How to Hire Servers
As anyone in this business for any length of time knows all too well, hiring is a crapshoot. Every good restaurant comes up with diamonds in the rough—servers who were hired grudgingly based on need who turn out to be superstars. Unfortunately, every good restaurant also has examples of the opposite—servers with sterling resumes and winning interviews who subsequently flop once they are on the floor. If there was a method of eliminating the guesswork from hiring, we would all be geniuses in the restaurant business.
In my many years of hiring servers for fine-dining restaurants, I’ve never nailed down a surefire way to guarantee a server’s success. I consider myself to be an expert at hiring servers for fine-dining restaurants, and yet it is shocking how many times I’ve been proven wrong. There are many basic rules when hiring servers that make the process more clinical and your results more reliable. Following these rules can make everyone’s life easier. But it’s worth remembering that every hiring manager makes mistakes. Ultimately, the best way to avoid hiring mistakes is to eliminate turnover, and the need to hire servers.
1) Schedule interviews based on your need; not the needs of the candidate.
It sounds simple, but it’s essential to schedule interviews during a time when you are unlikely to be distracted. Don’t schedule interviews before your busy Saturday evening dinner rush, and give yourself enough time to complete a thorough interview. A motivated candidate will always rearrange his or her schedule. Don’t rearrange yours.
2) Ask the right questions.
There are a few mandatory questions in every server interview, such as: Can you work holidays? Can you work weekends? Do you have reliable transportation? But the really important questions encourage the candidate to talk for 30 seconds to a minute. The candidate should be neither brief nor verbose. The content of the answer is important, but the more essential barometer is whether or not you like listening to the candidate speak. If you do not, it is likely that your guests won’t either. On the other hand, a candidate who entices more questions from you is likely someone you want representing your business where the rubber meets the road.
3) Get the candidate’s personal background and motivation.
It’s not easy to ask personal questions about marriage and family during an interview, and it’s illegal to ask a job candidate’s age. But it’s easy to get around those obstacles. Always look for a wedding ring. Asking about availability usually encourages a candidate to mention if he or she has children. And mention an average age for your staff, and wait for the candidate’s response to get his or her age. Additionally, it’s important to ask why the candidate would want to work at your restaurant to determine his or her motivation.
4) Always have a second interview.
Let another manager handle a second interview, to get another pair of eyes on the candidate. This is essential for cutting down on hiring mistakes. Another person might always see something that you didn’t during your brief conversation. To ensure this, always be willing to hire. Hiring simply based on need often leads to knee-jerk reactions merely to fill a position.
5) Be willing to be won over
Never enter an interview with a preconceived conclusion. Usually, you will know in advance of the likelihood that you will hire or pass on a candidate. But don’t hesitate to be swayed in either direction. Some of the best hires I have made were of candidates who won me over during an interview. Let characteristics that don’t show up on the resume influence a decision, such as determination, a winning smile, a professional appearance and articulate responses.
In the end, there are usually three traits you are looking for: personality, experience and motivation. Ask yourself three questions to gauge a candidate’s qualifications: Do you like talking to this person? Has this person done it before? Why does this person want to work here? More often than not, the answers to these three questions will determine a candidate’s viability.
Refining your hiring process is crucial to successfully running a restaurant. We are all judged by the people we bring into our business, and this is especially true in our industry. Making the right decisions at the interview table can transform a restaurant, just as making poor decisions can undermine it. As we all know, it is much easier to hire someone than it is to fire someone