• Mike Hughes

Hiring and Retaining your Staff

As restaurant managers, we are responsible for a lot of assets. We are also, very protective of those assets, and will go to great lengths to insure our financial results are the kind of results that will keep us moving up the ladder in our company.

We have declining budgets so we are always in tune with our spending. We conduct inventories for our food, and will literally spend hours on end if cost of sales is .7% over theoretical trying to find the issue. We treat and protect our safe like we are security at Ft. Knox, and I’ve even seen managers spend 2 hours trying to track down $12 because our night drop is short.

Why is it that sometimes, we don’t put that same passion and focus into arguably our most important asset, our people. Our staff are the face and front line of our success, and a great team can literally be the differentiating factor between an average restaurant and a great one.

If you are a manager, and you are at your desk and a server walks in with his or her 2 week notice, and you barely lift your eyes from the ever important manager log, you need to immediately double check your priorities.

With the average cost of losing a team member approaching $6,000, we need to really understand, and figure out how to prevent attrition in our restaurants.

To start with, our industry can be considered “difficult” to recruit, hire and retain great people. According to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the restaurant and hospitality space has an annual turn over rate of 76%.

If you do the math on the number of staff in your restaurant, using 76% turnover, and a “per employee cost” of $5,864 (provided by Cornell's school of Hotel Administration), the number should immediately be the paradigm shift you need to move staff retention to the top of your list in your unit. Furthermore, what if I told you, that the onus is on you and the rest of the management team to make this happen?

So what is a management team to do?

For me, it has always started with the recruitment and selection process. Sourcing from the best places and doing your due diligence in the interview process. Treat each interview as an investment in your future, because it is. Pay close attention to a prospective employees job history, their reason for leaving their jobs, their eligibility to be rehired by former employers and how far from work they live. Be wary of the server who needs to drive 75 minutes one way to get to work, and when you think you have found “the one”, no matter what, check references. Honesty during your interview needs to be from both sides of the table. We need to be clear on expectations, but also be clear on making sure WE can deliver what we discussed in the interview. Telling a top tier line cook that there will always be loads of overtime, and every Sunday off, will swiftly turn that cook into an ex-employee is we don’t deliver. As far as experience is concerned, in my 30 years of hiring hourly staff, I have had fantastic results choosing positive attitudes and personality over experience. Even the best cooks, servers and bartenders in the world, entered this business for the first time at some point. One more area I always pay close attention to, is employee referrals. If one of your already long term, top stars recommends a friend, place that referral high on your to do list. History has shown me that a great team member only wants to work with great team members. Not too many restaurant employees will offer up someone that they won’t want to work in the trenches with.

Now that you have, what you hope, is a great hire, the next step to insuring their longevity is the training process. We all know how tempting it can be to look at a potential rock star, and also look at the holes in your schedule, and cut training a little short. Don’t, I repeat DON’T fall into this trap. If your standards are 3 days per station, and you have 4 stations on your line, that new hire better be in training for the full 2 weeks and 2 days of training. In regards to training, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss trainer selection. For me, the best trainers are a combination of those employees that do the job to the standard and who WANT to be trainers.

Not every great employee is a great trainer, so identifying the ones who enjoy training is critical. A good trainer who likes to train, can make all the difference to a brand new hire.

So at this point in the hiring process, you have sourced from a reputable avenue, you have spent the time doing a thorough interview, including reference checks, and you successfully gotten them through training. They are now LIVE! Congratulations on a job well done. The thing here is, that new hire is only maybe 3 weeks old at this point, and your goal is making them a long term contributing member of your team.

As if you hadn’t figured it out already, new hire longevity is on us. Every step so far to this point is on us. The old adage of “people work for people, not companies” is spot on.

Contrary to popular belief, long term employees, whose career is the restaurant business, want to be managed. The leadership of the management team is what turns a new hire into a veteran. I’ve had the privilege in my career to be in the position to hire a lot of managers. As a GM, I have always strived to hire people who were as talented as I could find. Management style is crucial to driving those turn over numbers down. There needs to be mutual earned respect between the leadership team and the front line staff. If you are a manager, and your day isn’t filled with saying please and thank you, it should be. I mentioned that staff WANT to be managed, and it is very possible to hold your team accountable to the company standards, and do it in a polite and courteous way. When I want a task accomplished that may seem a little outside the realm of someones normal duties, I always phrase the request with, “you would be doing me a huge favor by doing tasks A, B and C, before the end of your shift,” instead of, “before you leave, scrub the trash bins, degrease the back dock, and dust all the number 10 cans” As managers it is perfectly fine to ask instead of demand. Please and thank you are not a sign of weakness, they are a sign of respect, and if you want to get respect, you need to offer it. Have you ever known someone who DEMANDED respect? Chances are, they didn’t get it and are most likely former managers of the restaurant you knew them from.

The management teams role in this is critical, and we need to be in lock step with each other. Communication, vision and goals all need to be the same to avoid a culture of confusion amongst the staff. There are few things more frustrating to our people than 4 managers giving 4 messages about the same topic. It is a staff killer. I can’t even count the times I have overheard the wait staff ask one another” who’s on tonight”, in respect to the MOD. There is a reason they are asking, and that reason is a red flag.

One thing I want to discuss before I go is this...Not all turnover is bad! Huh?

I can think of 2 reasons why this is true; seasonal restaurants and bad hires. Even by taking all the necessary steps to insure we have made the best hiring choice, there are times where we are wrong. If a new hire turns into a bad hire, you need to coach and council them either up, or out. Either they can be saved and made into a valued team member, or you need to start the separation process. Document and deliver feedback and do not hang on to someone too long. I am an advocate for giving everyone a chance, however there are times where progressive steps of discipline are needed.

Seasonal restaurants are different altogether. I had the “pleasure” of working in a restaurant in the late 90’s that went from $400,000 a week in sales in the summer, to $40,000 a week in sales all winter long. Besides being a huge eye opening experience, it’s all about core staff and seasonal rock stars that are nearly begging to return. This kind of turnover is planned. Going from 150 staff members down to 35 and back to 150 is perhaps one of the more difficult lessons I have learned in my career.

In summary, to have your best chance of delivering the most profitable P&L on an annual basis, you need to hire right, train right and provide the type of atmosphere that people are excited to show up each day. In the event, you do get that 2 week notice from a valued employee, PLEASE look up from the manager log and find out why, because it may be you.

#Hiring #Training


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