YOUNG VS VETERAN EMPLOYEES
Among the many decisions that go into staffing a restaurant is the choice between hiring young or veteran employees. The age of your staff will go a long way in determining what type of restaurant you have. Ultimately, all you can do is create the building, philosophy, capital, marketing, kitchen and front of the house. The people you fill the building with will determine the character of your business. So will they be younger, fresh-faced whipper-snappers or wiser been-there/done-that veterans?
Clearly, there are pros and cons to both. A young staff can bring energy and enthusiasm to your project. They’re often easier to mold, excited to learn and anxious to take ownership of a product they can get behind. However, young employees can also be immature, and have ups and downs that vary from one day to the next. Young employees tend to be a little less money-motivated, a little more prone to having extra-curricular fun after work, and can have more trouble developing rapport with guests (especially older guests). On the other hand, veterans are typically more money-motivated, have responsibilities (such as a family) that keep them grounded, and can excel at building the all-important guest rapport. I have known restaurant managers that privately admit they won’t hire anyone under 30. But veteran restaurant employees can have the dual pitfalls of being stuck in their ways and trying to exert unnecessary control. In a fine-dining atmosphere—where the presence of a veteran staff tends to be more common—older servers can sometimes be prone to developing a strong sense of complacency or entitlement, while older back-of-the-house employees are sometimes inflexible and disinterested in change.
It’s been said many times that a personnel manager ultimately hires candidates who are a reflection of him or herself. We hire who we like, and we tend to prefer people who are like-minded. How many times have you walked into a restaurant and noticed a trend among the staff you see? They’re all young, or male, or attractive, or Italian, or whatever. Restaurant managers have a profile, just as personnel managers in other industries do. Getting out in front of your hiring profile—thinking about who you want to hire—will make your decisions clearer and more purposeful.
So which is better—a younger or more veteran staff? In the end, it’s a question to be answered on an individual basis, but I think a healthy mix is good. Letting young servers and kitchen staff learn from veterans is almost always healthy, and having veterans who demonstrate a willingness to cultivate productive employees is invaluable. But it’s also helpful to have older employees who are open to change, and who can learn from and feed off of the energy introduced by younger employees. Think of a Top 25 college basketball team heading into March Madness. The best teams have their best players as senior leaders, supported by freshmen who are willing to learn at their footsteps. The seniors have been there before; they know what it takes to win. The freshmen have all the enthusiasm and talent; they’re just learning from the veterans.
The healthiest mix of the two involves well-rewarded and highly-motivated veterans. A young server who sees a veteran full of wine and menu knowledge, taking call parties and making big money in the next section over in the dining room is going to be motivated to achieve the same expertise and results. Likewise, a young prep cook chopping a Mirepoix next to a veteran Sous who can teach a shortcut will likely be anxious to learn a new technique. When veterans are willing trainers, are highly rewarded, and take ownership of the business, the rest usually falls into place.
Now, if hiring weren’t such crapshoot, it wouldn’t matter how old the new hire is.