, and your employees will be more likely to stay loyal to you. 


Always seek out ways to nurture the talent you see on your team, so you can move people up organically as they begin to grow. For example, your even-tempered server that never cracks under pressure could be a great floor manager someday. With some training, one of your line cooks could transition into the role of sous chef. 


Bidwell's study proves that it's not always beneficial to make an outside hire, sometimes it's better to train the right person on your staff.


Recruit New Talent By Asking Your Best Employees for Referrals 


With some of your best employees, you've probably thought to yourself "I wish I had five more of you." Odds are, they probably have a friend in the industry who would make a great fit for your establishment.


Before hitting the job boards, let your staff know that you are hiring. People in the industry know each other, and finding connections through your staff might help you find the perfect fit.


There are proven benefits to hiring people that your employees recommend; studies have shown that referrals are more productive than non-referrals, and they have a higher retention rate. You can almost guarantee a lower turnover rate by looking to your staff for new hires.


Add some incentive to your referral program by giving away gift cards or free meals to employees that successfully help you bring on new members. When referrals are done right, it's a win for you and your staff. 


Make Your Restaurant or Bar Appealing to Applicants


So, maybe you've made a few hires from within, but you still have some positions that need to be filled. Where do you scout new talent, and how do you attract the best candidates to your establishment?


You should start by looking for employees on service industry job boards. Culinary Agents is a great place to find qualified hires, whether it's managers, bartenders, or line cooks. Since it is dedicated entirely to the hospitality industry, candidates you find on there are more likely to take their job seriously.


However, posting to the right job board isn't enough—you need to put some effort into your job description. If you publish something that's lackluster and generic, can you really expect good results? 


Just as you expect an applicant to stand out, you should try to stand out to applicants as well. 


manager with pocket square and suit holding a piece of paper

As an example, here are two mock job descriptions for the same restaurant:


EXAMPLE 1: Jerry's is seeking FOH and BOH staff. Must be available evenings and weekends. Email your resume to be considered. No calls or walk ins.


EXAMPLE 2:  Jerry's, located on a lively corner in downtown Chicago, is seeking enthusiastic staff members to join our team! You may have heard of us in EatGood magazine, where they raved about our moody atmosphere and the creative small plates. You can expect to see a lot of action on weekends, so high volume experience is a major plus. You'll be working hard, but we make it a sweet deal by offering a lot in return. With Jerry's you'll receive competitive pay, benefits, PTO, and a friendly, inclusive work environment. Email us your resume, and be sure to include a brief paragraph on why you think you'd be a great fit for our restaurant. We can't wait to meet you!


Which one seems like a restaurant you'd actually want to work at?


The first example is cold, bland, and doesn't offer any insight on what the restaurant is actually like. The second example has more personality, and also shows applicants what they can expect from the work environment. Whether you are a neighborhood dive bar, or a fine dining establishment, people need to know what they are getting into before they apply for the job.


Have some fun with the job description! Make sure it showcases who you are and what you're about, and give applicants a reason to get excited about your restaurant. 


Be a Good Interviewer 


Before someone comes in for an interview, you're probably primed to pick apart their answers to your questions. But are you putting yourself under the same scrutiny? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have a good sense of this person's experience?
  • Have I gotten a feel for their personality, and how it will fit into this establishment?
  • Have I been honest and realistic about what the job entails?
  • Have I explained the culture and community of our restaurant? 


Woman with glasses interviewing a gentleman for a jobInterviews shouldn't be formulaic, they should be more of a relaxed conversation. You want to get a feel for a candidate's experience and their personality, rather than just ticking a box on whether or not they answered a question "correctly."


Consider asking behavioral questions, like "how have you handled conflict at work in the past?" and "if you needed to cut off a guest, how would you go about it?" 


Backbar has previously covered interview questions you should be asking bartenders and managers, so be sure to check out these tips before meeting with potential candidates. 


Hire a Diverse Pool of Applicants


Group of employees standing in line wearing green aprons as manager talks to them


Sameness breeds sameness. If you want your restaurant to flourish, a diverse workforce is an essential component for success. 


What exactly makes up a diverse workforce? By definition, having a diverse workforce means you hire people of varying ages, genders, religious backgrounds, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. 


The good news is, according to a 2019 study by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the restaurant industry has more women and minorities in management positions than any other industry. Woohoo! 


However, that doesn't automatically mean you should pat yourself on the back. Do an audit on your employees, and ask yourself these important questions:


  • Do women and minorities have prominent roles in the workplace? 
  • Do we take all unique perspectives into account?
  • Are we consistently hiring people of all different backgrounds? 
  • Do we offer the same opportunities for everyone to move up, regardless of their gender, orientation, or race?


Studies have shown that work environments with little to no diversity actually experience more infighting and disagreements than work environments that employ a variety of different backgrounds. You're doing yourself and your staff a disservice by overlooking diversity when you hire new employees.


The fact is, employees want to work in a diverse, inclusive workplace. If you don't have good representation, then you're going to alienate potential hires that don't see where they might fit in to your establishment.


Training and Onboarding


You can't make a great dish or cocktail without the right ingredients. Now that you've got the right ingredients (a great staff!), it's time to implement proper training techniques to make them excel at their jobs.


