How to Recruit the Best Restaurant Employees

As hiring in the restaurant industry gets more competitive, a hospitality recruiter shares her advice for getting the best applicants.
To attract potential new employees, offer an organized work environment where the staff feels valued. (Photo: antoniodiaz/Shutterstock)

Even as more people go out to eat, restaurant owners have been facing an industry-wide labor shortage, whether it’s because of the rising cost of living, increased competition, stagnant wages or declining interest in kitchen and service work.

Some owners who couldn’t find reliable workers have resorted to cutting back their business’ hours. Other owners are offering sign-on bonuses and healthcare packages, raising wages or eliminating tipping to narrow the pay gap between front and back of house workers.

Mary Gibb, CEO of Agencia International, a hospitality recruiting agency with branches in New York, Sydney and London, offered these tips for making your restaurant more attractive to job candidates and finding the right recruits.

Be willing to value enthusiasm over experience. “Don’t discount employing an enthusiastic candidate with no experience from time to time,” said Gibb. Sometimes, the right personality and attitude is the most important qualification.

Know where to look. “There are many industry job boards now that offer an applicant tracking system as part of their service, such as,, and more,” said Gibb. She recommended picking a combination of these sites, and also using an internal jobs notice board that will allow your existing staff to apply for promotions or be able to recommend people they know.

“Social media is another economical way to bring awareness to your openings and can be effective. Your followers are fans, and they may know someone who is looking.” -Mary Gibb

Offer an organized environment. “No one can last very long in a chaotic, unorganized environment — even the most dedicated and efficient workforce will tire of this quite quickly. Be a highly organized, superstar business owner so that they enjoy coming to work.”

Show employees the love. “It is hard to compete with more glamorous, high-profile businesses for quality staff, especially if you are a smaller business,” said Gibb. “But there are ways you can compete. Be sure to value the contributions of your entire team, and then express that to them as often as you can. An employee who feels valued and is actively contributing rates this very highly in job satisfaction surveys.”

Offer training and paths to promotion.Training your team gives you a more flexible and efficient team to work with, which is particularly important for smaller establishments, where multitasking is critical. This also has the benefit of making them feel better able to perform their job effectively and become more invested,” said Gibb. “Training from scratch has a huge benefits, and future employees will appreciate the opportunity and time you invested even more. Finally, ensure there are clear paths to promotion, so when employees are ready or when the opportunity arises, they will move within your organization and not with a competitor.”

Know the “why” of each candidate. Gibb advised, “Ask: Why did they apply to your position? Why do they enjoy that role? Why did they leave the last employer? Why do they think they can contribute to your organization? The interview should be focused on uncovering as much of this as possible.” Turnover is expensive and hurts productivity, customer satisfaction and team morale, Gibb noted. Determining the “why” is important “so you will not have the pain of on-boarding and training a manager who is pursuing an acting career and leaves just as he becomes fully productive for you.”


Train employees so that they can perform their jobs efficiently and confidently. (Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

Screen by phone first. Eschew email screenings for a quick phone call. “A quick pre-screen over the phone can reveal his or her communication skills and energy level. It allows you to ask a few questions that might be deal breakers, and can save you the time of in-person interviews.”

Look for nonverbal cues. Gibb said she begins an interview from the moment a candidate walks in. “I am looking at promptness, demeanor, the energy with which they carry themselves before I have even asked the first question. Then I am looking at eye contact, preparedness and presentation, while trying to analyze how much they are actually walking the talk.”

Beware the over-confident talker. “They may be overcompensating for lack of real skills and experience. On the other hand, some of my most successful recruits started very slowly and with a very sure-footed approach, to the point that I had clients question my judgement. After some reassurance and insistence that they give them some more time, they are now star performers.”

Advertise your attitude. Emphasize upfront how much you value your employees. Gibb said, “Don’t forget there are a lot of people who do not want to be a number at work.” Knowing they’ll be appreciated and respected can make all the difference to many candidates.

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