Hiring, training and maintaining the best staff possible

By Diane Chiasson

Hiring the best staff for your restaurant and foodservice operation is one of the most important keys to your success. As we all know, good customer service tops the list of every “Must Do” manual for running a restaurant. One bad employee could potentially drive away customers for good.

However, finding the right staff is not an easy job. There is also a lot of work and preparation that must be done before you even begin the interview process. The harder you work to find the right people, the better the people you will find.

So what steps can you take to ensure that you are hiring the best of the best? Diane Chiasson, FCSI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., a restaurant and foodservice consulting firm in Toronto offers some staffing solutions.

1. Know exactly what type of operation you are running and the type of person you want to hire

Before you even begin the interviewing process, make sure that you have defined exactly what type of restaurant or foodservice operation you are running, and what type of person would be a good fit. Create a list of all the qualities this person must have – qualities like extroversion, pride, honesty, responsibility and energy — to help you deliver your restaurant’s goals. Also, create a list of at least 30 good questions that you want to ask during the interview.

2. Finding and hiring this person

Now that you know exactly who you want to hire, you need to go about finding such a person. In today’s “labour-challenged” market, it can be a difficult task of attracting any applicants, much less quality applicants. You might have to look further than posting a “Help Wanted” sign in your window.

Consider in-house first. Is there someone currently on your staff who could do the job, or someone who used to be on your staff that you could lure back? If not, ask your staff if they know anyone.

Advertise your job opportunity online, and be sure to list all the qualities you are looking for. Make sure that you get applicant references, not just from their previous boss or manager, but from fellow employees as well. Many times, the best reference you can get will be from the person who had to work alongside this applicant every night, five nights a week. Ask about teamwork, dependability and attitude.

If you don’t have the time or energy to do this, also consider hiring a staffing company to recruit and vet potential employees first.

3. Outline your goals and standards immediately

Be sure to have a list of your goals and standards, as well as some sort of a training manual to give to each new employee. Your restaurant must have rules and regulations that each employee must follow and respect, as well as guidelines for the job itself. Make sure that all these rules, regulations and guidelines are documented on paper so that you can refer back. It is also handy for the new employee to take home the training manual and study it, so that he/she has a better understanding of your restaurant, and is better prepared.

4. Train new employees properly

There is a fine balancing act of how much training is necessary before an employee begins working. To find that balance, figure out a minimum level of acceptable performance for each job in your restaurant. List the specific tasks and training needed to support them, and then determine the relative importance of each task. Decide which ones need immediate action, and which ones that can be mastered on the job or down the road.

Be consistent with your training. Make sure that each and every employee receives the same information and training, and is able to offer the same levels of service expected from your operation.

If training is not your strong suit, consider hiring a consultant to build a training program, and/or write a training manual for you and your staff.

5. Train management team properly

Many restaurants and foodservice operations reward their best servers and bartenders by promoting them to be managers. However, in many instances, this move sets up these outstanding employees for failure. No matter how good they are serving customers, they are usually not adequately trained or prepared for their new roles in management.

Managers must be able to lead their teams and communicate properly, while offering support to team members. They also must handle disputes between staff and customers, as well as between staff members themselves. A manager is the coach of the staff, and must lead his/her team to a victory every night. Send your managers for formal training and educational courses. This may cost money and take time, but the value of what they will learn and apply to your restaurant is worth it.

6. Always keep teaching

There is always something new to learn. Don’t think that just because your new employee has finished the two-week training program that this will be the last time you need to train him for anything. All your employees should be constantly attending training seminars or workshops, or send your managers to train-the-trainer programs for a more cost-effective approach. If time and money are issues, consider online training programs.

7. Respect each other’s roles

A restaurant is made up of several different teams of staff that must work together to ensure that the ship sails smoothly. However, quite often, tension will build and arise between teams. Once a month, have each staff member step into someone else’s shoes for a shift. It is important that all staff members have respect for each other’s positions, and understand how important and difficult each role is.

8. Reward and recognize

Staff retention is a major struggle in the restaurant and foodservice industry. You must reward and recognize your staff for a job well done, but at the same time, you must also fix and rectify mistakes immediately. Consider putting together an employee incentive program, whereby employees that provide excellent standards of service receive bonuses. Contests are also ideal as they add some fun, competition and excitement to the job. Host or organize “staff” nights, so that members of your team can spend time with each other on a social basis. This will make for a friendlier environment, which will reflect in your restaurant and trickle down to your customers as well.

About the author:

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping restaurant, foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 25 years. She is recognized as one of the best restaurant consultants in Toronto.  Her company provides innovative and revenue-increasing foodservice and retail merchandising programs, interior design, branding, menu engineering, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at 416-926-1338, toll-free at 1-888-926-6655 or [email protected], or visit