What to Avoid When Looking for a Restaurant Job: 6 Red Flags

What to Avoid When Looking for a Restaurant Job: 6 Red Flags
D. J. Costantino

By D. J. Costantino

On the latest episode of the 7shifts Restaurant Management & Growth Podcast, we had the opportunity to sit down with Jensen Cummings. He's a chef and the founder of Best Served Creative, a platform for hospitality works of all levels to tell their stories and make the industry better. We chatted about all things labor shortage, and ways that restaurants can position themselves better to attract staff that sticks around. Among the great insights Jensen brought were six red flags to avoids in the hiring process on both sides. Whether you're hiring, or you're a worker ready to go back to work, here are the six red flags that Cummings outlined in the episode.

Uninspired Job Posting

It's not enough to just go "Hey, hiring line cooks. Hit me up." That's not going to build a foundation. So those uninspired job posts have to go.,” says chef Jensen Cummings. He stresses the importance of storytelling:

“You have to tell a story. Why the hell should I come work for you? The reality of that is important because if we're saying we're putting in so little effort, so little time and thought into trying to hire you, at what point are we going to hold ourselves to esteem and to higher standards? It starts at the beginning. So I want to really make sure that's important.”

Instagram post from @cafereina_pdx looking to hire cooks

If you're hiring, spend some time on your post! It shouldn't sound like another restaurant's—it should sound like yours. Lean into what sets you apart, and remember that job posts are a form of marketing.

If you're looking for jobs, avoid any postings that look copy-pasted from another. If you're not inspired by the post, chances are the work won't be inspiring, either.

Empty Words Everywhere

“We use so many empty words that mean absolutely nothing in job posts,” says Cummings. For example, “High volume probably means you're going to be really busy all the time. What that means to me is you don't have clarity on who you are and your message.” says Cummings.

“You have to make it personal and unique. Restaurants can not be monolithic. Just because someone has worked at a restaurant doesn't mean they know what I'm walking into, potentially working at your restaurant, and that's, again, being exposed,” says Cummings. Not all restaurants are the same, and that's a strength of the industry.

So instead of falling back on the same old empty words, Cummings suggests starting with the things meaningful to you.

“If you're a neighborhood restaurant, hell yes!” says Cummings. “Tell me what neighborhood we represent. For example, if it's The Pearl Street District, you could say say ‘We have been here representing this neighborhood for the last 12 years.' That, I'm inspired by, not ‘your neighborhood restaurant.' That just means you're trying to keyword somebody and trick them into signing on the dotted line. So empty words got to go away.” says Cummings.

If you're hiring, look at how you're presenting yourself to potential employees. If you're just using certain words because others do, or because they sound good, they probably don't mean much.

If you're looking for jobs, try to spot words like “neighborhood restaurant,” “high volume,” or “competitive pay.” These are common phrases in job posts and they rarely hold much meaning.

Deceptive Language Surrounding Pay

When it comes to wages and pay, “clarity has to be at the forefront. We're seeing things like ‘competitive pay,’ ‘pay based on experience’, or a ridiculously large pay range. What keeps playing out is this is just a way to try and pay the lowest common denominator. Nobody's getting tricked by that anymore,” says Cummings. You can post a job with a range of $14-$18 an hour, “people go, ‘$18 an hour? That could change the way that I live.’ Yet, what many are trying to do is pay people $14 and then find excuses that their experience is not good enough to get them to the $18. So we're really big on just clarity on starting range pay.

If you're hiring, clearly state what wages you'll be paying are. If it's a range, explain both ends. Be sure to include any information about tip averages, how tips are distributed, and more.

If you're looking for jobs, look for posts with the above information. A wide range of pay listed—or no wages at all-are generally no great signs. Clarity is key.

Lack of Clarity Around Benefits

“We need to start to build that foundation for having that equity of you have a sustainable lifestyle that this is ‘a real job,' because the reality is it's not right now because real industries are investing in the success of their people, and [the restaurant industry is] using the success of our people to invest in the success of our business. It's a little bit backwards.” says Cummings. Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself, whether you're looking for a job or posting it.

“So you got to be very clear on what the benefits are. Are you offering health, dental, vision? Are you offering paid time off? Are there sick days built into your model? How are you actually making sure that people have that balance? Can you come up with creative things?“ he says.

