For most every restaurant, the next few weeks will be by far the busiest of the entire year. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, it’s likely the time when you make the majority of your revenue.
But with more business, and more people coming through the door, the biggest challenge is always staffing: how to hire holiday staff, how to manage staff vacations, and how to deal with staffing emergencies right in the middle of service. These are all problems most every restaurant has to contend with as soon as the holiday season rolls around. We rounded up step-by-step holiday staffing tips for restaurant operators from top restaurants across the country to help you have the smoothest holiday season possible.
It starts with hiring a solid set of people before the holidays begin.
At the Chicago steakhouse institution, Lawry’s The Prime Rib, general manager Max Maxwell says planning for the holidays begins being strategic about the staff you hire. “We try to diversify, so we don’t have to turn around in September and hire 10 people who will be let go in January when it gets quieter,” he says. His staff comprises some full-time employees, as well as part-time folks looking to pick up extra cash during the holidays. “That way we have people who only work banquets, some servers who only work two days a week. We aren’t working anyone to death.”
This also means setting expectations for staff up front. Because the holidays are the busiest time of the year for restaurants, it’s important to tell people when you hire them that you expect them to work during the holidays. “I always ask people, ‘Do you like the holidays?’ and if they say yes, I am like, ‘This may not be the job for you,’” says Maxwell.
Build trust with your employees the rest of the year, so they’re willing to work with you during the holiday season.
“It’s about building loyalty all year long, not just pleading with your staff at the end of the year to do their best,” says David Massoni, a partner in the Three Kings Restaurant Group. Be flexible with your staff about vacation during the year, and they’ll be more willing to step up during the holidays. “We have so many front-of-house staffers who are following other dreams and passions, so we want to give them the opportunities to go on auditions or do stand-up nights.”
As Arjun Meherish, managing partner for Morph Hospitality Group in Nashville puts it, “If you are accommodating and nice to your staff, they will be accommodating when it comes to your needs. It’s about making sure they love what they do — and love you for what you do for them.”
Plan ahead on everything, from setting a schedule to training.
Most restaurants interviewed advised starting to plan for the holidays, staffing-wise, as early as you can. This involves coming up with numbers for how much of each type of staff (bussers, servers, etc.) that you will need during the holiday season, making hires, training, and establishing a schedule.
According to Maxwell, “If you are training a server, it really takes them about two good months to start hitting their stride with regard to service standards and the culture of your restaurant. People need to figure out what it’s like working at your specific volume.”
Massoni’s strategy is to put a holiday schedule up as far in advance as possible, giving staffers the opportunity to trade shifts to suit their own personal plans. “Maybe for one waiter, it’s important to celebrate Thanksgiving, but for another, Christmas is when they have plans. It puts the power in their hands.”
Meherish keeps it even simpler: he tells people that they can either have Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, or New Years’ Day off, and they sign up for their preference. “Our staff is happier that way because they get a day off, but they still know they will be making money during the holidays.”
And make sure, too, that there are days when everyone has off. For Lawry’s, it’s Christmas Eve, since New Year’s Eve and Thanksgiving are the busiest days. For Ivy Tsang, co-founder of Nickel & Diner in New York, this is New Year’s Day and Christmas Day. Choose the days off that are right for your business.
Plan to make a few extra hires, but be very strategic about it.
Given the stress that the holidays put on your staff, it’s not a bad idea to hire a few extra people, just for the season. Tsang suggests making those hires bussers, servers, and bar staff. With bussers and servers, she says, “It guarantees you smooth service and that everything gets to the table at the right time. It’s important to leave a really good impression on your guests because this is when a lot of new customers are coming along. It’s worth the extra labor costs.”
She also invests in a lead bartender who can curate a cocktail list and a beverage director who can promote the wine program. This is because people are typically more interested in ordering alcohol during the holidays, so it’s important to make sure your options are on point. “People really want great wine pairings, a good glass of bubbly. It’s a celebratory time.” [Read more…]