A hiring manager sitting at a table considers how to hire employees for her restaurant

How to Hire Employees for Your Restaurant

Will your restaurant succeed? The answer can depend on the people you bring on board. That's why it's vitally important that you create a plan to hire good, capable, accommodating employees for your restaurant.

The problem: It can be really tough to find qualified people who want to work in this sector.

The good news is that there are simple strategies to overcome this problem. Here, we'll coach you through some of the steps you can take to find great applicants, ensure they'll be a good fit for your restaurant, and keep them happy—and engaged in their work—over the long term.

Here are some tips for getting started:

 

1

Determine who you need.

Before you hire employees for your restaurant, make a list of the positions you need to fill. For most sites, these could include a management team (a general manager, a kitchen manager, and a front-of-house manager), kitchen staff (a head chef, sous chefs, prep cooks, line cooks, and dishwashers), front-of-house staff (servers, hosts, food runners, and bussers), and bar staff (bartenders, cocktail servers, and barracks).

 

Of course, many of these positions will be filled by multiple people. Keep running a tally of the precise number of employees you need.

 

With your list in place, you should start thinking about the qualifications you expect your employees to meet. Take time to name the skills, experiences, personality traits, and strengths you believe your employees should have to excel in a role and be a good representation of your restaurant. Think of additional nice-to-have qualities you’d like to see in your candidates, too. As you begin evaluating candidates, you can refer to this list and move forward with people who demonstrate these qualities.

 

2

Create a job description that hooks.

By spending time on job sites or a successful competitor’s job board, you’ll likely find postings for jobs that are similar to your own. Refer to those posts as you structure your own, but make adaptions that suit your business. And, importantly, be sure that your postings achieve the following goals:

  • Your postings potential applicants about the perks of working for your small business.
  • They share your brand values.
  • The text explains role responsibilities.
  • The body states your must-haves.
  • Your postings include a call to action that explains how interested candidates should apply.

 

TouchBistro has a great free resource on writing restaurant job descriptions here.

3

Know where to look.

You can share your job posting in lots of places. Here are a few ideas:

  • Job sites such as Monster
  • Job posting boards at local culinary programs, colleges, or career centers
  • Personal social media accounts
  • Social platforms such as Nextdoor

 

Not all of these options will bring you the candidates you're looking for. You'll need to experiment to find what works best in your local market. You can also talk to members of your state's restaurant association (find a directory here) and other small business owners in your area about the sites they find most effective for finding the best candidates.

 

With your posting, be sure to share an application. This form will help you collect the essential data you need for each candidate. You can use this free application from TouchBistro, or build your own with a tool like Jotform or Monday.

 

4

Assess your applicants.

How will you hire the right employees for your restaurant? A proven process can help.

 

As applications begin rolling in, you should have a process to evaluate each candidate for fit to the role you’re aiming to fill. Your process might start with eliminating any candidate who doesn’t meet your must-have qualities for success. Then, you might set aside (but not yet eliminate) any candidate who doesn’t possess the nice-to-have qualities you believe are important for the open position.

 

These two steps may help you find a manageable number of applicants to interview, but if you have an abundance of qualified applicants, you might set some priorities. Look for people who have transferrable skills or experiences in roles that are similar to the one for which you’re hiring, show evidence of being self-starters, or come with glowing recommendations from previous employers.

Here's a great way to home in on the candidates who meet your qualifications: Email a pre-screening questionnaire to those who pass your initial assessment. Plan to ask up to 10 questions about their experience, skills, and availability to ensure you move forward with the candidates who are most likely to help your business succeed.

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There are systems you can adopt to manage your hiring process and help you prioritize candidates. Our recommended solutions include:

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Learn more about these options in our article, Solution Finder: Applicant Tracking Systems.

5

Set up video or on-site interviews.

Once you've identified a reasonable number of candidates, you can schedule interviews to meet each one.

 

Whether you meet virtually or in-person is up to you. Some owners like to set up video interviews for the initial interviews and arrange on-site interviews for follow-up.

 

6

Ask the right questions.

