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How to hire restaurant superstars: winning the war with talent

Posted by Donald Burns on Apr 10, 2017 8:30:00 AM

Look at any jobs board and you can’t miss the fact that there are more restaurant jobs available than there are staff to fill those openings. Why is it that some restaurants struggle to fill positions while others never seem to let a vacant position affect them?

To understand that, we need to dig down to the real reason staffing is becoming more challenging every year. It’s all mindset. We have created this “War for Talent” when the reality is that we have a “War with Talent”. By not adapting our management style for new generations, we have built a wall that prevents people from seeing the restaurant industry as a viable employment option.

Change your mind, change your restaurant

Mindset is always a tricky and a difficult subject to discuss with restaurant owners and managers. They avoid it like it’s a bad meal. Why? Because sometimes the truth hurts.

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However, it’s in the darkness that we often emerge into the light. The truth can set you free, right after it really makes you upset.

Ready to get upset?

We know that culture flows down from the top (leadership) down to the team. It's a lot like blood in the body. Without circulation, all kinds of things can go wrong. Without a strong culture, bad things will happen to your restaurant.

So culture becomes a magnet for attracting talent to your brand. If you've been known to say "there's no good talent out there” then maybe you should look in the mirror and ask yourself this question: “Am I creating a culture that attracts the kind of people I want working for me?”

You have to create a culture that stands for something and resonates not only with your guests, but also with your team. Apple is a great example of a company that attracts talent through culture. The people who seek employment at Apple are different to the people who want to work at Microsoft.

So what does your culture say? This is a good time for a little self-reflection and honesty. Are you upset yet? Well hold on.

Train and then train some more

There are a lot of misconceptions about Millennials and the up-and-coming Gen Z. Many owners are led to believe that they are unmotivated, entitled, lazy, and don’t follow directions.

Now here’s a little more honesty coming your way: if your team is any of the above, then what have you done to change that?

Yes, granted, it’s very difficult to motivate people who don’t want to be motivated. But you can inspire them. All motivation is truly self-motivation. Your duty as a leader is to start a fire within the people on your team. Then every day fan and fuel that fire until it takes off.

Here’s the catch. You cannot inspire others without first inspiring yourself. So if your team lacks enthusiasm, drive, and passion for hospitality, then it’s time to look in the mirror. Are you bringing your best to your restaurant every single day? When you fail to live up to the expectations that you set for others… then you are nothing more than a hypocrite. That doesn’t create passion in your team. It creates resentment.

“Your duty as a leader is to start a fire within the people on your team. Then every day fan and fuel that fire until it takes off.”
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You need to train yourself first.
That bears repeating: you need to train yourself first and become the best version of yourself. Remember this: leaders lead. If you cannot lead yourself, how in the world can you expect to lead and attract others to your brand?

You might get lucky and pull in a few stray applicants. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Just don’t expect people who are considered top talent in your market to come knocking on your door.

Train yourself. Then train your team. Then train and train some more. Training isn’t something you do when staff are first hired; it’s something you do consistently. You need repetition for any kind of training program to stick. Repetition is the mother of skill. Whatever you think is sufficient is probably not enough.

ABR: Always be recruiting

If you want to attract and hire superstars, then you always have to be in the hiring and recruiting mode. If you only look to fill positions when you have an opening, your chances of wrangling in top talent are very slim.

To catch better talent, you need to cast a bigger net. If you are serious about building a better team then schedule time each day to actively scout people.

You also want to scout for personality over skills. There are two types of skill sets out there and honestly, most restaurant owners and managers only look at one side, and that’s hard skills.

Hard skills are basically the mechanical skills. If they are a chef, that would be their cooking skills, ability to do inventory, scheduling, and ordering.

Soft skills are more overlooked. Soft skills include things like self-confidence (not cockiness), stress management, the ability to train others, time management, and basic people skills like communication. If you really want to attract superstars, then put more weight on their soft skills. Hard skills can be taught and trained and perfected with repetition. Soft skills can be trained, but they take a lot longer to develop. Personality always trumps hard skills.

Create opportunities

People like to know that their workplace offers opportunities for advancement and growth. Talented employees are drawn to these organizations like moths to a flame.

When people are asked why they’re leaving a restaurant, they’ll often respond with “the other restaurant had more opportunity.” Ensure that you’re not the restaurant they leave due to lack of prospects.

Opportunity comes in many forms – it doesn’t have to mean a promotion. You could offer staff the ability to learn new skills. Or a chance for personal growth. It would only take a nominal investment in a few resources, like paperback books, trade magazines, audio CDs, online training courses, seminars or workshops. Smart restaurant operators invest in their people.

You might be surprised how few restaurants have a budget for training. Howard Schultz, the Founder and CEO of Starbucks, once made the comment that, “We are not in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee.” 

In language, syntax is everything. So, are you in the food business serving people, or are you in the people business that serves food? If you change the way you look at the world, the world around you will change.

Appreciate your team

How many people on your team have you walked up to and thanked personally today? Be honest. If your team was given a blind survey and asked to say how appreciated they felt on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being very appreciated), how do you think you would score? A seven? A five?

Now, a lot of people would say that a seven is pretty good. If this was a school grade then that would be roughly a B. But you are not going to attract and retain top talent with a B level of appreciation. You are going to need to up your game big time if you want to capture better people.

"If you really want to attract superstars, then put more weight on their soft skills. Personality always trumps hard skills."
[Click to Tweet]

If you have a revolving door of turnover within your restaurant, nine times out of 10 it is usually due to the lack of appreciation shown. The sad thing is, you can fix that for free. Try out these two words: thank you. Go ahead. Find someone on your team and sincerely offer up those two powerful words. What did that cost you? Nothing. The impact? Deeper and longer lasting than you ever could imagine. One of our deepest human needs is the need to be appreciated.

Winning the war with talent is easy when you don’t participate. Stand out in your market as the employer of choice by creating a culture that acts like a beacon. Make a commitment to out-train any other business in your market. Create opportunities for personal and professional growth within your restaurant. Never let a day go by without showing deep appreciation and gratitude for those who take care of your guests.

Do all of these things, and top talent will start coming to you. Guaranteed.


What are you doing to win the war with talent? Let us know in the comments. 


Donald Burns.png Donald Burns is The Restaurant Coach™. He is a leading authority, speaker, and international coach on how restaurant owners, operators and culinary professionals go from just good to becoming outstanding. His mission: Build your brand. Increase your profits. Strengthen your team.


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Topics: Hospitality operations, Hospitality managers, Restaurants