The chef/owner of the 5-year-old anchor restaurant did not believe in hiring techniques beyond word-of-mouth. According to the Sunday newspaper, the tony spot had achieved rising-star status and was still climbing. Those seeking a dinner reservation were put on hold for a month, making the to-die-for tableside Caesar salad (extra white anchovies, please) and Korean-fusion food even more sought after. From the outside, things looked smooth.
But behind the line of fire, the place was imploding from exhaustion.
“It took key employees, including myself and another salaried guy, to make our Energizer Bunny of a chef realize people were serious when talking about giving notice,” said the former front-of-house manager. “We were all working at least 50 to 60 hours a week. It was a small, tight staff and I had been asking to bring on a few part-time people. We were burning out and were all done with being snappy with each other. Then, a line cook took a tumble on some EVO and broke his wrist.”
The first ad hit Craigslist on a Friday morning, prior to a weekend of sold-out events around town.
“I had never used Craigslist before and made every imaginable mistake,” my now-wiser friend said. “I told people the name and address of the restaurant, didn’t say anything about a resume, and didn’t put a time on it. In some ways it made it easy to rule people out. If someone showed up in the middle of lunch service expecting an interview, or smelled like they had been camping for a week, it was easy to put them in a circular-file pile.
“Then, I learned from an inspection that you’re supposed to keep applications for a long time. My ignorance reinforced my boss’ opposition to advertising for help.”
“Really, her fear was ego-based,” my friend continued. “She believed people would think less of us if we needed to ask for help from the outside, that opening up jobs due to turnover would somehow diminish our value. Truth be known, other places were starting to pop up that paid better, with less hours. For the kitchen staff, that was appealing.”
As for my friend, interviews went poorly. Unsuccessful hiring decisions, based on immediate desperation, turned the small restaurant into a revolving door. Not surprisingly, service began to suffer and tension rose between the new people and those who had paid their dues during the leaner staffing days.
“We were better off running shorthanded than hiring people who don’t have a strong work ethic,” the chef/owner characteristically screamed at my friend one morning.
“It was then I realized we were having a breakdown in cultural and age difference expectations, among other things,” the FOH manager said. “Also, I never took into consideration that as a woman, she was competing with a bunch of guys. It was something I had never thought of because she was so talented. So, I followed my boss around with a clipboard and a pen and we composed a new ad. But this time, it was going to culinary schools and help-wanted sections in trade magazines.”
Next week, Adventures in Hiring Part 3: Be careful what you wish for.
Q — I don’t like giving gifts that will require friends and family to use a lot of their own money, on top of a $25 restaurant gift card. My sister disagrees, especially if the place is a favorite of the people receiving it. Do you have an opinion on this? — Leah N., Pownal.
A — I have an opinion on everything, but you make an interesting point. If the place is a known favorite, the recipients are going to eat there anyway and the gift card will be viewed practical. This is considerate, but somewhat boring.
How about the same amount to a place where the whole bill will be covered by the amount gifted? A favorite coffee shop, perhaps?
Better yet, examine restaurant prices online and micromanage the gift by writing something like, “Valid for two after-dinner-coffees and a dessert,” on the envelope. Utilizing the written suggestion can be ignored, but it also shows additional thought not often associated with restaurant gift cards.
Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.