Photo Credit: Petr Sevcovic

Photo Credit: Petr Sevcovic

With the turnover rate in the restaurant and hospitality field at 79.2 percent, one of the highest of any industry, recruiting top-notch staff is essential, especially when it comes to front-of-house positions that are the direct face of your restaurant to the customer. 

Research by the National Restaurant Association found that nearly three out of every four fine-dining operators reported challenges in filling front-of-house positions, as did 58 percent of casual-dining restaurants and 56 percent of quick-service operators. They all have the same challenges:

How do we hire the best and brightest, and retain valuable team members?

Experts in the space weigh in on best practices.

Engage in brand management

The first step to attracting top recruits comes before you even begin interviewing. Your brand’s presence within the restaurant industry and on social media can sell prospective employees on wanting to join the team.

Start with the employee you want

When assessing candidates, reviewing applications and formulating interview questions, carefully define the perfect employee that you’d like to find, and build everything off that as the goal.

Doug Roth
Doug Roth

T.J. Schier, president of the SMART Restaurant Group and co-author of SMART Restaurant Guide to Recruiting and Selecting, recommends listing the specific traits of your top performers, and framing your interview questions around them. “Similar to how a pro football team scouts college players by knowing what ideal speed, strength and agility traits are for each specific position on the team, a restaurant manager can more effectively hire (and retain) by identifying the ‘DNA’ (key traits) of each position and interviewing for those traits,” he says.

Maximize employee referrals

The primary source for finding potential new hires is right under your roof. You want your best employees to recommend others, so offer a valuable incentive reward program to encourage them.

Schier implements a “second interview” referral program. He encourages candidates to bring along someone else who might be interested in the company to their second interview, noting that they will want to impress rather than bring along a slacker.

Doug Roth, founder and president of Playground Hospitality consulting group and a longtime restaurateur, has found success with even hiring multiple members of the same family.

Pay attention to the demographics of the hiring pool

The National Restaurant Association suggests “millennializing” your recruiting. As the single-largest working generation in the United States, millennials make up 38 percent of the workforce. That’s why it’s important to understand who they are and what they expect from employers.

Roth, however, has a different take on this. He prefers going after Gen Z, those born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, because they have seen the economy tank and their parents struggle.

“Nothing can kill a good culture faster than a bad manager.” -Shelley Seale

“They have a sense of fear that has evoked a stronger work ethic,” Roth says. “They have a lower sense of entitlement. We’re seeing in research that they may leapfrog the millennials when it comes to the job field. I’m a believer that the Gen Zs are in some cases a better fit for the hospitality industry.”

Find people with passion, not just skills

Photo Credit: Fraser Cottrell
Photo Credit: Fraser Cottrell

Roth says that he takes the Danny Meyer approach to recruiting talent. “I’m not as interested in where they’ve worked before, but that they share the same philosophical approach to the hospitality business. They need to have a sense of warmth, be interested in people and provide an added value to the dining experience; not just be an order taker.”

He looks for a potential team member’s goals beyond the prospective job title. “One thing I look for is, what do they want to do? And what have they done so far to get there?” Roth says. “Are they involved in something that shows me they have a sense of passion for something? I’m not just hiring a server; I’m investing in the personality and fiber of the individual, what they want to do beyond that.”

Mine the high schools, colleges and vocational training institutes

Roth routinely speaks at universities and hospitality schools, mining Gen Z talents and reaching out to people interested in the types of careers he offers. He also recommends making relationships with professors who know their students, and can help identify those talented individuals.

Create a winning culture

Just like your brand can attract talent, it’s the internal company culture that can be instrumental in keeping them. Be careful of the attitude and language of, “You’re coming to work for me,” Roth says. Rather, you want to create an inclusive environment where team members feel a sense of ownership and empowerment.

Schier believes that a great culture begins with the company’s “true north” mission, and finding people who fit that. “I recommend managers use incentives that reward the employee for building sales, profits and service levels,” he says. “The key is ensuring the managers live the culture. Nothing can kill a good culture faster than a bad manager. It can’t be fixed bottom-up.”

Why is turnover is so high, what is the actual cost, and how do you fix it? Find the answers in our Staff Management ebook.

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Written by   |  
Shelley Seale is a freelance journalist and author who has written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian, The Week and Texas Monthly, among others. Her topic specialties include food and beverage, travel and hospitality, lifestyle, wellness, the arts, small business and real estate. She can be contacted at
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