restaurant workers in action

What to Look for When Hiring for Hospitality

8 soft skills for recruiting great restaurant workers

Dean of Restaurant & Culinary Management Rick Camac shares the soft skills he advises restaurant managers and operators focus on when hiring, especially amid a national staffing shortage in the hospitality industry.

It’s odd that we often overlook the obvious when drafting a job requirement or description when we are ready to hire new employees. Based on those requirements, we often create a checklist to follow during the interview process, which is good and very organized. The problem is, we are looking for the wrong set of skills! And we are asking the wrong questions, especially when reviewing resumes.

We even make the wrong decisions on who to bring in for an interview in the first place because our criteria for hiring an applicant can be all wrong. Then we’re surprised and disappointed when the applicant (whom we’ve now hired) doesn’t work out.

Our job placement ads will oftentimes list the following requirements (derived from a real job post for a New York City venue):

  • Familiarity with POS systems such as Micros, Aloha, Posi Touch, Rpower required
  • Strong knowledge in food and beverage (wine knowledge is a plus)
  • Understanding of how to upsell
  • Tendency to meet guests needs on the restaurant floor with peripheral vision
  • Open to working morning and evening shifts, week days, weekends and holidays
  • Keen sense of attention to detail ensuring tables are served and bussed properly.
  • Basic understanding of polishing, marking, spot-checking and crumbing tables.
  • Ability to lift up to 50 pounds required

Now, for all the things listed above, which do you think is not relatively easy to teach? Virtually all of the above can be trained in hours, if not days, and one may take somewhat longer. Strong knowledge in food and beverage? Okay, that may take time to acquire, but can I teach someone relatively smart and ambitious most menus in a week? Yes! Can I teach my point of sale system in a day? Yes! Can I teach upselling? Easily, across a few sessions. Polishing? C’mon, really?

a restaurant worker on a POS systemOne of the smartest requirements above is in bullet No. 3 because generally speaking, you cannot teach good peripheral vision. We can teach employees how to “scan the room” looking for things that are amiss. But those same employees will step over a napkin laying in the middle of the floor three times if that’s just not a soft skill they possess.

There are skills and abilities inherent in our DNA, that are either there or they are not. If they are not, I submit, you cannot train people to do or possess them. It is my opinion that you cannot make a messy person neat. Their version of neat may be to take everything off the floor and cram it into the closet in a ball so it’s not seen. You can force people to do some of these things that do not come naturally to them, but it's highly unlikely for that training to stick or come easily.

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So, why do we ask for easily trainable skills and forego looking for the skills that really matter in a hospitality-based business? Some of us call these soft skills. I believe Danny Meyer calls them the 51%ers. Here are some of the skills I think are considerably more important than what we typically look for in an applicant:

  • Curiosity
  • Perception
  • Energy
  • Enthusiasm
  • Drive
  • Ambition
  • Problem solving
  • Conflict resolution.

Of all the points above, how many do you think are teachable? Perhaps the last two (to a degree), but for the most part, you cannot teach them. Can you teach someone to be curious or enthusiastic? I have found curious people to be some of the smartest people, wanting to know how everything works so they seek out the information. How do you teach drive if it’s not there? Can you get employees excited about something? Yes, but it’s usually not sustainable, just like everything else on my list (and more).

These are important skills for hospitality and they are hard, if not impossible, to teach. Conversely, we can all learn how to use a POS system in a few days. It’s time to change what we are looking for and how we interview and ultimately hire. I guarantee you will be more successful bringing in the right people into your organization, not to mention improving your organization’s culture.

Study restaurant staffing, HR and more business skills with Rick in Restaurant & Culinary Management.

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