HIRING THE RIGHT HOST STAFF
Chances are that you know how to hire a host or hostess without reading an article on how to fill out your host staff. You know to look for someone who is energetic and perky. You know to look for someone who is mature and detail-oriented. You are aware of the need to hire competent hosts and hostesses—that the first and last impression you make upon your guests comes from your host staff. Even if you don’t identify the necessary qualities a candidate should demonstrate, you probably know what a competent host or hostess looks like when that person walks into your restaurant.
That said, rounding out an effective hostess staff can be the most challenging personnel task a manager takes on. Host staff wages are not typically high in most restaurants, which can yield inexperienced employees, high turnover, and obstacles to developing the all-important rapport with your guests. Furthermore, it can be very easy to overlook the front door in the context of all the challenges (personnel, and otherwise) that a manager faces. However, the need to find competent employees at the hostess stand is essential.
It’s likely that you’ll need someone to supervise activity at the front of the building while you’re buried in the kitchen or office. It’s equally likely that you will need someone who comes to work everyday with a smile on his or her face, who takes ownership of surrounding workspace, and who can develop rapport with older, mature guests. Cultivating the right staff while keeping costs low can be a constant struggle without formulating the right approach.
However, you don’t have to break the bank to find good hosts and hostesses. The psychic income for a young host or hostess has to be part of the reward of coming to work. When young hosts like being competent employees, working in an adult environment (maybe for the first time), and even wearing nice clothes, they are more likely to enjoy their experience and be effective employees. Host staffers that are energized by working with people and who instinctively smile are valuable restaurant commodities. Stumbling upon candidates who exude these qualities while maintaining an eye for detail and precocious maturity can be like finding personnel gold.
A couple of strategies when cultivating a host staff stand out. When pairing multiple hosts/hostesses, work to match an extrovert with a detail-minded watchdog, and then anchor the extrovert to the hostess stand. In other words, compliment the strengths of one employee with another—avoid two snooty mother hens at your front door, or two smiling airheads manning the reservation book. Another strategy is to groom a host or hostess for the supervisory role you would love them to assume. Many young people shine when granted more responsibility, or unprecedented access into the world of management. It’s also worth it to take five minutes at the beginning of your busy dinner to figuratively put your arm around a host or hostess. Ask him or her how the day was, or what’s happening in his or her life. Female managers have an advantage in this area when working with hosts, as male managers have when working with hostesses. The priority is getting a host or hostess accustomed to smiling at work, hoping it will carry over when the doors open. Finally, be ready to pay when you find the right person to lead your host staff. If there’s one position in your restaurant that you’re willing to offer a slight rate hike to, it should be the role of lead host or hostess. Maybe the right candidate will never walk through your door. But an employee who can take ownership of the hostess stand and lobby, help supervise the dining room (with a keen eye for server strengths and guest issues), develop healthy guest rapport and smile for five-hour stretches can be your instant right hand.
How do you know when you have found that person? The interview cannot tell you everything about a candidate, but it can be more revealing when hiring the host staff than it is with any other position. Do you enjoy talking with this person or do you want to end the conversation? Do they demonstrate estimable people skills or do they avoid eye contact and forget your name? Is the application filled out correctly, with an eye for all the detail you incorporate on your extensive employee application? If the answers are affirmative and the employee proves to be reliable, chances are strong that you can teach the requirements of the job and groom yourself a solid host or hostess.