The Young Ones - The Difficulties Investing in The Youthful Casual Worker

It’s Saturday night. The restaurant is in full swing, the heat in the kitchen is rising like a furnace and my front of house team are focussed and ever responsive to all of our tables. The shrill of the bell rings from the kitchen for the third successive time in a row. Plates are backing up on the pass. A waiter is missing!

He’s the new employee, fresh-faced and straight out of school. I have a look around and can’t find him anywhere. Eventually, he arrives back after 5 minutes and says he only went to the toilet. I ask did he let anyone know he was leaving the floor? He replies ‘I didn’t know I needed permission to go to the toilet’.

He may have only been gone a few minutes but the service had broken down.

This is a real life scenario and it happens on a regular basis. The problem isn’t that the kid went to the toilet. It’s down to the lack of knowledge that he has responsibilities on the floor and a duty to our guests but most of all his team. When that breaks down, it affects the whole service.

The restaurant and hospitality industry needs these young, casual workers, whether they're in college or pursuing other activities. However, through my experience running my own restaurants, I have seen a massive increase in this segment of the workforce with little or no prior work experience.

How to deal with these workers and understand this type of situation has lead me to the question: How do you train and invest time in the young / student casual worker?

For most of the young people who walk through the door of the restaurant, this is their first time applying for a job. They are enthusiastic, want to work flexible hours, especially ones that will not clash with college hours, and want some disposable income. However, with most applicants having no training or experience working in the hospitality sector, how do you even decide who to hire?

To help with these decisions, there are a few questions I constantly examine and evaluate.

These are:

  • Who to hire?
  • How to train?
  • What environment am I creating for my staff?

Who to hire?

There has always been a high demand for the young casual worker in the hospitality industry. However, by its very nature, it’s always going to be a difficult hiring process. Not only do most hires have little or no experience, but for most, it’s simply a means to an end. It’s casual work - they’re not going to be as committed as the professional full-time employee. There’s also the unreliability factor - you can be easily left in the lurch due to late attendance, or not turning up at all.

I am constantly evaluating and adjusting my hiring techniques. In the past, I have leant towards giving new hires a trial night when the restaurant isn’t too busy and see how they work out. However, after reflection and thinking about service as a whole, I have reverted back to the tried and tested methods of accepting and analysing CVs and sitting down with the prospective hire for a face-to-face chat.

Most young adults I see have no experience, however, you can tell a lot from their CV. I am looking to see if they can present themselves in a favourable light and produce a professional-looking CV. By sitting down with them and having an informal chat, one can get an excellent  insight into a potential employees’ mannerisms and get an instinctive feeling for them - are they polite / friendly / approachable / do they listen? Most of all, are they lovers of other people? Why are they keen to work in this business? Have they been told to go get a job just for the extra cash, if so, why this business?

How to Train?

When you have regular clients, who pay good money for an overall dining experience, it’s vitally important to maintain a high level of service. Nonetheless, when you have new inexperienced hires, it can be difficult to consistently deliver on these standards.

The difficulty lies in giving crash courses in basic systems and processes to 18-19 year olds.Most of the kids want to impress, but one thing I’ve learned is that most will not take in all the information you’re giving them. In their efforts to impress you, they can be afraid to speak up if they’re unsure of the processes in place. The last thing you want is for new hires to pretend they know what they are doing. This will certainly put the service in jeopardy. It is imperative when training these young adults to assume nothing and explain every step to them in a clear and concise way.

Training Wait Staff in Ireland

Some of the technical skills that can be taught quickly include learning how to set a table, carry multiple plates, pour drinks correctly, where to stand and so on. When the restaurant isn’t as busy, a good opportunity is for a new hire to shadow a more experienced staff member and get a feel for how they operate and how the system functions in relation to each other. This helps greatly in confidence building.

However, what can be one of the most difficult messages to get across to new hires is that the restaurant is consistently “on” - we’re always live.

