The dining experience is not just about customer service. It’s about hospitality. To deliver the best hospitality, you need the best people working for your restaurant.
“Hospitality is almost impossible to teach. It’s all about hiring the right people.” – Danny Meyer
When we asked restaurant owners about their biggest pain points, 30% of them said staffing is what keeps them up at night. More than accounting. More than inventory. More than marketing.
If you’re opening your restaurant with a background in restaurant management or managing teams, congratulations: you probably know how to curate your restaurant staff. Restaurant staffing can still be tricky as you’re juggling so many other pieces to starting your business. If staffing your restaurant were like putting a puzzle together, the pieces would be small, the image would be intricate, and one mismatched piece could compromise the entire picture.
Workforce development is a two-pronged approach: it’s hiring the right staff and developing the culture to keep them. In this section, we’ll walk you through:
Which positions to hire
What to look for in a good employee
Drafting interview questions
Where to find great staff
Training and orientation
Your obligations as an employer
You’ll walk away from this section with a much better sense of good hiring practices and where to begin with hiring staff.
How to Staff a Restaurant
The positions you hire for depend on your concept and size. The way you staff a self-serve lunch cafe in Toronto’s business district is different than the way you staff a fine dining restaurant in Manhattan.
Whether big or small, you’ll need to first evaluate your restaurant staffing needs for your front and back of house. You’ll also need to know where and how to staff experienced and entry-level people for various roles.
Here’s what you’ll need to know about each of the most common positions within restaurants.
Front-of-house restaurant staff
Front-of-house staff are typically “people people” who are friendly, personable, and have great customer service skills. They should know the menu inside-out so they can competently talk about and recommend food and drink, handle customer complaints, and create an unforgettable customer experience. Here’s what you’re looking for with each role.
Responsible for the day-to-day business
Should be formally trained in business or hospitality
Your “customer service representative”
Multi-tasking and organizational abilities
Responsible for keeping the customer happy
Up for the hustle
Supporting the operations of the front of house
Option to hire less experienced servers
Runs food from the back of house
Alleviates the servers to take more orders
Considered a “swing role” because they move between back and front of house
A server’s assistant
Removes dishes and cleans the tables
Considered a “swing role” because they move between front and back of house
Friendly and courteous
Making and serving drinks
Serving customers at the bar
Counts and manages bar inventory
Makes drink menu recommendations
Back-of-house restaurant staff
Your back-of-house staff aren’t the face of your restaurant – but they are the heart of it.
Your back-of-house team needs to work collaboratively, communicate with each other and front-of-house staff, and be able to withstand a fast-paced and demanding environment.
While “back of house” also includes non-kitchen positions like office staff (such as accountants/bookkeepers), maintenance staff, and you, the restaurant owner, here we’ll focus on the kitchen-related roles you’ll need to staff your back-of-house operations.
Head chef/kitchen manager
Creates specials and other menus
Hires, fires, manages, and schedules kitchen staff
Needs several years of experience as a cook and manager
Head chef’s assistant and second in command
Fills in for the head chef and for line cooks if busy
Needs to be an organized and experienced cook
Needs to work well with your head chef
Small restaurants often don’t have a sous chef
You may have two to eight line cooks (depending on size of restaurant)
Responsible for a different station in the kitchen
Can range between experienced, mid-level, and entry level
Cleans the restrooms
Performs small maintenance tasks
note: depending on your restaurant concept you may have other specialty roles such as a sommelier, butcher, pastry chef, and more.
What to Look for in Restaurant Employees
Staffing a new restaurant means starting from nothing. You’ll need to be diligent about curating the best team possible, as they will determine whether your vision becomes reality.
You need people who are committed to your vision, goals, and values. Great restaurant staff have some common characteristics that make them a good fit within the culture of the industry. Skills can be taught, but innate values can’t; here’s what you should look for when hiring staff for your restaurant.
Top five characteristics
Goes above and beyond
Hiring Restaurant Staff
So you know which positions you need to hire for, you know what type of person you’re after – now how do you find them? There are several places to look when hiring restaurant staff, and you’ll likely want to exhaust all of them. Here’s where to look to find your people.
The best way to hire restaurant staff is still by referral.
So tap into your network when you’re starting to look for staff. Odds are, if you ask someone you really click with to refer you to someone they like, you’ll more easily find someone who fits within your culture.
Job sites for the restaurant industry reach an array of people who are actively looking for new work. Some of the best job sites for restaurants are:
You may not have your website set up yet, but when you do, include a careers section and advertise your job openings there. If someone is looking at your website for a job, they’re not just looking for any job – they’ve sought you out and are looking for a job at your establishment.
