Leadership expert Patrick Lencioni explains how restaurants can hire and retain the best staff members.

Sponsored by John Wiley and Sons.

When a restaurant is short staffed on a Saturday night and barely able to keep up with orders due to an employee resigning, there is no question that turnover hurts. And what’s worse is that your customers feel it. Constant employee churn can lower the quality of food and service in a restaurant. Additionally, the cost of continually hiring and training new employees increases budgetary strain.

Across the restaurant industry, voluntary turnover has soared to over 70 percent for hourly and management employees, according to TDn2K’s People Report. Black Box Intelligence also reports that these turnover rates are higher than they have been in over 10 years and continue rising.

As a result, tackling turnover has never been more important. By retaining staff, managers save on all costs associated with employee replacement, including new employee training and development, and improve customer experience.

One of the biggest ways restaurant leaders can cut turnover is by making the right hiring decisions from the start. Patrick Lencioni, best-selling author and CEO of the Table Group, believes that managers should hire what he calls “ideal team players.” Lencioni says that these employees possess a combination of three essential virtues: humility, hunger, and people smarts. Looking for these traits in potential employees can improve restaurant operations and significantly reduce turnover. Lencioni explains how.

1. What are the traits of the ideal team-minded employee?

The ideal team player is humble, hungry, and smart. Humble employees leave their egos at the door and care more about sharing accomplishments with their team than with taking all the credit. Hungry employees work with a sense of energy and passion, always striving to learn and do more. Employees with people smarts say and do the right things to help teammates feel appreciated and understood, and know how to deal with customers.

2. Why do team-minded employees improve restaurant performance?

Team-minded employees manage the restaurant workload more efficiently and effectively because they work in collaboration. Team-minded employees:

  • Tap into one another’s skills and experiences.
  • Are comfortable asking for help and admitting mistakes and limitations.
  • Make higher quality decisions and can accomplish more in less time and with fewer resources.
  • Share the same goals.
  • Are less likely to leave for other opportunities.

3. How can restaurants ensure they hire employees with these qualities?

To identify candidates with these qualities:

  • Be specific—Focus your interview around understanding whether the candidate is an ideal team player.
  • Make it a team effort—Have multiple team members interview a candidate and then have everyone debrief after the interview.
  • Make interviews non-traditional—The ideal interview should incorporate interaction with diverse groups of people in everyday situations.
  • Ask questions more than once—Asking questions over and over in different ways may provide insights that won’t get from asking a question once. 
  • Ask what others would say—Instead of asking candidates to self-assess a given behavior, ask what others would say about them.
  • Don’t ignore hunches—If you have doubts about a candidate’s humility, hunger, or people smarts, don’t ignore it. Keep probing.
  • Scare people with sincerity—As the interview process is winding down, tell people you are looking for people who are humble, hungry, and smart, and that all employees are held accountable to this standard.

4. What tips do you have for sourcing and recruiting these kinds of candidates?

Ask your best employees to recommend potential hires that are humble, hungry, and smart. Be aware of and look for these traits in others, even when you’re not actively interviewing.

5. How can restaurants better engage these candidates once the hiring process has begun? 

Solicit your best employees to talk with potential candidates about the culture and how they’ve grown and benefitted from working at your restaurant. Incorporate these model employees into your training process. The example they provide at this stage will help reinforce these desired qualities in your new hires, as well as existing employees.

6. What other tips do you have for restaurants to help them foster great teams?

Engage employees by getting to know them personally, tell them why their work matters to you and your customers, and help them understand how to measure their success. Be sure to develop trust between individuals and management, foster productive conflict (the results will likely have positive impacts for your staff or customers), create commitment to common goals and objectives, and always encourage peer-to-peer accountability and team-based results.

While there is no perfect tool or test to identify ideal team players, managers can ask specific questions during an interview—and look for clues within the responses—to increase their chances of hiring team-minded individuals. Get a free interview guide to learn more.

Patrick Lencioni is a New York Times best-selling author, speaker, consultant, and founder and president of The Table Group, a firm dedicated to helping organizations become healthy. Lencioni’s books blend innovative storytelling, vibrant characters, and clear-sighted practical solutions to address the most sensitive and important pain points of today’s organizations: how to build successful teams, improve leadership, break down silos, engage employees, and ensure the health of the organization as a whole. Chick-fil-A, The Cheesecake Factory, In-N-Out Burger, Sonic, and Yum! Brands, among others, have brought Pat’s unique perspective on leadership and teamwork to their organizations.

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