Moving On Up
Promoting Your Best Employees
While it may not be a straight line to the top in foodservice, the paths from dish room to executive chef are varied and plentiful, and every restaurant can offer its employees space to grow. In fact, the National Restaurant Association reports that more than 9 in 10 restaurant managers started as entry-level, hourly workers. Smart operators are doing their best to create a culture that gives employees a reason to stay. It’s all in the mindset, says John Zehnder, at the country’s largest independent restaurant, Zehnders of Frankenmuth whose four-decade stint as executive chef provides well-seasoned wisdom.
“We completely understand that younger people often consider a restaurant job something they’ll work at until they find a ‘real’ one,” he says. “So from the beginning, we make it real, letting them know they can advance by taking advantage of our culinary training programs and continuous posting of job opportunities.”
Essential to the process is a 90-day probation period for new hires and twice-yearly evaluations during which employees are asked about their job aspirations and advised how to make it to the next rung. Back-of-house employees, from the line on up, are offered education that culminates with certification from American Culinary Federation, a much-valued perk that benefits all, according to Zehnder.
“Our industry complains about the lack of trained chefs, but we accept it as a reality and make sure our employees receive the education they need. We require those certifications to advance here, but it’s also a valuable credential they can take with them if they leave,” says Zehnder.
High achieving servers are offered the chance to become supervisors, but as frequently happens, opt to remain servers compensated by the largesse of tips. Still, there are other ways to reward outstanding performance, advises Jason Kaplan, CEO of JK Consulting, an international restaurant-consulting firm based in New York. These can range from assigning choice sections in the dining room or a promotion to senior server entitled to a bigger share of the tip pool, or creating a new position with more responsibility and commensurate financial incentives.
Recognizing and rewarding talent from within your ranks is strongly recommended by industry experts, for several compelling reasons. “You already know your employees’ strengths and weaknesses, how they interact with others, their work ethic, etc., and you don’t know what you’re going to get when you hire off the street,” says Zehnder. Additionally, bringing in outsiders for supervisory and management positions is almost guaranteed to cause grumbling among staff who may feel resentful. Zenhnder stresses the importance of showing a path for growth that is transparent and achievable. “If you don’t offer an opportunity, workers will jump ship for a 25-cent raise,” says Zehnder ruefully.
Seniority doesn’t need to be the primary factor for advancement; owners should consider a variety of traits that signify an employee who’s on the way up.
Kaplan ticks them off:
- Thorough mastery of current role and an understanding the systems you’ve created
- Timely, dependable, responsible
- No need to be micromanaged
- Want to learn, no ‘know it all’ attitude
- Calm, unflustered under pressure
- Team player, flexible, first to step in and volunteer to do what’s needed
- Ability to multi-task, willingness to be cross-trained
- A passion for the business, and a real belief that this is not just a job, but a career path for a lifetime.