You can learn a lot about candidates through on-the-spot questions and deep dives into their responses, but you should also prepare a list of questions that will help you make 1:1 comparisons—and ensure you avoid questions that are prohibited by federal, state, and local governments.

 

Prepare some questions that will help you confirm your candidates’ experiences, test how they might respond to typical on-the-job scenarios, and evaluate how they would think through difficult problems they might face. Here are some sample questions that can help you get started:

  • What were some of your primary responsibilities in your last position?
  • What would your past coworkers, friends, and family members say about your punctuality?
  • How would you describe your work ethic?
  • What motivates you to perform at your best?
  • How do you feel about following a set of procedures?
  • What would you do if you thought of a better process than one that’s currently in place?
  • What is an accomplishment that you are proud to have completed?
  • How would you proceed if you didn’t get along with a coworker or manager?
  • What would you do if a customer accused another employee of wrongdoing?
  • How would you handle customer complaints that seem unreasonable?

 

7

Be specific about the workload, responsibilities, and opportunities to learn and advance.

Interviews are a great opportunity to learn about your potential new hires, but you should also devote time to explaining the role, the expectations you have of each employee, and the perks of the role and organization, including opportunities for training, growth, and advancement. The time you invest in this step is important: It can help your candidates assess whether the role is a good fit for them.

 

Consider narrating what a typical day in the role would be like. If possible, plan to walk your candidates through the workstations at your site and show them the environment where they’d be working.

 

Once your restaurant is up and running, you might also bring some of your current employees into future interviews and ask them to share their own experiences.

 

8

Address their concerns.

At various points of your interview, you should encourage your candidates to ask questions about the role. Try to answer their questions thoroughly, and ensure that they understand your answer before moving forward to other parts of your discussion.

You might not be able to anticipate all of the questions your candidates will ask, but you can log their questions and ensure that you touch on those topics in future interviews.
9

Make your selections.

After completing your interviews, assess how well each candidate met your qualifications, prepared for the interview, and answered your questions. Then, think about whether they left you with a favorable impression.

 

You can eliminate candidates who show a lack of interest, a negative attitude, or any other red flags that could signify a problem in the future. Move forward with candidates who seem dependable and eager to take on the challenges of the work that’s required, provided that they pass their background screening and receive favorable reviews from the references they provide.

10

Set up programs for training, support, and feedback that’ll help you retain your top talent.

How do you plan to retain your best employees? Consider some of these best practices:

  • Set up a thorough training program as part of the onboarding process
  • Offer frequent training or job shadowing opportunities
  • Provide regular updates and feedback
  • Offer incentives that will keep your employees engaged and excited about working for your business

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Check out this resource from Toast on building your training program:

Frequently asked questions

 

Who should I hire first?

It usually makes sense to start with your management team, then your chefs and cooks, and then your front-of-house staff. Managers can work alongside you to hire the other members of your team, and they can also take on some of the early tasks that will require you to get up and running. Plan to hire your managers at least one month before opening your doors.

 

Which experiences matter most?

Ideally, your employees will have experience working in similar roles or with similar businesses. It's always a great idea to look for transferrable skills, such as working with customers, handling cash, or following workflows, that might help them succeed in a role within your restaurant.

There are some specific qualities you should look for in every position of your restaurant:

  • Managers should have experience managing other restaurants, good leadership skills, and an eagerness to pitch in to help precisely where it's needed. They should also have a personality that works well with your own and the character you're trying to establish for your restaurant.
  • Chefs and cooks should also have experience in their lines of work, and they should have a willingness to work flexible hours. Ideally, they'll also have a positive attitude, an understanding that they'll need to take on lots of tasks, and a sense of urgency in completing orders.
  • Servers should be experienced in working with customers, handling money, and staying calm and focused while under high levels of pressure. Your hires should be pleasant, personable, patient, and hardworking to help your restaurant thrive.

 

How much should I pay?

Pay what you can afford, but at a minimum, you should try to keep compensation in line with similar restaurants in your area. If at all possible, you might consider paying a little more than your competitors to attract their top talent.