Onboarding Employees During COVID-19


We'd be remiss if we didn't mention how COVID-19 has changed the training and onboarding process for the foreseeable future. 


Before you begin to train a new hire, there are additional safety and sanitation regulations to keep in mind. Bringing a new staff member onto your team can be a potential health risk, so it's important to follow these tips as well as social distancing guidelines to keep your staff safe.


Each state has their own reopening guidelines to follow, so make sure to research best practices based on your location. For Illinois residents, you can follow Phase III guidelines here. It gives you tips on training employees, how to conduct health and wellness checks, and the best ways to keep COVID-19 from spreading. 


Reopening amid a pandemic is no easy task, but luckily there are tons of free resources available to help. Backbar is offering a 6 month free trial to get you back on track, and our Basic Backbar plan is always free. 


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Training Resources


Depending on their job role and where you are located, each state requires different training courses to be completed before your new staff members can hit the floor.


If you are unfamiliar with your requirements, you can check out this map that lists different training requirements by state. It will give you a brief overview on what certifications or classes your staff need to have on hand before they can clock in for work. 


In Illinois (Backbar's home base), waitstaff will have to complete BASSET (Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training) certification before they can safely serve alcohol to guests. This training program is overseen by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission


Luckily, these courses are easily accessible and can be completed online. BASSET cards are valid for three years, so make sure your staff is up to date on their certification. 


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Employee Manual


The first thing a new employee should receive is an employee handbook. This is a great way to thoroughly and clearly lay out your expectations for new hires. This guide will be a great resource for them to reference in the future, and it should set the tone for their employment with your restaurant. 

But what should be in a manual? Here are some of the major sections you'll want to cover, and what should be included in each section:


History of your establishment

  • Your origin story and background


Core values and mission statement

  • What is important to you
  • Your brand/image
  • What values you wish to uphold

Workplace expectations

  • Dress code
  • Time off requests
  • Safety protocols
  • Fireable offenses
  • Harassment policy


Guest Experience

  • Service standards
  • Greeting guests
  • Restaurant layout
  • The POS system


A great manual is a roadmap to success. If your employees don't have a standard of service to follow, then they can't be expected to perform to the best of their ability. 


If you don't know the first thing about writing a manual (or you just don't feel like writing it from scratch), Toast offers a free employee handbook template you can download directly from their website. 


Shadowing and Mentoring


There's only so much you can teach a new hire, and oftentimes, they will have to learn through experience, rather than simply reading it in an employee manual. Their best resource going forward is going to be their coworkers. 


Two women behind the bar wearing work uniforms and laughingHave your new staff members closely shadow your trusted senior staff. They'll  learn how to do their daily duties from the best, and gain confidence along the way. 


Consider assigning one person as a "mentor" for your new hire their first month of employment. This should be their go-to person if they have any questions on service standards, safety protocols, or their daily responsibilities. 


It's less intimidating to learn from a peer than it is to learn from upper management. While management should be enforcing and overseeing all training, your staff should step in and lend a welcoming hand too. 


Quiz Your Staff Regularly


What region is our red wine from? What are your uniform requirements? What duties are included in your opening and closing checklist? If your staff can't answer these questions right away, then they probably need a bit of a refresher. 


Consider implementing a bi-weekly quiz to test your employees on different areas of knowledge. This doesn't have to be as intense an SAT exam, but you should try to get a feel for how well your employees are retaining important information. 


The results of these quizzes will help you generate a focus for your mandatory training sessions and classes, and fill in knowledge gaps as they arise. 


Offer Optional Classes and Tastings


Training is a necessary evil, and most employees dread having to come in early or on their day off to brush up on their skills. How do you make food and beverage training more enjoyable and accessible for your staff?


Backbar has a great wine training guide, but sometimes nothing beats the real thing. Planning a trip to a winery or a brewery is a creative way to boost team morale; you're building friendships, making memories, and strengthening their food and beverage knowledge. Going on a field trip now and again can be more beneficial than calling your employees in to work for an all-staff meeting on a Sunday morning.


If a field trip isn't up your alley, consider bringing local experts into your restaurant to teach your staff about exciting new dishes and cocktails. A seminar lead by industry experts isn't just informative, it's a fun change of pace for your staff as well.


Reminding your staff why they love this industry in the first place will prompt them to take pride in their work, and lead to a stronger workforce.


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Training is an Ongoing, Never-ending Process


Even once an employee has made it through the training and onboarding process, that doesn't mean it's over.


Training is a perpetual work in progress. Employees you've had for many years will still need consistent and regular training, and that is not a failing on your part! It is the nature of the service industry.


However, if you keep these tips in mind, the hiring and training process is likely to be much smoother for you in the future. 


Key points to remember:

  • Referrals and promotions can be beneficial for your payroll
  • Make your company attractive to applicants
  • Brush up on your interviewing skills
  • Create an inclusive and diverse environment
  • Write a thorough employee manual
  • Use your best staff to train new members
  • Make training a fun aspect of work, and not just a requirement 




Kristin Fenchak

About the author, Kristin Fenchak

Kristin has been working in bars and restaurants since her teens, and now she's using her industry smarts as Backbar's marketing intern.

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