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National Restaurant Association - Rewards abound for those who stick around

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Rewards abound for those who stick around

Like many people in the industry, Linda Koch snagged her first paid job at a restaurant as a teenager. For her, it was a gig at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Like a lot of people, she followed family into the business, helping her dad prep in the kitchen (in between sneaking cheese cubes and pickles).

When she headed off to the University of Wisconsin-Stout, she planned to study interior design while working at restaurants in her downtime. But fate intervened. One opportunity led to the next and kept Koch advancing in the restaurant industry.

After a summer internship at one of eight Big Bowl restaurants owned by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, she secured an entry-level manager post and worked up to assistant manager. Koch is now general manager of the Big Bowl in Minnetonka, Minnesota.

“Linda is a great example of how we nurture talent, and how passion and determination pay off,” says Dan McGowan, former president and partner of several LEYE concepts, including Big Bowl and L. Woods Tap & Pine Lodge.

For industry newbies, trying to figure out how to get ahead can seem daunting. But if they stick around, they’ll likely move up the ladder. Ninety-seven percent of restaurant managers and 94 percent of shift or crew supervisors no longer in their first restaurant job have advanced to higher-paying positions in the restaurant industry, according to National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation research.

Furthermore, the research shows more than 70 percent of current restaurant employees believe they have the opportunity for career advancement in the restaurant industry. A majority says the restaurant industry is a place where hard work leads to success. Operators can help employees advance by showing them the paths available within the company.

“It is vital to instill in employees that they can accomplish their goals and dreams in the restaurant industry,” says Steven Carb, president and founder of SERG Restaurant Group, a multiconcept operator with restaurants in South Carolina.

Here are tips to help entry-level employees move up the ladder:

  • Help employees understand their roles and responsibilities, whether they’re at a big chain or a small independent restaurant, says Chris Hein, vice president of food and beverage for the Old Spaghetti Factory, a Portland, Oregon-based Italian concept.
  • Set expectations during the hiring process to weed out less serious candidates and nurture promising new recruits, he says. “The hardest part was getting on board when I first started – to understand what I needed to do to become successful in the restaurant business,” he says. He credits a manager who served as a mentor to help him understand what it took to advance.
  • Give promising employees the opportunity to experience all hours of operations to see how things work during different shifts. “When you get promoted, this is what you’ll see,” McGowan recommends.
  • Emphasize that employees must do their part. Carb got into real estate to raise funds for his first restaurant. He learned about the business by attending trade shows and reading books. And he hasn’t stopped. “I am always reading and traveling, looking for ideas to bring back to my restaurants,” he says.
  • Acknowledge achievements. Carb’s restaurants, such as Marleys Island Grille and Frankie Bones, instituted award and recognition initiatives through an employee-of-the-month program for the back of the house. More often than not, people singled out in such programs often are targeted for promotion and advancement. And when restaurants promote from within, it signals to staff how employees can get ahead.
  • Be upfront if you have more talented people than positions, McGowan says. If you have multiple concepts, reach out to other restaurants if one location can’t accommodate a promising employee. “I would never stop someone’s growth,” he says. 

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