So, what are your competitors paying? Here are a few standard pay ranges for restaurant employees:

  • Full-time managers typically make between $40,000-55,000 a year and earn a percentage of sales.
  • Experienced chefs average about $1,500-1,800 a week. Profit sharing isn't a standard, but it's sometimes offered to attract top candidates.
  • Cooks average $600-700 a week, but the precise rate varies by geographic area and the demands of the role.
  • Servers tend to earn minimum wage (or a little more) plus tips.

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Some experts recommend keeping payroll costs between 20 and 35 percent of your total gross sales. This range, though wide, can be a good rule of thumb for ensuring your labor costs stay under control.

 

Interested in offering benefits? It's a great way to attract and keep your best employees. You can learn more about benefits here:

 

How can I leave a favorable impression on my favorite candidates?

Here are a few tactics that work well for many restaurant owners:

  • Demonstrate your own passion for your business
  • Show your competence in the role you hold
  • Voice your confidence in a candidate’s ability to succeed
  • Explain the perks of the role, which may include time off, incentives, training opportunities, or opportunities for advancement
  • Keep lines of communication open so your candidate knows that you’re interested in continuing the process

 

How do I navigate other hiring concerns, such as setting up employment taxes?

Before you hire your first employees for your restaurant, you should file for a federal tax ID number. Follow this link to visit the IRS website and complete the form.

 

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You'll also need to register with your state’s labor department and learn about your state’s labor laws, including wage-and-hour and child labor laws. Each state has a website you can visit to begin the process. You can find the contact information for the department in your state in the chart below.

Some states have a separate process to ensure proper taxation and withholdings, and this process usually takes place through the department of job and family services. Be sure to ask the representative you speak with about the specific steps that should be taken when hiring a new employee.
Alabama

(334) 206-6020

Hawaii

(808) 586-8982

Massachusetts

(617) 626-7100

New Mexico

(505) 841-8437

South Dakota

(605) 773-3101

Alaska

(907) 465-2784

Idaho

(208) 332-8941

Michigan

(517) 335-5858

New York

(800) 447-3992

Tennessee

(844) 224-5818

Arizona

(602) 542-4661

Illinois

(217) 782-6206

Minnesota

(651) 284-5070

North Carolina

(800) 625-2267

Texas

(800) 628-5515

Arkansas

(501) 682-4500

Indiana

(800) 457-8283

Mississippi

(601) 321-6000

North Dakota

(800) 366-6888

Utah

(801) 526-9675

California

(916) 654-7241

Iowa

(888) 848-7442

Missouri

(800) 735-2966

Ohio

(888) 405-4039

Vermont

(802) 828-4000

Colorado

(303) 318-8000

Kansas

(888) 396-3725

Montana

(406) 444-2840

Oklahoma

(405) 521-6100

Virginia

(804) 371-2327

Connecticut

(860) 263-6000

Kentucky

(502) 564-3534

Nebraska

(800) 833-7352

Oregon

(503) 947-1394

Washington

(800) 987-0145

Delaware

(302) 761-8482

Louisiana

(225) 342-3111

Nevada

(775) 684-1890

Pennsylvania

(833) 722-6778

West Virginia

(304) 558-8000

Florida

(850) 245-6000

Maine

(207) 623-7900

New Hampshire

(603) 228-4033

Rhode Island

(888) 870-6461

Wisconsin

(608) 266-3131

Georgia

(800) 436-7442

Maryland

(888) 634-4737

New Jersey

(609) 292-1704

South Carolina

(803) 737-2400

Wyoming

(307) 777-6367

 

Finally, visit irs.gov to review the federal requirements you must meet. Through this link, you’ll find essential forms and information that will help you assure tax compliance.

 

Final advice: Focus on continuous improvement

Every time you post a new position, you should take notes on the quality of responses you receive, the effectiveness of your screening process, and the kinds of questions you could ask to avoid a consistently occurring problem with your process. You should also ask for feedback from the people you hire to learn what they liked about the process, where they felt it fell short, and what they think you could do to improve the experience.

 

What’s next?

After hiring your team, you can work on other key tasks, including preparing for opening day. We can help you with every part of your preparations. Check out our restaurant guide. Then, log into your owner’s portal for articles, checklists, and advice you can use to make your venture a success.

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