With character, desire and discipline, veterans have what it takes to succeed as restaurateurs. Understanding them will help you attract these potentially model employees.
About 250,000 veterans work in the restaurant industry, according to National Restaurant Association statistics. That figure could swell as more restaurants seek to hire veterans, and more restaurants return from abroad. As of 2011, the United States has about 21.5 million military veterans, according to the Census Bureau.
Many restaurant operators recognize veterans’ applicable skills, as well as their professional fit.
“The military culture is similar to ours,” says Lyle Forcum, executive director, asset protection, Panda Restaurant Group. "They both are driven by goal-oriented achievers who leverage hard work, continuous learning and focus to create great operations and new opportunities for their teams and for themselves."
A marine for 21 years, Forcum has recruited veterans from all branches of service and recognizes their potential benefits for restaurants.
Veterans generally are talented in planning and risk, stress and resource management – skills developed in basic training. Those who engage in “war gaming” during military service also learn to predict and counter opponents through simple and systematic procedures. Applied to restaurants, such strategic foresight can have powerful application in creating menus, setting prices, and opening and marketing a franchise.
“We’re often looking for general managers who can run a million-dollar-plus business,” Forcum says. “These candidates must handle their own labor scheduling, profit and loss financial statements, food-safety procedures and supply-chain management. From corporal to colonel, veterans bring us the leadership and work ethic we need to fill these positions.”
Veterans don’t always market themselves as such, according to a November 2012 CareerBuilder study that identified common barriers between employers and veterans. Although 45 percent of employers say they focus more on applications submitted by veterans, 30 percent state that it’s not always clear they're looking at a veteran’s application.
Some employers worry about a vet’s ability to adapt to a civilian environment. The prevalence and publicity about post-traumatic stress disorder has added an often-unsubstantiated stigma that could hinder a vet’s employment prospects.
“A communication gap needs to be closed between restaurant and military cultures,” Forcum says. “Some myths need to be dispelled. For instance, not all service men and women have PTSD.”
As for veterans, some aren’t sure where to start their job search after they return from active duty. Others might not understand how to transfer their skills to the civilian sector.
Here are six tips to recruit from an army of talent:
Consider marketing directly to them through resources that pair veterans with new careers. Websites such as HireVets.com and VetFran, for example, allow restaurants to post job openings and search for veteran candidates.
Review your recruiting efforts. McDonald’s plans to create more than 100,000 career opportunities for veterans over the next three years and enhance existing programs to help vets obtain management positions. The company also is launching a veteran spouse-recruitment program.
Take advantage of the National Restaurant Association Military Foundation, which supports military hospitality programs. It assists with training and foodservice/hospitality career opportunities – including small-business ownership – for former service members and their spouses.
Encourage veterans to identify themselves. Add check boxes or fields to application forms so job candidates can easily identify themselves as veterans. Consider creating a separate section that inspires veterans to describe how their military background pertains to the position they’re applying for.
Interview with intel. During the job interview, draw parallels between a candidate’s military experience and the job responsibilities. Ask the to candidate describe how he or she resolved a stressful or challenging situation while on duty. What were the conditions? What factors presented problems? How did he or she assess, plot and execute to achieve a solution?
Present candidates with mock scenarios from a frantic restaurant shift and ask them to explain how they would manage multiple problems. This storytelling and role-playing can reveal the veteran’s independence and initiative while linking background and opportunity.