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Help Wanted

Some of the industry’s most respected leaders discuss how they’re approaching recruitment after a tenuous time.

27 May 2022 · 7 min read
Jim Meehan

In the wake of the “Great Resignation” of 2021, this year represents an opportunity for both hospitality workers, and operators with the good fortune of attracting them, to secure a position in a bar or restaurant that meets their aspirations. As a longtime bar operator (and current hospitality employee) who spent decades working to attract, hire and retain bartenders, I sought out some of the industry’s most respected leaders to see how they’re approaching recruitment after a tenuous time. Paris-based founder of Candelaria and Le Marie Celeste, Carina Soto put all my questions in perspective with an all-important reminder that “nobody is indispensable and if you know and understand that, you have mastered something very important, your ego.”  From time to time, owners, operators and employees can each get caught up in the moment, and forget that hospitality work is collective, and no one person can keep a business afloat.  Besides having their ego in check, Soto seeks out coworkers with curiosity, who have an open mind and authentic character.

Alex Kratena, the co-owner of London’s Tayer + Elementary with his esteemed partner Monica Berg, who projects the bar’s work ethic in social media reels of staff cleaning competitions at the end of service, advises that “humility goes a long way” in this business. Alex looks for candidates who “honor agreements with current and previous employers, as breaking those is a red flag for your future employer.” He suggested candidates be mindful of their online presence too; “every behavior and action you take online will most likely be scanned by a future employer.”

Besides what operators don’t want to see on potential hires social media feeds, I was pleased to hear Houston-based owner of Anvil Bar & Refuge Bobby Heugel acknowledge that “if you’re applying for a management position, and you are inactive on social media or unwilling to engage it, the assets you bring to the table are measurably less than an alternate candidate who does participate.” He believes that those “unwilling to acknowledge the explicit connection between social media activity and drink sales in an increasingly saturated cocktail market demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding about market forces impacting the success of a bar.”

Kratena compares the conditions upon which a bar recruits candidates to a cocktail competition; “if you don’t properly read rules, criteria and requirements and have an understanding of what it is actually about, you most likely won’t win/get a job.”  Understanding what is required for the position you’re applying for is vital according to all three operators, who advised applicants to research the bar they’re applying to work at as well. Soto says that what the bar and its staff stand for “needs to match who you are or what you’re aiming to be.” One clue as to whether you’ll be a good fit at a bar is how the interview is conducted. Heugel “appreciates when a bartender interviews us in the interview process in a professional way in addition to us interviewing them. When someone comes prepared with specific questions or even concerns about the job, it demonstrates two traits: First, that this is someone I can envision myself having a thoughtful professional dialogue with in the future, and second, that this person thoughtfully considered our interview before entering the building.” Heugel suggests candidates get to know a bar and its staff without becoming a regular patron by “attending events outside of the bar to show your community engagement. Join organizations that the bar is active in, or offer to help when that bar has a promotion or special event outside of the bar. By doing these things, you’ll be engaging in activities the bar you admire respects and grow in similar ways even if you never get to work with that specific establishment.” Bobby’s suggestions underscore all three operators’ interests in candidates’ interests and endeavors beyond the bar.  Like Kratena, Soto speaks multiple languages, and feels this accentuates her ability “to interact in cosmopolitan cities where people come from every corner of the planet.”  Heugel expects his bartenders “to have a general knowledge of the world they are living in – they should read the news daily and be aware of major events happening in their community each week.” The chaos and heartbreak the pandemic has caused in the hospitality industry have led many to question everything including whether to continue with the work at all. Time spent in lockdown gave workers time to consider their past experiences as they waited to return to work.  Candidates for hospitality work reengaging or joining the field for the first time should expect employers to evaluate their candidacy based on what they’ve accomplished and stand for on both sides of the bar as aspirational operators build more sustainable employment opportunities for the future. ———— The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Freepour.