For senior positions like chefs and managers, you may be looking for a particular skill set. A headhunter doesn’t shoot fish in a bucket: they seek out the ideal candidates for you. Working with a headhunter will expedite the hiring process, and weeds out less qualified applicants.
If you’ve set up your social media accounts, post about which positions you’re hiring for and the kinds of people who would be a good fit for your restaurant. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have sharing functions that allow people to pass on information at warp speed, so you may find yourself with a few referrals on social media.
While LinkedIn may be more known for finding staff for the corporate world, you may want to do a few shoutouts on the platform to see if anyone bites.
Lean on your people-skills and long-term vision here. Imagine what you want your restaurant to look and feel like, and customize questions that help you answer whether this person is potentially your new teammate.
Here are some questions to ask during interviews for various restaurant positions, including some general front-of-house and back-of-house questions with some specific questions for servers, chefs, bartenders, and managers.
Front-of-house staff interview questions
What is your restaurant experience?
What do you love about working in a restaurant?
Tell me about your ability to work under pressure.
Why do you want to work here?
Tell me about yourself.
What is your favorite meal and why?
What do you like about working in a team?
What is your biggest strength?
Why should we hire you?
Back-of-house staff interview questions
What kind of formal training and experience do you have?
What would you do if you were cooking and you didn’t have all the needed ingredients to make a certain dish?
What do you do to make sure shift changes go smoothly?
At your previous restaurant, how would you help teammates out during the busiest times?
How would you handle negative feedback from a customer about the food?
Describe a time you went out of your way to please a customer.
Describe a time you helped a teammate finish a job on time.
Describe a time you disagreed with your manager. How did you handle it?
Server interview questions
Describe a time you went out of your way to please a customer.
Are there things you find annoying about customers? What about your colleagues?
You’re hosting a dinner party. Tell me about it.
Bartender interview questions
How would you cut someone off?
Someone orders a dry martini. What does that mean?
How do you garnish a Manhattan?
Are there things you find annoying about customers? What about your colleagues?
Chef interview questions
Why did you decide to become a chef? And what other kitchen positions have you held?
Did you go to culinary school and what credentials did you earn?
What is your management style as a manager? What management style do you prefer when being supervised?
How many employees have you had report to you? What experience and skill level are the employees you have managed?
Manager interview questions
How do you ensure accurate, detailed and up-to-date revenue reports, inventory reports, and payroll reports?
How would you describe your cost control skills and strategies? Give examples of actions you have taken to save costs or increase revenue.
Describe a time you resolved a conflict with a guest, employee, or supervisor at work. What were your actions to resolve the issue?
Describe a time where you mentored someone. Where did they start and where are they now?
How to Retain Your Best Employees
Retaining your staff is one of the best long-term strategies for minimizing labor costs. Investing in your staff can save on the more significant costs of training new staff down the line – better to invest less in developing your star staff’s skills and recognizing them when they do great work.
The restaurant industry is notorious for its high turnover rates, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buck the trend with a great staff retention strategy. So the question becomes, once you have the staff, how do you make them stay?
Here are some ways to promote retention, decrease burn-out, and increase the happiness of your team.
Good pay and fair scheduling
No matter the restaurant culture you create, two things will make employees stick around: pay and scheduling.
Everyone needs to pay the bills, and everyone has a life beyond the pantry. Establish fair tipping policies and salary standards for all front- and back-of-house staff. Since the restaurant industry doesn’t follow traditional salary methods or a nine-to-five workweek, restaurant managers should be extra sensitive to creating fair schedules and payment.
For example, have you ever had plans to meet a friend but they canceled last minute because they got called into work?
This situation rampant in the service industry. Many states across the U.S. are beginning to pass “fair scheduling” acts that require managers to give their staff at least two weeks’ notice for their shifts and additional payment for coming into work last minute.
Depending on which state or province you’re in, you’ll also need to comply with different minimum wage rules. If the minimum wage of your state or province is higher than the federal wage, you will need to comply with your state’s minimum wages regulations.
In some states and provinces, minimum wages are lower for people working in the service industry because tips are considered part of wages; make sure tips actually meet the minimum obligations to ensure staff are living off of a fair minimum wage equivalent.
Restaurant employees appreciate consecutive days off, the occasional weekend, and some holidays.
Please review the daily and weekly limit of hours an employee can work in your state or province. In some places the maximum number of hours an employee can work in a week is 48 hours, or eight hours in a day unless there is a written agreement. Regulations may also depend on age, with young workers (between the ages of 15-18) working within lower limits to ensure more daily and weekly rest.
The productivity of your restaurant depends on staff happiness – and for them to remain happy and well balanced, they’ll need adequate time off.
