Finding and hiring the right front-line restaurant employees is consistently listed as one of the top concerns for restaurant managers and executives. The temptation is there to merely fill positions but there are things that managers can do to ensure they are choosing the best employees. In a session on hiring top talent at the NRA Show today, Joleen Flory-Lundgren, vice president of human resources and training at Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que shared some of her hiring insights as well as those of audience members.

First for those making hiring decisions is making a calculated decision on how many employees are needed in a specific position. Using staffing projection worksheets, managers can determine proper staffing levels based on sales trends, seasonal considerations, promotions, and other mitigating factors for each daypart.

Once a manager knows how many positions to fill, they should take time to list characteristics of persons who would be ideal to a certain position. In this seminar, audience members listed such characteristics of a good line cook as dependable, organized, experienced, and good demeanor. With these characteristics in mind, the manager can approach resumes or applications with a set of criteria they are trying to fulfill.

The next step in the process is to find good recruiting sources. Flory-Lundgren says that Famous Dave’s uses their employee referral program, guest referrals, vendor referrals, walk-ins, job fairs, print and radio advertising, and other sources to find candidates. The key here is to get creative in looking for the employees that fit your predetermined criteria.

Employment applications tell a lot as much by what is not on them as what is. Are there gaps in employment history? Have they had long or short tenure in their past jobs? Does their experience show progression of responsibility? What are the reasons for leaving past jobs? These and other observations should be fully explored with applicants to determine whether they will meet your expectations. Flory-Lundgren says the axiom “past performance is the best indicator of future performance” rings true in most every situation.

The interview process can help answer these and other questions as long as it is done in a legal manner. A good rule of thumb, according to Flory-Lundgren, is to make sure your questions are uniform across applicants and pertain solely to the job for which you are hiring. We might all know that asking a person’s age is not appropriate, but what about questions related to disabilities? If a person can’t perform a job function, you need to know that but the line between appropriate and inappropriate questioning needs to be considered beforehand.

When Flory-Lundgren asked the audience who checked references on a regular basis, about forty percent of the room said no. Excuses ranged from lack of time to a perceived lack of gaining useful information. Bottom line, says Flory-Lundgren, you should always contact references if for nothing else but to verify they actually worked there and when they worked.

In the end, the best way to ensure good hiring decisions is to prepare beforehand. Make sure managers have the questions beforehand and know what to look for on applications and in interviews. Having a good process in place goes a long way toward helping managers hire the right people.