The restaurant industry might finally be in recovery after more than a year of disruption due to the pandemic. While the continued spread of the Delta variant means that we may not be out of the woods yet, more cities and states are opening bars and restaurants, and people are finally able to support their favorite taco trucks or pizza parlors in person again.

After the pandemic has severely impacted this industry, how will restaurants go about hiring candidates and retaining workers? In part one of this series, we discussed the current state of restaurant hiring, as well as some ways employers can creatively source candidates. 

In this article, we’ll continue the conversation by discussing tips on how to interview candidates and retain them once they’re hired, as well as what the future of the restaurant industry might look like. You can also find more information in the hiring guide for restaurant owners we’ve developed in partnership with OpenTable. 

Best practices for interviewing restaurant candidates

As restaurant employers begin to hire again, there are several things for them to consider. The availability of workers is low, as many restaurant workers had to pivot and find other jobs during the pandemic — nearly two million workers lost their jobs between March and April 2020. The workers who are looking for restaurant jobs have many options, so it’s important that you make a good first impression. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind for interviewing potential restaurant employees in today’s climate:

1. Give candidates all the information they need

To help the interview process go smoothly, think about what the candidate will need to know ahead of time. For example, let the candidate know if they will need to check in with the front desk and get a badge once they arrive at your office or whether there’s an optimal way to get to the location of the interview. If you require additional information such as a list of past references or a food handler certification, let candidates know so they can come prepared.

2. Develop a core set of interview questions

Figure out the qualities that matter most to you for someone in the position you’re hiring for, then come up with a list of core questions that will allow the candidate to demonstrate those qualities. For example, one scenario to pose to a candidate could be, “Describe a time you had to deal with a demanding customer and how you resolved the situation.” The candidate’s answer can tell you a lot about their customer service skills and emotional intelligence.

It’s important to also make sure your interview questions follow the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, meaning you don’t ask about topics that could potentially lead to discrimination, including race, sex, national origin, disability status, age, religion and ancestry. This way, you can avoid putting the candidate in an uncomfortable situation and avoid any legal headaches.

3. Ask open-ended questions

To learn more about the candidate and what type of employee they would be, avoid “yes” or “no” answers by asking open-ended questions. This will encourage your candidate to talk more about their skills and experiences and why they would be a good fit for your restaurant. For example, instead of asking someone, “Are you comfortable working in a fast-paced environment?” you can ask them, “What type of environment are you most comfortable working in?”

4. Prepare yourself for the interview

The interview isn’t just for you to evaluate the candidate — the candidate is also evaluating you. As much as you’re seeing whether they’re a good fit for the job, they are also taking note of what it will be like to work for you and how the work environment will be. Make sure you’re on time and familiar with the candidate’s resume and create a welcoming environment for the candidate.

5. Ask why they’re interested in your restaurant

This question can give candidates an opportunity to share why they want this job, as well as help you differentiate candidates who have done their research from those who haven’t. 

How to keep your employees around

Success! You’ve hired your staff. But once you’ve done this, how can you keep them around? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Offer opportunities for growth

Most employees want opportunities to advance in their careers. In fact, according to Alice Cheng, founder and CEO of Culinary Agents, some will even take a job that pays less if it means they have opportunities to advance. 

Mike J. Shine, owner of Frank’s Americana Revival in Houston, Texas, says that when he interviews candidates, he lets people know Frank's Americana Revival promotes from within and offers potential for professional growth. “We’re now taking great shift leaders and offering the opportunity to move into management with salaried roles,” says Shine.

2. Create a caring environment

Restaurant work is already challenging, and it's been even more difficult during the pandemic, so it’s important to cultivate a caring environment in which people respect and support one another. While a strong environment takes a while to create, you can contribute to a caring culture by knowing and enforcing your core values, learning from past experiences and mistakes and creating a channel through which all employees can actively communicate. These efforts will help create a strong culture, which is a valuable tool to boost employee retention. 

For example, when talking to applicants, Shine describes his restaurant’s warm, supportive culture. “You’re an extension of our family if you come to work here. That has meaning to people,” he says.

3. Provide perks and rewards

While a toxic environment or culture can’t be patched up with perks and rewards, offering these to employees when the culture is already strong can go a long way by showing employees you value them. 

Restaurants that can afford benefits such as medical coverage, tuition reimbursement and vacation should offer them, as they can be a huge incentive to attract and retain people in the industry. However, for restaurant groups with tighter budgets, smaller perks like shift meals and beverages — such as complimentary wine tastings at a winery or a free Double-Double burger and fries at In-N-Out burger — are common extras that your employees will appreciate. 

Community involvement helps engage employees 

Community involvement for restaurants can look different from place to place. Some have donation programs that give team members the satisfaction of working for a business that cares about people, while others give team members the opportunity to volunteer and give back. 

For example, Great American Restaurants has a program through which they donate a percentage of their  sales to a number of local charities listed on their  website. Since 2002, the group has donated more than $1.9 million through the program

Carlos Rodriguez, owner of Gonza Tacos y Tequila in the Raleigh-Durham area, says his staff values opportunities to volunteer as a group for Habitat for Humanity. 

“We take our staff on monthly journeys to build houses, and we also do events that raise money for Habitat for Humanity,” he says.

Getting your employees on board with a mission and involved in the community is a great way to keep them happily working at your restaurant. In fact, research shows that demonstrating social responsibility in the community is a key driver of employee engagement. 

To sum it all up ...

Staffing a restaurant requires smart tactics, industry knowledge and a little bit of luck — now more than ever. To build your dream team, you need to create a positive interview experience for candidates and find ways to retain your best employees. 
You can learn more about how to hire your dream team by referring to our guide, created in partnership with OpenTable, for how to staff your restaurant during this historic labor crisis. By following these tips, you’ll see that the best is yet to come!