What is in this article?:
- How to recruit, train and retain top restaurant employees
- Incentives help employees, restaurants succeed
This is part of Restaurant Hospitality's special coverage of the 2013 Food & Wine Classic held in Aspen, Colo., June 14-16. Follow all of our coverage >>
There are so many difficult aspects of running a restaurant business, and not the least of them is recruiting, training and retaining employees. This vital part of the business was discussed during an American Express Trade program at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Sharing their approach to employee relations was Gretchen Selfridge, who oversees all employees for the 1,200-plus-unit Chipotle Mexican Grill; Bobby Stuckey, co-owner and master sommelier for Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, CO; Rick Bayless, chef/owner of Frontera Grill, Topolabampo and Xoco in Chicago; and Danny Meyer, c.e.o. of Union Square Hospitality Group, which operates several of New York City's best restaurants, including Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern.
What sorts of things are you doing to train and keep employees?
Bayless: Every day we have 15 minutes of serious training before pre-shift. The short meeting can be on anything, from a cooking demo to someone's love of beer. We do it because it gives a depth of knowledge to the staff and it keeps them fresh.
Every year we also have a staff trip to some part of Mexico for four days. It's our upper management team of about 35 people and we delve into a specific cuisine with the intention of coming back and developing new menu items. On top of that, we also give dining-out allowances to expose our staffs to other restaurants and what they do. From those experiences they come back and report what they found.
Meyer: We see ourselves as a place for career builders. The people we hired first have to want to make people happy. Our favorite employees are those who worked with us and left to go elsewhere and then come back to work for us because they appreciate what we do here.
Our hiring of people centers around what we call enlightened hospitality, which means giving people the tools they need to do the job successfully. It's my job to hire the best people possible and then make sure that they hold everyone below them to the highest standards possible.
Stuckey: When I had plans to open Frasca in Boulder, everyone told me that I was crazy because finding talent in a college town would be impossible. But I worked at the Little Nell [in Aspen] in 1994, and it performed at the highest levels, even though it was operating in a ski town where talent is often hard to find. And then I considered Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Yountville, [Calif.]. There wasn't a deep labor pool in Yountville either, but he manages to operate on a high level. So it can be done.
In our case, we do a 45-minute pre-service meeting every day. But since I'm a sommelier, we often get people working here who hope to do the same some day. So I'll often set aside two hours to do wine tastings with an employee. The cost of doing this over a year can add up to $5,000, but we do it because it adds a broader knowledge of wine for those who serve wine and hope to do more someday.