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National Restaurant Association - Summer hiring: How to recruit and motivate teens

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Summer hiring: How to recruit and motivate teens

The Santa Cruz, Calif., boardwalk resembles a ghost town each winter. Whiting’s Foods, which operates most of the boardwalk’s foodservice operations, employs approximately 40 team members to keep operations going on weekends. Come summer’s peak, the boardwalk bustles, and the number of employees catapults into the hundreds.

Like many in the industry, Whiting faces the challenge of hiring and training summer help. For the fourth consecutive year, U.S. restaurants are expected to hire more than 500,000 summer employees – many of them high school and college students. Ken Whiting, president of Whiting’s Foods, offers his advice on how to recruit these young employees and bring out their best. Whiting founded and runs Waves for Success, a consulting company focused on this topic.

Staffing up

  • Reach out to last year’s employees. “Their experience is invaluable,” says Whiting, who recommends offering a small raise as an incentive.
    Employees recruit friends who make successful employees
  • Connect with colleges and high schools. Whiting works with California’s Regional Occupational Program, exhibits at college job fairs and posts openings with student employment offices.
  • Transform your employees into recruiters. “Referrals are our No. 1 recruiting method,” Whiting says. His Crew Search program awards employees $50 after a referral is hired and has worked 40 hours.
  • Put your application online. Make it easy to apply with a form that can be completed online.

Training and motivating

Connecting with youth is all about “speaking their language,” says Whiting, who has spent nearly 30 years managing his family’s foodservice business.  

  • Go to the video. “Instead of an old-school bulletin board in the back room, we have a video board,” says Whiting. Employee photos flash on the video board interspersed with announcements, such as reminders about grooming standards or recognition of stellar employees. Whiting’s employees can access short training videos 24/7. The low-budget videos have led to huge leaps in operations consistency. “Employees can refer back to these clips when they’re on the job,” Whiting says.
  • Give them an explanation. When training teens, don’t just tell them what to do but why. “This is a generation that’s used to being able to find out all the answers,” says Whiting.
  • Offer instant gratification. For years, Whiting’s threw a huge end-of-summer celebration with awards to motivate employees. “But suddenly no one seemed to care about the event anymore,” says Whiting. Today, the company rewards exemplary employees on the spot with a “Star Card,” a scratch-off card that reveals prizes, such as a $5 Starbucks gift certificate. A few big prizes are mixed in each summer to up the excitement. “We catch employees doing something right, and give them a card,” says Whiting. The system also forces supervisors to closely monitor team members.
    Small rewards motivate employees

See you next summer

  • Plant the seeds. At summer’s end, conduct an exit interview with each departing employee, Whiting recommends. Encourage employees to keep in touch, offer to write recommendations, and invite them to return next summer.
  • Keep them on call. Invite local students to stay on your “on call” list. Whiting contacts these employees to work as needed. “It’s a great way to stay connected,” he says. “About 90 percent of them will return the next summer.”

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