When you are in the restaurant business, you are in the people business, with both customers and employees. The actions of your restaurant staff can make or break a meal for customers, and in the Internet age, every meal counts. While you cannot control how reasonable some customers are, you can fill your restaurant with talented, professional staff members that will distinguish your restaurant from your competition.

Your staff represents you in front of customers. They are a key bridge to building good customer relationships and running your business at a profit. But finding high quality staff is far from easy.

The people you choose to work in your restaurant determine a large chunk of your restaurant’s fate. Good hiring practices in the restaurant business help to establish positive reputations, build customer loyalty, save money and create more pleasant working environments. Owners need to pay equal attention to the different skill sets of both front- and back-of-the-house staff when hiring. While technical mastery may be best for kitchen staff, pleasant servers help to attract and retain customers. Even simple hiring procedures require a minimum of two interviews, and managers should check references and former employers by phone and run background checks.

Remember the hiring process drains important resources, so you want to get it done right the first time. The National Restaurant Association reports that training a new employee costs an average of $5,125, and training managers runs an average of $35,964. More than 80 percent of restaurant turnover happens because of careless hiring decisions, according to the Harvard Business Review.


Determining Staffing Requirements

Your staffing needs could include different skill levels, depending on the type of restaurant. For example, fine dining operations need experienced chefs with strong experience, and head chefs often like to help choose their kitchen teams. However, you might need some cheerful and reliable kitchen helpers, dishwashers and other laborers to handle manual work where high levels of skill aren’t needed. Skilled staff rarely want to handle menial jobs, of course, but sometimes such work is necessary, so try to avoid hiring prima donnas. You should also try to use skilled workers at their pay grade as much as possible to prevent spending too much on payroll for simple, manual tasks.


These are some of the factors that could influence your hiring strategy:

  • The type of food service, such as buffet, delicatessen style, fast food and fine dining, determines staffing needs.
  • The number of tables and anticipated speed of turnover help you estimate how many servers the restaurant needs.
  • Turnover rates and speed of service vary tremendously between lunch and dinner. Some restaurants take in bigger gross sales at night but need fewer servers because people order more expensive foods and stay longer.
  • Students and inexperienced people can often fill positions as order-takers at drive-through windows, busing staff, dishwashers, general laborers and kitchen assistants.
  • New restaurants need to operate for several days or weeks to determine optimal staffing needs. Learning from actual experience on the floor is crucial to making critical adjustments.

Background Checks and Employment Verifications

Many restaurant owners fail to check former employers because personality conflicts often influence references at small, independent restaurants, and some owners give bad reviews because they are unhappy that valued employees seek work elsewhere. Busy chefs and restaurant managers often resent the time demands of giving references and answering detailed questionnaires. However, you could be liable for injuries or damages if you fail to exercise due diligence and check references. Employment practices have changed in the last few decades. Checking references is so easy that employers are now held to higher standards.

  • At a minimum, owners should try to confirm employment dates, job positions and the candidates’ reasons for leaving former jobs.
  • Background checks have become increasingly important to determine personal character, criminal records and the financial responsibility of prospective staff, especially people who will handle money.
  • Explore the timetables of employment histories and ask about any significant gaps. Remember that both men and women stay home to raise children.
  • Restaurant employment services and companies that provide background checks often provide cost-benefit ratios for medium- and large-sized restaurants, helping to find the best candidates for all restaurant positions.

Tips and IRS Reporting

Restaurants that hire servers can pay less than minimum wage, and these companies must report tip income as part of an employee’s compensation. Be sure to study the applicable regulations, and report tip income accurately so that the right withholding figures get deducted from pay. The IRS has cracked down on under-reporting. The IRS can use comparisons between credit card tips and overall sales to spot inconsistent and fraudulent tip reporting. As an employer, your restaurant could be liable for back taxes if tipped employees are audited.

The Job Interview and Compatibility Issues

Personal rapport and compatibility play an important role in work harmony. Even the most qualified candidates could display arrogant habits that make working with them unpleasant. The problem is that owners often choose people they like without giving equal weight to background information. Consider the following information along with personal rapport:

  • The candidate’s previous responsibilities indicate the level of trust that former employers accorded the job seeker.
  • Good applicants display enthusiasm and respect, provide professional resumes and fill out their applications neatly and completely.
  • Ask open-ended questions in the interview that encourage the applicants to do most of the talking.
  • Avoid any inappropriate questions that violate federal, state and local hiring regulations. Questions should avoid personal topics such as sexual orientation, race, religion and national background.
  • Only disabilities relevant to performing the job should affect employment decisions.

Organized hiring strategies increase the chances of making good hires, so take the time to orchestrate hiring efforts, and consider using third-party employment services and vendors that run background checks.

Good outcomes in hiring staff depend on the level of investment you put into the process. It is always better to be ready for anything with staffing. New restaurant owners might want to hire a few more employees than they need because staffing new restaurants usually results in some compatibility and performance issues. Some employees take longer to learn, so consider whether additional training or termination works best under the circumstances, keeping in mind how expensive it is to hire new help. But go about the process methodically, because a restaurant is only as good as the people who work there.