Restaurants featuring scantily clad waitresses—often dubbed “breastaurants” or “man caves”—not only survived the recession, but remarkably, gained steam. The now-iconic chain Hooters, launched in 1983, has inspired a rapidly growing concept genre with many successful newcomers. For example, Twin Peaks, a mountain-lodge themed chain where waitresses sport torso-revealing plaid tops, Daisy Duke shorts and hiking boots, has grown to 15 locations around the South and Midwest since opening in 2005, with five more slated to open this year.
For these restaurants, the waitstaff is a key part of the equation. As Twin Peaks’ CEO Randy Dewitt says, “Their most important job is to feed the customer’s ego; feeding their stomach is second.” Not just any woman could, or would, do that job—and men, of course, are out of the question.
A limited hiring pool coupled with a high turnover rate has led breastaurant owners and managers to hone their recruitment and hiring strategies carefully. And while you may not share their criteria for new hires, you can take advantage of what they’ve learned about recruiting a highly specialized workforce.
Advertise entry-level jobs as stepping-stones to more lucrative careers. Hooters markets its waitstaff jobs as entry paths to modeling and acting careers. “We have found that the best recruitment strategy for Hooters Girls is to focus on the opportunity for high-profile exposure,” says Beth Taylor, the company’s director of image and events. The company provides modeling and acting opportunities to selected Hooters Girls through its own promotional calendar, magazine and TV show. Not every restaurant can promise that level of exposure, but by emphasizing the potential for staff to step up to management-level positions, you may attract more qualified and motivated hires.
Create a work environment your staff will boast about. Twin Peaks doesn’t hire waitresses or bartenders; instead, it “casts for parts in a production,” says Dewitt. “The girls are the stars of the show, and we treat them as such.” Waitresses at Twin Peaks don’t do side work or restaurant chores; they have a crew of busboys for that. “If you were producing a movie, you wouldn’t expect the star to take the set down at the end of the day,” he says. “Our most successful recruitment strategy is to treat the waitstaff exceptionally well.” Word of mouth can be any restaurant owner’s greatest recruitment asset, or a thorn in your side if staff doesn’t feel well-treated. Treating your staff in a respectful manner and providing high-quality benefits like paid vacation time will make it easier to recruit new employees.
Encourage existing staff to recruit their own contacts. “When a waitress or bartender is dependable, there is probably a 95 percent chance that anyone she recommends would be dependable as well,” says Frank Giuffrida, manager of the Watertown, New York, franchise of The Tilted Kilt, a Celtic-themed concept where staff wear mini-kilts and plaid bikini tops. Giuffrida finds about 40 percent of his new hires from staff recommendations. To streamline this strategy, CANZ—a sports-pub chain in New York whose waitstaff wear matching black tank tops with CANZ emblazoned across the chest—created Facebook flyers for the servers to post on their personal pages when the company is recruiting. Hiring based on the recommendation of a top-notch employee is not only a great way to get a reliable hire, but lets your employee know that you value his or her opinion.
Network outside of the restaurant industry. “The owner and myself come from the nightclub business,” says Jeanne Repetti, general manager of CANZ. “When we hire for one of our restaurants, we reach out to all of the clientele and colleagues we know through our years in that industry.”
Giuffrida takes this strategy a step further. He always carries Tilted Kilt recruitment cards that read: “We think you’re doing an awesome job. If you’d like to come work at our restaurant give us a call.” “I hand out the card whenever I meet someone with great people skills,” he says. Giuffrida doesn’t limit his recruiting to waitresses at other restaurants; he’s also solicited employees at clothing shops and mobile phone stores—“anywhere that customer service is a component.” In general, good employees in other industries will be able to transfer applicable skills to the restaurant business, so don’t be afraid to cast a wider net. —Maura Ewing 8/1/11