Should You Use a Restaurant Recruiter to Help With Staffing?

Steep competition for workers has many restaurateurs relying on headhunters to find top talent.
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A good restaurant recruiter can help you streamline the hiring process. (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

Finding good help is never easy, but with the unemployment rate at just 3.7 percent, it can be extraordinarily challenging to fill open positions.

“The low unemployment rate is a great economic indicator for the overall economy, but it means employers have to fight harder to keep employees and find new ones,” said Dustin Rogge, associate professor of hospitality and business at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. “Restaurants are impacted more than other businesses because of the transient nature of employees.”

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“Look for recruiters who have spent time working in the hospitality business themselves. They need that industry-specific knowledge to make informed recommendations on candidates,” advised Dustin Rogge of The Culinary Institute of America. (Photo: Dustin Rogge)

Enter hospitality recruiters. These headhunters promise to leverage their networks, sift through resumes and send top talent to your door. But at a cost as high as 30 percent of the new employee’s annual salary, this service is a steep ask for business owners on a budget. Is it worth it?

Here, Rogge explains when you should consult a restaurant recruiter and tips on getting the most value from the relationship.

Finding a great hospitality recruiter

Let’s say you’re in need of a new general manager. You’ve already asked your staff for referrals, leveraged your external network and put out feelers with online job ads, but you still haven’t found the right person.

It might be time to use a headhunter. What should you look for in a hospitality recruiter?

“Look for recruiters who have spent time working in the hospitality business themselves,” said Rogge, who co-founded CMD Hospitality Consulting. “They need that industry-specific knowledge to make informed recommendations on candidates.”

Your restaurant recruiter should ideally have extensive expertise in your local region.

“What you’re paying for, on a lot of levels, is their connections,” he said. “People who have  spent a lot of time and focus on a specific geographical area will know at least a handful of potential candidates for the role before you even start the search.”

Finally, try to find a headhunter whose expertise complements your own knowledge.

“Let’s say you’re a chef-operator and you want to hire an in-house accounting expert, or you’re more of a front-of-house person and you need a chef. A recruiter can find people that would fill the needs in those areas that perhaps you don’t have a depth of knowledge on,” he said.

Related: Make Me a Match: How Improving Your Hiring Process Can Bring in Better Employees

Consider the role’s seniority

Using a recruiter to fill every role usually isn’t practical for your budget. Consider the seniority of the position to determine if working with a headhunter makes sense, said Rogge.

“Overall, recruiting services are most useful for higher levels, like regional management, general managers or executive chefs,” he said. “The pool of applicants shrinks and the stakes are higher for senior roles.”

Once you have the right person in those leadership roles, they can help find great candidates for junior and mid-level positions.

“They’ll be working day in and day out with those staffers, and they won’t want to give up control of that hiring process to a recruiter,” Rogge added.

Narrow down your ideal candidate

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It’s important to be specific when narrowing down the best candidate to work at your restaurant. (Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

Your hospitality recruiter can help you find the perfect candidate — but only if you express who that might be.

“Don’t let it be a passive process. Be very specific about what you’re looking for,” said Rogge. “You should be able to paint that picture about what is really important to you and what your must-haves are.”

Keep in mind the kind of personality that might thrive in the particular culture of your restaurant.

“There can be two amazing chefs, but they’ll each succeed in totally different cultures. Putting that into words is paramount to the success of the hire, and it helps save you and the recruiter a lot of time,” he said.

Related: How to Hire Your First Restaurant Employees

Speed up hiring with a recruiter

Sifting through resumes and conducting preliminary interviews is a huge time suck. Letting a restaurant recruiter handle these tasks can make the process more efficient.

“Even with a recruiter, the management team will still need to dedicate a chunk of time to interviewing candidates, but at least that first pass is done for you,” said Rogge.

One of the biggest benefits to working with a recruiter is that by the time you’re considering candidates, they’ve already been vetted by the headhunter.

“It allows you to make strong hiring decisions on a basis of work that’s already been done. You’re less likely to waste time on people who seemed like they’d be great, but end up not being the best for your organization,” he said.

Negotiate the terms

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Using a recruiter usually requires a negotiation process. (Photo: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock)

Partnering with a recruiter is an investment. Set yourself up for the biggest return by negotiating the terms of the agreement to fit your needs and budget, said Rogge.

“It’s certainly worth looking for common ground for both the recruiter and the hiring organization to feel good about the arrangement,” he said.

You should expect to pay the recruiter 15 to 30 percent of the salary for the role you’re trying to fill. You may need to pay a retainer, as well, just to get the search started.

Related: 5 Negotiating Tactics Every Small Business Owner Should Practice

The price of working with a recruiter sometimes comes with guarantees that could save you a lot of time down the road.

“Some recruiters say that if the new hire doesn’t work out in the first 90 days, they will work to find a replacement at no additional cost,” said Rogge.

Your business is only as strong as the team you have in place. Under the right circumstances, a hospitality recruiter can help you find the right people to propel your restaurant to greater success.

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