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Interview dos and don'ts

Question:

Sometimes I interview prospective employees and they are upfront with me about their intention to eventually open their own restaurant. Is this a deal breaker or should I still consider them and thank them for their honesty?

– Restaurant Owner, Brooklyn, NY

Answer:

It’s a lovely dream of many culinary students, unhappy workers in other professions, foodies and restaurant workers to one day open their own restaurant.  Some of them will, but most will not.  As a restaurateur you know how hard it is to do what you do. Controlling costs; raising sufficient cash flow to make payroll, rent and pay vendors; maintaining quality product; dealing with challenging employees or guests; keeping the health department on your side; and we have not even mentioned cooking. So before you picture your employee squirreling away all your recipes to open across the street (and it certainly can and does happen), keep in mind that the barriers to success in this business are high.

Consider the upside of a worker who wants to be a fellow restaurateur:

  • The employee is likely to be focused and motivated to learn rather than someone just working for the paycheck.
  • You may be able to harness that employee’s drive to make her a manager or operator of another location in your company.
  • On the premise of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” you have some protections from employees stealing your intellectual property (for example you can include such language in your employment contract and employee handbook) that you would not have otherwise.

In the best-case scenario, you have a strong employee who does end up opening his own restaurant—a franchise of your concept.  And in the worst-case scenario, there is yet another competitor in town. In that case, the employee would have probably had the connections, finances, and creative concept to compete with you anyway—at least you have close view of the strengths and weaknesses of your competitor.

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