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Hiring for your restaurant? Learn how to take talent from good to great

Published October 11, 2021

Try to recall the best interaction you’ve had with a restaurant employee.

How would you describe them? Were they friendly? Knowledgeable? Efficient? Willing to go above and beyond?

We’ve all encountered someone like this in the industry. These employees have the power to positively impact our entire dining experience. They’re an invaluable asset to restaurants.

We know that hiring the right people is critical to running a successful business. However, finding the right people in the restaurant business—especially during a national labor shortage—isn’t easy.

So how do you recruit the right  talent in the current hiring climate?

It starts with updating your job descriptions. 

Aligning on the responsibilities of a server

Before you can hire the “right type of talent,” you must determine what the “right type of talent” is for your restaurant. Articulating specific responsibilities in your server job description is critical to attracting best-fit employees.

A typical job application for a food server should contain the following components:

  • Job description - what do you expect from the role? You may think server positions are the same across town, but there are likely things your business does differently than others. Be specific in your expectations for this position.
  • Required skills - Define the capabilities and technical skills an employee in this position needs to succeed. You may want to require a basic understanding of restaurant technology and software. Workers today likely need more than the traditional server skillset. In some restaurants, this may encompass social media prowess or an understanding of POS software. For example, NCR VOYIX Aloha is the best known POS in the industry. Therefore, it might be beneficial to require new hires to undergo Aloha training if they’re unfamiliar with it.
  • Compensation – Generally, restaurant server compensation is more consistent than in other industries, but it’s still important to be transparent. This clarity will help eliminate any applicants whose expectations don’t align with yours. It’s also important to explain any additional employee benefits you offer, like health insurance, paid time off, etc. These distinctions can help set you apart from local competitors.
  • Education and/or work experience - Outline any educational or professional requirements—like a high school diploma, certifications, years of prior experience or official training—you feel might be crucial to a candidate’s success in this role. If you’re looking to hire a server for a fine dining restaurant, you may be more inclined to require many years of prior work in a similar environment, given your clientele’s higher expectations for service.  
  • A little about the company - To feel motivated to do good work, people need to feel valued. They also need to feel that their work aligns with their values. Explaining what your company is about helps an applicant understand its values and determine if they resonate with their personal values.
  • Restaurant server duties (job responsibilities) - Specificity is key here. You want to attract the “right” candidates, so be clear about what that means. Here are some examples of well-defined responsibilities for a server position:
    • Serve as the face of <your restaurant> through every customer interaction.
    • Provide personalized recommendations from the menu.
    • Provide exceptional service to guests throughout their dining experience.
    • Take accurate orders and deliver food in a timely manner.
    • Process payments.
    • Clear and clean tables.

Articulating that a server should represent the restaurant’s brand in all of his or her interactions with customers will help you identify job seekers who care about their own brand and image. Now that we better understand what should be included in a job application and have seen a few examples of what a server should be responsible for, let’s dive into what a server should be able to do as soon as they start working at your restaurant.

Related: Easy tips you can use to add long-lasting skills when training your restaurant staff

What skills should a server have

Job responsibilities are set for employees to live up to. Skills, on the other hand, are baseline requirements for getting a foot in the door. Applicants should be able to speak to how they’ve exhibited these skills in the past, either in a prior server role or in a transferable activity. They should also be able to exemplify them in the interview.

It’s relatively easy to gauge from an interview if someone is personable, if they’re committed to working hard and if they seem like they’d work well on a team. Listen to your intuition during interviews. It’ll help you discern which candidates’ skillsets are best suited for your open positions.

Example skills for a restaurant server could include:

  • Able to demonstrate professionalism.
  • Capable of standing for several hours at a time.
  • Able to work well under pressure and adapt to new circumstances.
  • Able to cooperate with other team members.
  • Able to carry 10-pound trays of food (and possibly heavier).

Now that we’ve outlined the responsibilities a server should fulfill and the skills they’ll need to complete the job successfully, let’s take a look at what differentiates a “great” server from a “good” one.

Related: 4 ways your management style can create a high-performing restaurant staff

What makes a great server

What are the attributes of truly exceptional restaurant servers—the ones who make you want to come back, tip a little extra and send praise to the manager?

These qualities are likely subjective depending on your specific restaurant. However, all great servers—regardless of where they work—have one thing in common: empathy.

A great server is able to relate to customers, anticipate their needs, show care and concern if an issue arises and treat others with kindness and respect.

Juan Fernando at La Parrilla shared a bit about what makes an exceptional server.

“I think it's always going to be important to understand that we're serving human beings. This is all about emotions, you know. We firmly believe that all the decisions we make are emotional. And we believe that we have to [make it emotional] because a lot of people are relying on technology to order. I think the restaurants that are going to still make the difference are going to be those that focus on the experience,” he said. “We continue to believe in those principles. My partners and I are going to continue doing that and [hiring] people accordingly.”

Understanding real human emotions and caring about them helps set a server apart from the rest.

Hiring exceptional talent in the restaurant business is no small feat, given the transient nature of the industry—not to mention the current national labor shortage. However, getting specific about the details you include in your job application can provide candidates insight into your restaurant’s brand and values, as well as what you’re looking for in your employees. Setting clear expectations for job responsibilities and the skills you require provides transparency early in the process. This will lead to better hires and drive better performance in the long run.

Overall, the most important thing to keep in mind when making hiring decisions is empathy. Keeping people at the center of your business will help take your restaurant from good to great. 

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