One creative benefit that Cummings has come across is pet insurance. “Pet insurance is a little thing that so many people in the industry are deciding if they have enough money, $300 to spend to get their dog dewormed or for them to go on a yearly checkup and they're choosing their pets over themselves. We have to understand that's a reality that we're creating,” says Cummings.

If you're hiring, clearly state what benefits you offer—and list them all. Tell them how many paid vacation or sicks days, what kind of insurance is offered, and any other benefits you provide.

If you're looking for jobs, look for posts with clarity around benefits. If you don't see things like healthcare, retirement funds, or sick days, they likely aren't offered.

Unclear Interview Expectations

The reality is, “if somebody's going through the hiring process, they're looking at multiple employers” and all of a sudden, this has happened many times to people like, "Hey, I need to go get to my next stage. What else can we do to lock down this stage?" And then that person is automatically disqualified because all of a sudden our egos are like, "You're going to go do another stage?" "Yeah. You're going to interview other people, aren't you?" Yet, “they didn't know they were walking into a five-hour stage where it just randomly you'll be set next to somebody who didn't even know you were going to be there that day. That expectation, we have to build clarity around it.”

If it's a working interview or a trail, make sure that's clear from the job posting and make sure it's clear if it's a paid opportunity.

“How many interviews am I going through? Am I doing a working interview? Are you going to try and just get free labor out of me? Or is it very clear what that expectation is? We have to understand that process and know that for some people, getting down to your location is a challenge, for some people working seven hours at a stage to see if it's ‘a good fit' is pure exploitation.”

If you're hiring, make sure you include clarity about the interview process either in the posting or during the initial interview. If you need help, check out these interview questions for restaurants.

If you're looking for a job, be sure to get clarity on the entire process as early as possible. You don't want to be stuck in many rounds of interviews, unsure as to when it ends.

Lack of clarity for onboarding and training

The last red flag to avoid is a lack of clarity in onboarding and training. Cummings lays out a scenario that is all-too-familiar for restaurant workers: How often these scenarios play out of onboarding, training. I want to lay this down because every restaurant person will know exactly what I'm talking about. "You start on Monday. Go ahead and bring your passport, your ID, your social security card, all the things that you need. We're going to fill out paperwork. You're going to start at 3:00. Why don't you come at 2:00 and finish that paperwork?" "Awesome." I come in at 2:00 ready to rock. 1:59, I show up. I'm there. I'm ready. They said, "You know what? We had a crazy busy lunch. We got to reset. Why don't we just get you going on training and we'll worry about the paperwork later. You're going to be training with Susie." Susie has no idea that you were training with them. So you just follow them around awkwardly doing things if you're in front of the house or back of the house. At the end of that shift, two scenarios. That manager's mid, so they left before the shift was over. So there's no filling out that paperwork. Then Susie says, ‘Just bring your paperwork back tomorrow when you're supposed to start.' Well, the next day that manager is off. So now you go two, three, I've heard people not get their first paycheck because they're not even on the payroll yet.

When you're posting a job, clarity around the onboarding and training process is critical. Once someone is hired, this will be their first exposure to you as an employee—so getting set off on the right foot is crucial to sustained success. If you're looking for a job, if there isn't info about the process in the post—ask! If there is not a clear answer, it may be a red flag.

If you're hiring, tell employees what to expect on their first day, first week, or even the first month. Let people know what they're getting into—if you don't they may leave you hiring again just a month later.

If you're looking for a job, ask about the process. If they don't have a clear answer, you'll likely be living the above scenario.

Closing Thoughts: Restaurant Hiring: 6 Red Flags to Avoid on Both Sides

The common theme around these red flags is clarity. A lot of restaurant job postings are generic and don't offer much information about the restaurant or what it's like to work there. If you're hiring, be as clear as you possibly can about who you are, what you pay, what benefits you offer, and what new employees can expect out of the interview process as well as their first few shifts on the job. You'll attract much better candidates this way. And if you're looking for jobs, look for posts with that clarity—you'll end up happier at work in the long run. For more great tips and tricks about hiring, looking for jobs, and building great foundations in your restaurant, listen to the full episode with Jensen Cummings here.

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D. J. Costantino
D. J. Costantino

Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and have a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!