We are in hospitality so how we react to customers and deliver our experience is everything. Using the antidote at the beginning of this post, it’s hard to explain to these young staff members that they are an integral part of the system. When one part of the system breaks down, it all falls apart.

It’s important from the start to instil in each member of the team that they, too, are a vital cog in the machine. From an employer’s point of view, it’s paramount that I create a workplace environment that allows the team to work and grow together in a cohesive way.

What environment am I creating for my staff?

Restaurants aren’t easy places to work. For new hires to learn and develop in any restaurant, there needs to be an environment in place where they feel comfortable and confident enough to speak up and ask questions if they are experiencing difficulties.

In a lot of cases, new young hires may eventually work shifts for me over a 4-5 year period. With this in mind, I need to create an environment which will allow me to nurture these employees and train them in a way that will be beneficial to all parties, including the customer.

For staff members starting off in the industry, the type of information they need to take on board includes understanding how the kitchen operates, how timings work for starters / mains and how this affects the kitchen, having knowledge of how their section works and that it’s not independent from others, and so on.

All staff members should feel that they are in an environment that is open, safe and non-judgemental and that everyone is working towards the same goal of offering the best service possible.

It’s also important to note that mistakes do happen. Trays fall, glasses smash, tempers flare.

Recently, I had a student who was new to service and had only been working a few days. He was delivering a tray of drinks to a table and he dropped a glass of prosecco over the shoulder of a guest. It’s fair to say nobody really likes getting drinks spilt on their laps, so the guest was naturally slightly annoyed.

As the business owner, I have a responsibility to the guest. It’s important I get them sorted and comfortable so they can enjoy the rest of their experience. However, as an employer I also have a responsibility to my employee. This relationship is just as important and it’s crucial that I speak with them and build their confidence back up. It’s the small things that can really make the difference.

By examining the processes you implement, see if you can identify room for improvement.

What does a successful hire look like?

The hiring process is a complicated business. If you’re constantly hiring young adults and the process is failing, then it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate.

Rather than examining the process with a fine-toothed comb, it may be time to have a look in the mirror.

  • Why am I consistently hiring the wrong type of person?
  • What questions am I not asking?
  • What characteristics or traits am I overlooking in the person?

These thoughts lead to a greater question - could my ‘Emotional Intelligence’ be inadequate?

But what is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

EQ is generally said to include three skills:

  • Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others;
  • The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving;
  • The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.

It's crucial when you are interviewing a prospective hire, who has no experience or references, that you are emotionally engaged, not only with yourself but with them also. On top of that, you are trying to get an insight into the person, as well as building a picture in your mind of how this new employee will fit into the team.

When hiring new staff for the hospitality industry, Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and a 25 year veteran in the service industry has identified 6 traits that every employee should have. These include:

  • Optimistic warmth - genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense that the glass is always at least half full;
  • Intelligence - not just “smarts” but rather an insatiable curiosity to learn for the sake of learning;
  • Work ethic - a natural tendency to do something as well as it can possibly be done;
  • Empathy - an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel;
  • Self-awareness - an understanding of what makes you tick
  • Integrity - a natural inclination to be accountable for doing the right thing with honesty and superb judgment.

It’s important to note here, that these are psychological traits rather than technical skills. Why this works so well when for hiring for a young workforce is that most of the kids have no technical skills to begin with.

Technical skills can be developed and improved with training, however these traits are embodied within the person. Nonetheless, these traits can only really come to the surface after training has taken place and the skills become second nature to the employee.

A successful new hire, is one who seamlessly fits into the team, is willing to learn, portrays empathy, warmth, and works hard. However, by focusing on your Emotional Intelligence in the hiring process and creating an environment which allows employees to develop and grow, you are providing them with every opportunity to shine.

Once this happens, every new employee has the potential to provide true hospitality to the guests of their restaurants.

If you are in the hospitality business and have the ambition to take the hospitality you provide to a new level then we can help make that happen. Learn More about Hospitality Aware.