Small Biz Advice: Always Be Hiring


holly-photo-280x290Dear Holly,

I’m having a terrible time hiring. I’ve owned a small bar for about five years and need a staff of about 10 to help me run it. Just in this past year, I feel like I’m having the hardest time ever. It seems like I can rarely find a good candidate and if I do, it’s rare that they stick around. I feel like it didn’t used to be this hard to hire. Any advice on how I can make this process a little less painful?


Hiring Hang-ups

Dear Hiring,

I’m sure that’s terribly frustrating especially when the staff is your most valuable asset. Without them, you really can’t operate and all of the responsibility falls back on your shoulders. I’ve heard a lot of owners point fingers about the work ethic of the millenials, but the truth is that as the owner, it’s always your responsibility to solve the problem. Pointing fingers won’t really get you anywhere in business.

Here’s the thing. There are far more bars and restaurants opening in the city than ever before. What’s happened is that it’s created an “employee’s market.” What I mean by this is that years ago, there were fewer good jobs to get in the service industry. But now, those jobs are a dime a dozen and employees know that if it doesn’t work out at your place, they can go up the block and find an equally good, if not better job. I’ve seen a lot of bars and restaurants struggle to hire and retain staff because there are so many other opportunities out there.

Here’s what you can do to improve this stressful situation.

First and foremost, you have to know how to find the right candidates for your bar. One of the biggest mistakes I see owners make is that they never take time to think about who their ideal candidate is and why. They often assume that at this level, it’s not even a question they need to consider and that employees are pretty much one size fits all. This is a huge mistake that will keep you in the same endless hiring cycle. Know what kind of candidate you want working at your bar day after day. Remember, everyone wants someone with the right skill set and someone who is a team player. But, if you cannot speak to your own specific needs and really define your own culture, you likely don’t know how to identify the right candidate. The best candidates will match your values and fit your culture. Take time to define what both of those mean to you before you start hiring again.

Second, look at your pay rate and see how it compares to the industry average. Bars and restaurants have been notorious for low balling wages. I have observed that those that pay slightly above industry average have an easier time finding qualified candidates.

Third, create a more attractive working environment. Competitive wages are important, but they are not necessarily the deciding factor. I hear plenty of employees say they stick around at their job because they like the people they work for and they feel like they’re treated with respect. This means that if you’re not good at managing people, you need to work on that. An attractive working environment is typically organized, fair, and allows for some freedom in letting employees do their job. Re-asses the environment you’ve created at your bar and see what you can do to improve it.

Finally, always be hiring. Part of the nature of the service industry is that these workers are transient. Their job at your bar is usually a secondary priority in their life. They are really working on their art, their music, or their other career. If you accept this fact as part of the nature of your industry, you’ll feel less stressed when employees move on. The best way to combat this is to always be hiring. Keep an ad posted on job sites at least once a month, and always be collecting and reviewing resumes. It’s better to have an arsenal of good candidates ready when an employee leaves rather than hiring in a panic to fill their void.

Good luck! It’s really a new way of working in the service industry, and the sooner you adapt to these changes, the quicker the stress of staffing your bar will fade.


Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.

Want valuable insight into how to grow your business? Holly hosts free 30 minute strategy sessions at The Yard in Williamsburg. Email her to set up a time or to ask a question for the next Ask Holly How.

Starting Oct. 30, Holly is teaching a special, four-part program, “How to Open a Restaurant,” at The Yard, with special guest lecturers from local Brooklyn restaurants offering advice on everything from business planning to finance, operations, customer experience and marketing . Tickets are $70 per session or $205 for the entire program if you sign up between now and Oct. 10.

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