Notes on recruiting floor staff

How do you recruit a waiter or other customer service staff? Find out how . . .

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I have always believed that the recruitment of staff is the most important of all the tasks in a manager’s routine. My logic is simple — as your business grows, you can’t do it all yourself; you need competent people around you who can translate your vision into action. If you hire badly you create a rod for your own back.

Imagine you need a waiter. You might put the word around or place an ad in the paper. If the response is good you might conduct interviews and discard the obvious duds. Imagine you end-up with a couple of good prospects — both are presentable, outgoing, eager and have relevant experience. You check their references and they both get good recommendations. Sound good so far? If everything seems OK you’d possibly choose one or the other on ‘gut’ feeling.

As it turns out, our hypothetical waiters had one essential difference, and you may have missed it. The first applicant loved being of service and really relished the challenge of selling. You could leave him totally alone and he would do well because he enjoyed the role. He was a ‘natural’.

The second applicant was also outgoing and presented himself well in the interviews, because he desperately needed income — but deep down he hated selling and thought it was immoral and beneath him. He would act the part when you were watching, but he would revert to his natural passive behaviour when out of view or unsupervised. The customer average for both waiters could be as much as $30 per person different.

The problem we had to face is that in an interview, both waiters would try to sell themselves in order to get a job, and it is difficult to tell the real from the fake. As far as reference checks go, they are of great value if the person giving the reference shares the same values as you, but I’d love $100 for every time a dud staff member has been given a good reference by some turkey.

As our industry develops, recruitment is becoming more difficult. Almost anybody who is desperate for a job can act enough to fool an inexperienced or untrained interviewer. Even highly skilled personnel specialists have difficulties. This is why we began to use job aptitude tests — we needed a better way for our clients to sort the grain from the chaff.

As part of the process of working out what kind of people made the best waiting staff, we aptitude tested the best floor staff from a number of restaurants to establish what attributes they possessed. The results were quite a surprise. Most of the waiters turned out to be introverted, except a few who we’ll come back to. This took me completely off guard as I always assumed good service staff had to be outgoing in nature. I had worked on that assumption for 20 years.

When we watched them work, the test results began to make sense. The introverted waiters handled the flow of food and beverage to the tables. They were reasonably warm and friendly to the customers but did not waste time in idle chatter. Their food running productivity was excellent but they sold using rehearsed patter.

The others were extroverts. They had naturally slotted into an almost a pure sales role within the teams. They were charming, charismatic and affable, and had a love of selling. In the early part of service they circulated selling beverages while the others handled the flow of food. After main course they moved about the tables realising high margin add-on sales opportunities. Their average sales were quite impressive.

As a result of this testing, I learned that a good front of house team consists of a balance of two thirds introverts and one third extroverts. If you stock your dining area exclusively with extroverts you will get good sales results but the movement of product will be so slow, you’ll need twice as many of them. They will tend to stand around and talk too much. If you have all introverts you will move food and beverage quickly but you’ll have a poor sales and your customers’ perception of your service will not be as good as it could be.

Our use of these aptitude tests came about as an extension of a learning curve into more effective recruitment techniques. Like a lot of managers, our clients had previously relied on their intuition and often accepted job applicants who were partially unsuited to the expected role. Unsuitable staff can be a real problem. Quite often they’re not bad enough to give you clear justification for termination, but their lacklustre performance can be a constant source of irritation, and worse still, they can drag down the morale and standards of the rest of your team.

I’m still disturbed at how often I encounter staff in various hospitality businesses who are not only unsuitable, but totally wrong for their jobs. They’re usually the result of what I call ‘body snatching’. Body snatchers are managers who are too lazy to spend time recruiting properly. You can always tell one when you meet them — they have ulcers, grey hair, dark rings around their eyes and they will always tell you how many hours they have worked last week, and how tough business is.

The more experienced I become, the more I respect proper recruitment. Small differences in peoples’ make-up can have a profound influence on work performance, stability and job satisfaction. Get your people right and they’ll get your business right.

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