Martha Hoover and Her Team at Public Greens on Best Practices for Restaurant Hiring

Over the course of several months, we’ve been following the opening of Public Greens, Indianapolis restaurateur Martha Hoover’s second location of her hit healthy café. We have spoken with Hoover as she navigates every part of the opening process of a restaurant, from picking a location to marketing. Today, we chat with HR director Kim Lewandowski and director of operations Jeanna Chandler about how they go about hiring staff in a competitive recruiting environment.  

best practices for restaurant hiring When we started planning for staffing for Public Greens, our first step was coming up with a strategic plan to decide on  what our staffing needs were — this is determined by factors like size, scope, and layout of the restaurant. We looked internally for candidates first — to see if we could give people more responsibility. We’re always trying to promote from within.

Once we exhausted those internal promotions, we started the plans for job fairs — these are basically just two days when we hold open job interviews.  This planning typically happens four to six weeks out because we want to have enough time to allow employees to give two weeks’ notice and for us to train them, but you don’t want to hire too far in advance or your posting becomes white noise.

We worked with a career site called TalentReach to do recruitment — it pushes new positions out through Indeed, Monster, and Glass Door, which reach a pretty wide audience. We also posted on Craigslist, our website, and social media.

Regarding attracting new people, yes, the restaurant industry here is competitive in terms of staffing, but we are fortunate that Martha has created such a loyal following and strong branding that speaks for itself. We also have other factors that we showcase in those postings in order to differentiate ourselves from the competitors — we offer medical, vision, and dental benefits, as well as having a 401K available to every employee whether they are part time or full time — which is pretty incredible in this industry. We also pay above average.

best practices for restaurant hiring

Once the applications for Public Greens started coming in, we reached out and let people know of the dates for our upcoming job fairs. At this point, we didn’t employ any kind of filter in terms of only inviting the top candidates because a lot of our positions don’t necessarily require a ton of experience.

The job fairs typically take place in the location of the restaurant in order to build excitement for that space, though with Public Greens, that wasn’t possible because we are still in construction. So we did the fair at the food court nearby so people could still get a feel for the area.

Our job fairs typically involve the operations team, the HR director, and managers. One of us was responsible for greeting and doing pre-screening — this first round is short and basic. We have all been in the industry long enough to know if someone could be a fit with our culture within the first five or ten minutes of meeting them: Do they have the personality, the experience, the availability? Then the second round, which is with managers, is about diving into the specifics of their experience and why they are interested in Public Greens. The third round is about making sure they have the ability and skill set to perform the job needed. We really think it’s important for people to interview with at least two different members of the staff, as we’re not just looking to have employees for thirty-day stints. We hope that people will stay with us for years.

For Public Greens, our interview process was slightly different than with our other restaurants for both the front of house and back of house. Because Public Greens is not a full-service restaurant, we were not hiring traditional servers, bussers, and hosts. We were hiring what we call front of house “team members” — so we weren’t necessarily looking for tenured servers because they have preconceived expectations and habits going to the table. We were more looking for people who were familiar with what Public Greens represented and how it tied into the Patachou Foundation.  We wanted people who had the drive to work hard and be a part of something that is doing good for the community. It was more of a philosophical approach.

best practices for restaurant hiring

It was similar for back of house. Because of the cafeteria-style presentation of Public Greens, we were looking for knife skills and the ability to execute consistently. Can you follow recipes and directions? Public Greens doesn’t have a sauté station or a fry station, and cooks are not creating new menu items. We wanted people who could really wear multiple hats on any given day.

The national unemployment rate is low right now, and it’s even lower in Indianapolis. That was a real challenge that made our eligible pool of applicants even smaller. The other big challenge is finding people who really embody the magic of what we do — which is the kind of stuff you can’t really teach. People have to really buy into what we do. A candidate with twenty years in the restaurant business who doesn’t know or care about our company would probably be a better fit for a corporate-driven environment. The problem is, there aren’t too many candidates who meet our standards. It takes that already small pool of applicants and makes it even smaller.

For this latest job fair for Public Greens, at the end of each day, we evaluated the individuals interviewed and gave them a yes, no, or maybe. We tried to make it such that in one day, people could potentially leave with a job offer. This year, we had fifty applicants, thirty-five who showed up for open interviews, and then we hired ten to fifteen.

The next step will be training, which happens a week before we open — we have a minimum five-day training period from 10AM to 5PM. New openings are a nice time to train, as you are blocking off an entire week without the restaurant being open, so you can train together as one solid team. You have a more captivated audience because there is nothing these employees are working on other than training.

Our biggest advice for other restaurateurs with regard to staffing is to be organized and concise with your messaging and with other people’s time. We try to be as respectful to them as they’re being to us by coming for the interview. In the restaurant industry, we often get caught up in just hiring more bodies. We try to never do that and to treat this process like we are in any other professional industry.

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