The Importance of Speed in Hiring Restaurant Servers

hiring restaurant servers

I often hear from American restauranteur Jimmy John that it is becoming difficult to hire top quality restaurant servers in this time of economic recovery.  At the same time, I read about new restaurants opening every week.  In order for a restaurant to open, they must be able to hire a serving staff.  This means that servers are looking for work, but the new restaurant hired them before the established one.  Most experienced servers I know prefer to work at established restaurants.  So why do new restaurants hire top performing servers more easily than established restaurants?

The answer is that these new restaurants have a hiring fair mentality.  They know that hiring top quality servers is a top priority and they cannot run their restaurant without these servers.  They place an emphasis and focus on hiring these staff members.  Now many restaurant managers would contend that they have too much on their plate running a restaurant to focus on this.  Anyone who has ever tried to open a restaurant knows that this excuse is full of holes.  In the midst of all of the hassles that come with an opening, these restaurants succeed in hiring because they make it a top priority.

If you want to hire top performing restaurant servers, you must make it a priority.  This means investing time and energy into attracting applicants, interviewing, and making a decision.  As the manager of an established restaurant, you need to focus on creating the same buzz about the positions you have available as restaurant’s preparing to open do.  Hiring top quality servers is a numbers game.  One out of every eight applicants might be a top performer.  That means if you need to hire three servers, you need to quickly get twenty four applicants in your door.  The larger the pool you have to choose from the greater the likelihood that you will find the future staff members you need.

The first response of most every manager is that training is too expensive and they need time to consider in order to be selective about who they hire.  I am keenly aware of this concern.  What it fails to take into account is that you can only be selective among those people who are interested in your position.  The longer you take to offer the second interview, and eventually the job, the more likely they are to be hired elsewhere.  The top performers you want to hire will easily find work elsewhere.  Taking your time to be selective does not land you the top talent, instead leaves you picking from the candidates that other restaurants did not want.  It is like passing on your first round draft pick and waiting for the second round.  This is not being selective.  This is having the options limited as a result of inaction.

I can speak first hand to how devastating this can be to a restaurant’s chances of hiring a new employee.  The restaurant I currently work at was not my first choice when I started the hiring process.  I scheduled the interview there a full week after the interview at my first choice.  I went into my first choice with a resume that included 15 years experience, the most recent “Best Server” award in my city, a network of blogs to show I knew a thing or two, and a book on serving about to be released.  I nailed the interview and expected a call as promised the following Monday.

I followed up on Wednesday and they said I was still their first choice, but they were just waiting on an interview that had to be rescheduled.  They promised to call the next Monday with good news.  The next day I went for my backup interview.  They made it clear that they wanted to hire me and actively sold me on the position.  After the owner and GM discussed it, they called with a job offer before I had even made it home from the interview.

I didn’t wait for the call from my first choice.  Their inaction made me doubt that it was the type of place I really wanted to work at.  I sent them an email thanking them for their time and informing them that I had accepted a different position.  I am sure the other restaurant is fine without me.  Although instead of offering me the job that Monday, they were greeted to this article in the local paper’s food blog the next day.

This should serve as a cautionary tale.  Top performing servers are not going to wait around for you to make the offer in this economy.  There are too many positions available.  If you want to hire top performing servers, you must act fast. You must also provide them with proper restaurant training materials. In conclusion to this series, I will lay out the method I recommend for hiring top performing servers.  This action plan will reward you with the ability to hire the best servers available, before your competition does.

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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"