For restaurants, the holidays are the busiest time of the year. While it’s tempting to hire any warm body willing to peel carrots or run plates, being deliberate and strategic about who you bring on (and when) can be the key to a successful season. Here, Culinary Agents Founder and CEO Alice Cheng shares the number one secret to hiring for the holidays, plus tips for pulling it off.
At Culinary Agents, we always talk about talent pipeline building: making sure you have a constant flow of qualified people you’re keeping in contact with. It’s especially important over the holidays, when you need talented people who are looking to work during your busiest months of the year. Here are a few ways to build your pipeline so you’re ready when peak season comes around.
Reach out to past employees. When great employees leave on favorable terms, take note of their status. Keep in contact with them because they may be a great backup option for the holidays. We’re seeing more often now that when someone leaves a job, it’s not necessarily for another full-time job — they may be taking some time off to explore another line of work or simply weighing their options. When the holidays roll around these able bodies tend to be more receptive to temporary work and usually have the ability to hit the ground running.
Pre-qualify great people. At Culinary Agents, after a job is posted we automatically tee up potential candidates who “match” your requirements along with their credentials. Take note of those who may be a fit, not just for the posted position but for future ones — and reach out proactively. Create a bucket of pre-qualified applicants who may not have come on board at that time for whatever reason but have already expressed their interest in working with your company. Connect with them on the site and keep them top of mind when ramping up staffing. Culinary Agents archives the history of past applicants and matches along with their profiles; use this to your advantage.
Use career fairs and culinary and hospitality schools. When fall arrives and you’re attending career fairs, start identifying eager students who could help with easier work requirements on a temporary basis. Roll the topic into conversations when you’re introducing yourself. If they have some downtime during the holidays and are interested in the work, that’s a seed that can be planted early on. Some schools even allow businesses to come in periodically at their own discretion and talk with students. Make sure to take notes and keep in touch!
Keep close track of candidates and matches. For pipeline building to be effective, you need an organized, efficient way of managing your talent pool. Create a simple spreadsheet of people you meet at career fairs who express interest; past employees who’ve left on favorable terms; and great candidates you may have passed on previously for whatever reason. Track as many details as you can, such as what the candidates are doing now, what their interests are, and their availability and work preferences. Then you can use that database as a list of people to reach out to proactively when you need to.
More Holiday Hiring Tips
Now that you know how to build a pipeline for future hiring needs, here are some tips to help you get your staff in place and prepared for a successful holiday season.
Look at the past & present for clues. This fall, take a day to review your previous year’s traction and some of the highlights that could impact your anticipated volume. Look at whatever data you have from the year — reservations, private events, etc. — and consider how you’ve grown. Look at your social media following, any hot dining lists you’ve been featured on, and any buzz that’s built. Marry that information with your planned activities, such as holiday promotions or social media campaigns, and factor all of that into anticipating how busy you’re going to be. You may find that you need to start hiring a full month earlier than you did the previous year.
Be specific in your postings. Post jobs on trusted networks like Culinary Agents specifically for holiday staff. Your talent may be hesitating or not showing up to open calls because they’re looking for a gig, not a permanent job. Let them know that it’s OK and that you’re also on board for a short-term stint. Plus, if you use the same tools and tracking you usually do, you can collect their resumes and continue building your pipeline for the future.
Over-hire in your back of house. For the time being we’re still mainly a tipping culture here in the U.S. During the holidays guests may feel a bit more generous, which tends to favor the front-of-house staff who are eligible to participate in the tip pool. For the back of house, the workload and intensity increase, but most of the time the pay stays the same. Having a few extra hands in the kitchen part-time can offer the relief needed to keep spirits up. Consider intentionally double-staffing certain positions to offload some of the chaos. But remember, stick with people in your pipeline — when you frantically hire and the people who come on are not qualified, it actually causes more work for everyone else.
Keep in touch. Once you’ve found holiday talent, be deliberate about keeping in touch with them. Have a form of exit interview in which you provide feedback and ask what else they’re interested in. Would they be interested in coming back to do some periodic part-time work? Are they thinking about a full-time job? That way you can start categorizing these people on your as-needed basis for help throughout the year.
Photo Credit: Erin Kunkel