There are some additional approaches you can take to promote work-life balance, these include:
When you invest in your staff’s professional development, you’re showing them that you’re invested in their future. As a bonus, you get a more qualified, educated, and innovative worker upon their return.
Don’t forget to fine-tune existing skills, like training your staff on your POS and any new features. When you create a culture that’s focused on always learning new things, you’re creating a more confident staff.
Incentives and rewards naturally engage staff members and increases productivity, which means not only do they get rewards, but you do, too.
Successful incentives you may want to try:
Attendance-based tracking, with a cash reward for people with one or no call-ins or absences
Offer individual bonuses by monitoring progress and improvement or rewarding excellent performance
Offer a free staff dinner to everyone
Based on performance, identify top performers, and reward them with the choice to work preferential sections, preferential shifts, or assign them to more profitable big parties
Employee of the Month system to reward high performers and motivate others
Don’t be afraid to gamify the process. You can leverage your POS reports, create teams that compete against each other, and even allow staff to pick their own shifts, if using a scheduling app.
High employee engagement means your team is more invested in your restaurant, their job and their performance, which in turn benefits employers. Extra vacation days, pre-paid Visa cards, and travel are all great incentives to inspire loyalty – and a positive work environment.
Opening Day Onboarding
Proper onboarding has been proven to increase productivity, decrease turnover, and increase retention. Your onboarding as a new restaurant will be more structured and intensive for your first employees, as there is a lot more to consider with a restaurant startup than one that’s already been established.
In this section we’ll cover onboarding for your opening day, but once you’re open you’ll also need to have an employee handbook to set your employees up for the same level of success across the board.
Here’s how to onboard and train staff for your opening night.
Start designing your onboarding program early.
Not a few days or weeks before your restaurant opens, but a few months before bringing on staff. Create an onboarding program covering the following priorities:
A training schedule
Training length varies depending on the quality of training required to achieve your desired level of expertise. Think about what you need your team to know that is unique to your restaurant. Create a training program that is fully tailored to your concept. This is your opportunity to standardize excellence and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Review the employee handbook
Introduce the leadership team, allowing chef, manager, and owner to create connection with new team
Introduce all products, such as menu items, wine, cocktails, coffee, etc.
Explain your service standards in detail
Include a specialized training schedule for kitchen staff to demonstrate standards
Include a specialized training schedule for front-of-house staff to demonstrate standards
Create customized performance measures for different roles (line cook, servers, bartenders, etc.)
Create standardized and graded measures such as quizzes and verbal testing to promote accountability and measure performance of each new staff member
Practice, practice, practice.
When you’re close to opening day and your operations are technically ready to go, host dress rehearsals with staff through preview events, a pop up, or a soft launch with friends and family who can review and offer constructive feedback.
Every restaurant will require a different number of staff for their operations, depending on menu, seating, and type of restaurant.
While you’ll likely want to discuss your staffing needs with a restaurant consultant to determine the suggested frequency and need of support staff services, we’ve broken down the number of staff some common concepts will need, by front-of-house (i.e. service staff) and back-of-house (i.e. kitchen staff).
Front-of-house: 1 serving staff for every 12 tables + 1 cashier
Back-of-house: 4 kitchen staff for every 50 customers an hour
Front-of-house: 1 serving staff for every 5–6 tables + 1 host
Back-of-house: 4 kitchen staff for every 50–60 customers an hour
Fine dining restaurant with a bar
Front-of-house: 1 serving staff for every 4 tables + 1 host + 1 bartender for 30-40 guests
Back-of-house: 6 kitchen staff for every 50-60 customers an hour
Staffing may vary up to 20% depending on location, type of patrons, and menu. We recommend over-staffing at the very beginning, especially for your opening.
Before you begin the hiring process, you’ll need to know your legal obligations and responsibilities as an employer. Depending on your country, state, and province, here’s what you’ll need to know about the hiring process.
Obtain your employee’s federal employer identification number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You’ll need to provide your EIN to identify your business to the IRS and New York State. To get your EIN, you can:
If you’re unable to acquire your employee’s SIN or Form TD1 before they start working for you, you’re still responsible to start calculating and withholding payroll deductions. It’s also the employee’s responsibility to provide their SIN within three days of their start date.
In Ontario, review Canada Business Ontario to determine taxes and additional employment regulations you must comply with as an employer.
Staffing is the biggest concern for new restaurant owners because staff are how they introduce their concept to the world. You need a team of exceptional hospitality staff to make sure your restaurant succeeds. Spend a decent amount of time looking for the right people to take care of your business, and be as picky as you want here. Your staff have the ability to make or break your business, so you’ll want to make sure you get this part exactly right.
Silvia is the former Digital Marketing Manager for TouchBistro. During her time with TouchBistro, she managed and coordinated content for the RestoHub blog.