7 ways to get the best restaurant staff and keep them
By: Jean-Paul Diaz-Caneja
Reading time: 5 min

Customers can tell a great restaurant from a so-so one as soon as they walk in. It’s not the decor, it’s not the meal (yet); it’s the buzz, the energy and the positivity. It’s the authentic greeting they receive, the care with which they’re treated and the respect they’re shown at every stage – behind the scenes in the kitchen as well as front of house.

And the trick to great service, great meals and a great experience for customers who recommend you and return again and again is recruiting and keeping the best staff, those people with that special attitude.

Here are a few handy hints on how to recruit and keep the best restaurant staff.

  1. Write an honest job ad

There’s no point glorifying the job as exciting, glamorous or fun if it isn’t. You need to manage expectations and that starts whenever you make your job vacancy public. Make sure you find out what’s authentically good about the role, and focus on that. Ask the team for their opinion – you’ll find that they will value being asked.  Be honest. If the hours suck, be open about it. If it can get a little heated emotionally, tell the truth. Honesty and authenticity attract honest and authentic staff. And there will be no nasty surprises for the new recruit when they join. You’ll have avoided that revolving door. Make sure your job advertisement is not only honest, but appealing as well. 

  1. Don’t always rely on a CV

The CV can only get you so far in finding out about a potential new recruit – how good they are at writing CVs, and where they’ve been before you. Remember that some candidates tend to embellish their CVs. Rely more on good interview techniques: ask open questions that allow the candidate to explore answers more fully. You might like to ask questions like:

  • What would a team member say about you?
  • Describe one of the dishes you’re cooking at the moment
  • At the beginning of a shift, what are you thinking about?

Always allow candidates to ask you questions – it’s a two-way process, after all.  A switched-on candidate might ask you questions like what you don’t like about the restaurant and what you would change about it. Be ready but be honest.

  1.  Work that interview

When you’re recruiting chefs, always ask them to perform a trade test if it’s applicable to the role, or at least to work a shift. A job test is by far the most reliable method of finding out if the candidate will “fit” and can do their job. Make allowances for nerves and prepare the team well, too – they will be your eyes and ears.

 

  1. Make them feel valued

Make staff feel valued – because you do value them, right? Good staff stay longer if they are engaged with your business, and feeling valued contributes to employee engagement. There are many ways you could show your staff you value and appreciate them. And you don’t have to second-guess – you could just ask them. But here are some of the more common ways to make staff feel valued:

  • Tell them. You don’t need to have a cheesy “employee of the month” award (but if it works for you, do it). Try an appreciative email when they’ve shown good service, a good attitude or gone above and beyond; a quiet encouraging word works, too. Who doesn’t like receiving authentic praise?
  • Feed them. You’re a restaurant. Damn well feed your staff and feed them well. It won’t cost the earth, it’ll make them feel appreciated and it’ll give them energy for all that great service. Don’t forget a shout-out to the chef every meal.
  1. Reward long service

You want to keep your good staff as long as you can. Try some extrinsic motivation like a long service reward. Decide what long service actually means – six months, a year, two years, five? You might like to reward long service “tiers” – reward for the first year, another for year two, for instance.

  1. Deal with conflict

Conflict is an inevitable part of any business but this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be dealt with. Conflict creates an unhappy working environment and good staff won’t stay. It’s also said that people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers; conflict between staff and managers is double trouble.

Dealing with difficult people and situations is something a lot of hospitality businesses avoid, but leaving the problem to fester costs more in the long run. And you’ll lose your good staff. Be bold, be considerate and try:

  • Problem solving in a positive way. Speak to the people involved. Acknowledge the problem, the effect, and hear them out. Look for a way forward with which all parties can agree, and monitor the situation.
  • Create a culture that expects people to respect each other and treat each other with courtesy. The restaurant business is hyped as one where bullying is rife, but that doesn’t mean you should tolerate it.
  1. Ask for advice

Your staff are the ones at the coal face. They’ll know things you won’t know. They have brains, ideas and enthusiasm. Tap into this huge potential and you’ll not only get some great ideas, but you’ll make them feel that they count. They’ll feel appreciated, expert and have more buy-in to their work.