HR in the Restaurant Industry

Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich

Table of Contents

Do you love the fast pace of the restaurant industry but find yourself wondering where HR fits in? Can Human Resources be beneficial in this industry, or is it just better left to the managers? Read on to learn more about HR in the restaurant industry.

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What Is HR in the Restaurant Industry?

Human Resources in the restaurant industry is no different than HR in any other industry, although its implementation may look different. When it comes to HR, you have roles such as recruiting, onboarding, training, compensation, benefits, employee relations, and compliance, to name a few. In the restaurant industry, these same roles apply, a few more are thrown in, and the way they are carried out are quite different. You may be HR, but if you work for a chain of restaurants, most of the hands-on work with employees will be delegated to managers; you may have no interaction with the employees face to face. If you’re a smaller restaurant, you’ve got yourself a small-business HR department.

Why Is HR in the Restaurant Industry Important?

You know by now that HR wears many hats, and HR in the restaurant industry is no exception. Let’s review a few of these roles that make HR in this industry so important.

  • Safety. In this industry, safety for customers and employees is critical for HR to implement. From non-slip shoe requirements for employees to avoid injuries in the kitchen to food safety guidelines for customers, safety is of all-encompassing importance for HR to stay on top of in the restaurant industry.
  • Training. Restaurant training is extensive and ongoing. Not only is every employee required to obtain a food handler’s permit, but if alcohol is being served, they need a TIPS certification as well. Facilitating these trainings and staying on top of expiration dates assisting your employees to run a smooth evening dinner rush is yet another critical role for HR in this industry.
  • Morale. Keeping employees encouraged is critical, especially when their income depends mostly on their attitude and service to their customers. As HR, you should focus your attention on boosting morale and excitement through your managers, if you’re not directly at the location, or in-person if you are.
  • Culture. With the transient dynamic that follows this industry, maintaining a restaurant culture is an important aspect for HR to focus on. Establishing and fostering culture is vital for this industry and can set one location apart from the others.

What’s the Role of HR in the Restaurant Industry?

When it comes to HR in the restaurant industry, your role has the same basic components, but as we have seen, they are tailored to this specific industry. Let’s dive a little deeper.

Payroll and Benefits

Although checks may be smaller due to tips being the primary source of income for servers, you still have the kitchen staff, hosts, managers, etc. that all need to be paid. Similarly, ensuring that your servers are claiming their tips appropriately for tax purposes falls under the payroll aspect of HR in the restaurant industry. Although most benefits are up to your company’s discretion, if you have 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees, your organization likely falls under the Affordable Care Act and must provide health insurance.

Policies and Compliance

Not only are there state, federal, and local regulations to follow, but HR is also responsible for facilitating and writing policies to roll out to the floor. Items such as menu changes,  dress code changes, seasonal items, promotions, etc. are all coordinated at some level by HR. Coordination can mean encouraging managers to ensure each of their team members are properly briefed on the new items or sending out an email from corporate about a change, but maintaining compliance inevitably falls back to HR. Follow-up and accurate assistance when needed is critical.

Hiring and Retention

As with most HR positions, hiring is part of the role and takes up a good portion of your day. From writing, updating, and posting job descriptions to interviews and onboarding, hiring is a vital role of HR in this industry. Marketing your restaurant to servers will be critical in this aspect of your HR role. While retention is a vital part of any HR role, specific to this industry some customers become “regulars” and prefer a specific server or get attached to one over another. Retaining those employees means more customers.

Training

Both new hire and ongoing training fall under the role of HR. In order to maintain compliance, HR needs to ensure that the employees are fully prepared with all the trainings and certifications required. New menu items may require some additional training for your kitchen staff that happens during non-open hours. You may have to schedule a before-work training session—paid of course—to set your kitchen staff up for success with the changes. If a new promotion is rolling out to customers, the same may need to be done with your servers or front-of-house employees to ensure they are able to provide your customers with accurate information for the promotion. These tasks can at times be delegated to managers, but typically, HR has a major hand in all trainings in the restaurant industry.

Employee Relations

In the restaurant industry, employee relations are handled by the HR person on staff. You should handle each situation with respect, trust, and tact as you evaluate how to move forward for the betterment of the employees involved and the company overall.

Maintaining Culture

HR is responsible for maintaining a solid company culture, and this is no different in the restaurant industry. Encouraging employees, managers, and team members alike to mirror the desires of the organization for their customers is a key aspect in any HR position in the restaurant industry.

Challenges of HR in the Restaurant Industry

While HR in the restaurant industry may have similarities to most HR professions, let’s look at the challenges specific to this industry.

Benefits

As discussed above, the Affordable Care Act may apply to your company and can form a scheduling challenge. When the restaurant is slow, you typically send servers home to avoid overstaffing. But when your employees are required to hit a minimum-hour requirement in order to maintain ACA benefits, HR may need to communicate to managers accordingly in order to ensure employees don’t fall short. This presents a problem because servers also make most of their money on tips, so staying on duty when the restaurant is slow and they aren’t making those bigger dollars can be challenging to navigate.

Talent Acquisition

It’s common to encounter candidates who believe they have what it takes to work in this industry without any experience. While training can take place, this typically leaves your restaurant with a shortage of skills. Balancing many plates on a large tray without spilling hot soup on a customer is a skill learned through continual training. Finding and retaining those employees is extremely difficult for a restaurant when most of your employees use these positions as a bridge to something else or as a way to make quick cash to save up for something, etc. Talent acquisition and retention can be one of the most difficult challenges of the restaurant industry.

Morale

As with any HR position, morale and employee engagement can be difficult to manage. To encourage employees to be engaged while being constantly devalued by disgruntled customers whose satisfaction directly translates to the money they are bringing home to their families presents a challenge specific to the restaurant industry. Encouraging all employees to approach each new customer positively—even if they sent their food back to the kitchen three times and the cook is overwhelmed, the server is frustrated, and the manager is doing all they can is a common HR challenge in this industry.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About HR in the Restaurant Industry

HR is a great addition to any organization. The skills a trained human resource representative brings to this unique culture is of great benefit.
Yes. Outsourcing, in which you hire services from outside a company to perform services that would usually be done by in-house staff, is available from industry-specific companies such as Restaurant HR Group and Oasis. Outside of them, evaluate any outsourcing organizations for their experience in the hospitality industry.
Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich

Shalie has over 4 years of experience working in a variety of HR positions and organizations including: working as an HR department “of one”, working with a start-up based in Europe, to working in a fully established robust USA based HR department. Shalie has experience in multiple states and countries with all aspects of the HR spectrum. She has a passion to share her knowledge and experience to benefit the HR profession!

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