In the everyday chaos of a restaurant, it can be easy for employees to feel like they’ve faded into the background—a blur amid the many moving parts. “We as cooks want to find a place where our employers will be invested in us not just as cooks, but as individuals,” says Tiffany Ran, a cook at White Swan Public House in Seattle and founder of PR firm BlindCock Media. “It's the only way that we can, in this day and age, have jobs that sustain us financially and emotionally.”
For operators, finding ways to single out employees and create individualized advancement plans could help grow staff loyalty and engagement—a commodity in today’s stiff labor market. Check out how some restaurants are fashioning custom career opportunities for their workers.
Get to the point
“What do you want to do?” That’s one of the first questions Chicago’s DineAmic Group asks potential candidates. If a candidate wants to open a restaurant, Ken McGarrie, the group’s director of operations, asks what the name of the concept will be. “We need dreamers,” McGarrie said at a recent industry event. “We need people who understand that this is a passion.” In the hustle and bustle of a restaurant, it can get lost on employees that there is a succession plan. That’s why McGarrie tries to open that communication from the very first interaction.
It’s all about a value proposition, says celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, whose restaurants include Red Rooster, Ginny’s Supper Club and Streetbird Rotisserie in New York City. Together, Samuelsson and his team brainstorm how employees can add value to the operation, how the operation can add value for employees and how that value benefits guests. When chatting with staff, the restaurateur asks “So, who wants a raise?” He then asks how they are going to earn that raise today, tomorrow and next week. A couple of his team members are passionate about Mexican cuisine, and suggested creating a late-night daypart to serve tacos at one of Samuelsson’s concepts. The idea and additional responsibilities qualified the workers for a pay raise. “It’s about inclusion and constantly looking at your staff pool and being inspirational together,” he says.
Learn as much as possible
Piada Italian Street Food, a 43-unit fast casual, uses personality tests to help formulate individualized development plans for new hires. The testing software puts together a report, which is given to each worker as part of their review. “This report provides us with the opportunity to have additional developmental conversations and has allowed us to demonstrate the investment we are willing to make in our team members,” says Diane Neville, vice president of people services for the Columbus, Ohio-based chain.
Pair up team members
Garrett Harker wants employees who are obsessed with something. The owner of eight restaurants in Boston—including Eastern Standard, The Hawthorne and Branch Line—finds ways to incorporate employees’ passions into their roles. As such, Harker has promoted team members to coffee directors and cheese consultants. He also finds ways to pair up staff with complementary skills. For instance, if one of his employees is gifted at constructing cocktails, but has trouble communicating, he’ll rework the environment or join them up with another team member, so that they can both learn and be successful. A lot of people drawn to the restaurant industry have wandered from conventional career ladders, which he says “requires some individual path-making.”