Hiring Restaurant Servers In A Strong Economy

Some things should be non-negotiable. Photo from MthruF.com

Four years ago hiring restaurant servers became much easier. Finding top quality restaurant servers became simple when the economic slowdown began. With restaurants closing at a record pace, many top performing servers were left looking for new venues where they could earn tips. They brought with them stories of a tough job market and furthered the beliefs of current staff members that they should be grateful to have a job. Hiring and retaining highly qualified restaurant servers has been remarkably easy for the last four years. As the economic recovery has taken hold, a new mindset is necessary to hire the same quality of restaurant server.
The economic reports on the restaurant industry have been looking better for the last year. Sales are up, new restaurants are opening, and restaurant owners that stuck it out through the last four years are being rewarded. Unfortunately, this is balanced out by the ease at which your servers can go and find a position at one of these newly opened restaurants. As your restaurant’s sales rise, so should your staffing levels. This has increased the demand for qualified restaurant servers. In order to attract and retain these top performers, you must change your mindset regarding hiring.
In the years that I have been in this business, I have been through these economic cycles before. I recall how difficult it was to find staff members in the middle part of the last decade and how grateful everyone was to simply be employed in the day following the economic slowdown at the end of 2001. Each time period presented challenges, but the only way for your restaurant to thrive is to adapt to the labor market you are in. Your restaurant server and hiring practices must change with the economic climate.
I am quite aware that even among those who did not stop reading after that last paragraph, that there is probably a great deal of hostility towards this notion. You may contend that you would never lower your standards based on the economic climate. You may believe that the reputation of your restaurant is strong enough to still draw in top quality staff. You may feel that your servers will remain loyal to your restaurant even though the economic recovery has created new opportunities. I will tell you that these three beliefs are rooted in ego and have been the downfall of many great restaurants.
 Let me counter these beliefs with three cold hard facts about hiring restaurant servers in a strong economy.

1) Restaurant servers are not known for keeping large amounts of savings on hand. While you are reviewing their resume or trying to set up a second and third round of interviews, they are interviewing elsewhere. The restaurant that recognizes them as a top performer first will be highly appealing as their savings dwindles.
2) Your restaurant’s reputation to the public is not the same as it is to potential applicants. Taking a long time to make a decision while other restaurants are acting faster is a strike against the restaurant in the mind of the applicants. The manager at the next restaurant who flatters them by making the offer quickly will see their reputation improve.
3) Your staff may feel that they have the greatest serving job in town. Even if this is true, is their professional goal to remain a restaurant server? Many servers are waiting tables until they are able to move into their career field of choice. The recovery is opening positions in those fields and losing a server who lands a job that puts them on the path to their career goals is inevitable.
The restaurant owners and managers who will have the best staff in town are the ones that can adapt to this changing climate. You can no longer afford to put hiring restaurant servers on the back burner. This must become a priority for your restaurant, because other restaurants are already making it a priority. Those restaurants are going to be hiring the servers you wish you could. Times have changed and it is crucial that your server hiring practices change as well.

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"