This is Part One of a five-part series for caterers on hiring and managing part-time event staff. You can the next parts here:
- Part Two: How to interview event staff candidates
- Part Three: How to onboard new event staff
- Part Four: How to promote event staff to Event Captain
- Part Five: How to let underperforming event staff go
Most catering companies depend on part-time staff to work their events as servers, bartenders, event chefs, and any other roles that only need to show up during the events themselves. While this arrangement clearly makes sense financially and logistically, it does mean that caterers always need to be in hiring mode for these positions. Part-time staff work other jobs and won’t always be available, so you need to constantly be adding to your pool of workers to ensure you can staff all your events -- especially during your busy season.
Hiring starts with attracting candidates. You need to cast a wide net and spread the word that you’re hiring over as many channels as possible to get a constant stream of applicants. That’s the focus of this post. Below, I’m going to lay out ten ways to keep your hiring pipeline stocked at all times.
1. Create your job ads
Your first job is to write up ads letting people know that you’re hiring. It should include the following:
Your business’ name, location, and the types of events you cater.
A brief description of the position you’re hiring for, including job requirements, necessary training or certifications, and compensation.
Something that captures your company’s culture. Whether it’s a photo, mission statement, or quote from a current employee, you need to let people know what’s special or unique about working for your company.
Lots of people ask if you should advertise for multiple positions in the same ad, or create a new ad for each one. I recommend creating a dedicated ad for each job, but also listing every other position you're hiring for in each of those ads. That way, applicants can easily pass the ad along to friends who are qualified for jobs other than the one they're interested in.
Once you’ve got your hiring ad written, you need to figure out how to get it in front of potential candidates.
2. Post on your company website
Your website needs an “Employment Opportunities” page that aggregates all the ads for your open job listings and gives people an easy way to apply. Wherever you post them, each of your job ads should link back to this section of your site (or, in the case of print ads, tell interested readers how to get to this page).
The copy on this section of the site should largely mirror the job ads themselves, listing out the job requirements, compensation, and unique benefits of joining your team. Be sure to use creative, descriptive headlines to drum up interest. One of my personal favorites is “Get paid to be at parties.” You should also include photos or videos of your staff in action at events, passing trays and serving guests -- with a smile, of course.
3. Make the application process easy
You can use an applicant tracking software like ApplicantPro or Greenhouse to build individual pages for the positions you’re hiring, each with a form for applicants to submit their resumes. Whenever someone applies, you’ll get an email notification, and the software will automatically organize the applicant’s data in a readable way -- this can save you hours of time. You can also use these products to track each applicant’s interview process and gather data on your recruiting performance.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to use an applicant tracking software, you can just list a dedicated hiring email address and tell applicants to send their resumes there.
Here’s a quick tip that lots of managers don’t think about: Wherever candidates apply on your site, make sure you indicate that their applications are confidential. Lots of your potential employees will already be working for competing caterers in your area, and may be wary of their bosses finding out that they’re looking for work elsewhere. I know several caterers who have been shocked to see an uptick in applications from folks at other catering companies after inserting language like this.
4. Post on your company’s social media accounts
Posting your job ad on social media is no-brainer, as you probably have much further reach there than you do on your company website. Consider the following platforms:
Facebook. It’s not just potential clients looking at your Facebook page. Plenty of potential employees do too. Make it easy for them to get in touch by prominently displaying a link to your employment opportunities page.
LinkedIn. Professionals and event students looking to make extra money are all over LinkedIn, so be sure to post your job opportunities there.
YouTube. Lots of catering companies have had success posting videos that show what it’s like to work for them and listing the roles for which they’re hiring.
Twitter. Given Twitter’s character limit, you’ll want to use a condensed description of why people should want to work for your company and list off a few of the open positions before linking to your employment opportunities page.
Instagram. Catering is a very visual industry, which naturally lends itself well to Instagram. Try posting engaging pictures of your latest edible creations, most beautiful venues, and of course, your team in action. Be sure to link to your employment opportunities web page in your profile’s bio.
Keep in mind that you can expand your reach on any of these platforms if you’re willing to pay money to promote your posts.
5. Post a Craiglist Ad
Craigslist is a great place to reach potential part-time staff, especially if you need to hire on short notice. As a caterer, place your hiring ads in the Jobs sub-section marked as "Food / Bev / Hosp." You should also post your ad a few times a week, as there will be a constant stream of new posts pushing yours further down.
Make sure your ad stands out. Remember, you’re competing against other local caterers and staffing agencies for candidates’ attention, especially leading up to the holiday season. Write up a memorable description of your company, include an eye-catching photo, and lay out the requirements for each position in simple bullet points. Then, direct interested readers to click a link to your Employment Opportunities page.
6. Set up a referral program with current and past staff
This may not come as a surprise, but your current staff can be one of the best sources of new applicants. Most of them probably have friends who fit the profile you’re looking for. Here are some ideas to kick the process off:
Send an email to all current staff letting them know which positions you’re hiring for and asking them for referrals.
If you have a company newsletter or a public bulletin board, mention the hiring push there and encourage staff to refer their friends.
Bring it up at your next pre-event meeting.
You should also send this information to departed staff who you’re on good terms with and would be comfortable hiring again. Regardless of how you do it, the important thing is that you encourage staff to send your hiring ad to friends and family, post it on their social media accounts, and let people know why your company is a great place to work.
You can also offer staff a small incentive to grease the wheels and get staff referring more of their friends. I recommend something in the $75 - $125 range -- either cash or gift cards. Make sure you split up the reward and give your staff half when you hire their friend, and half when the friend hits a work milestone of 100 hours or so. That way, they’re incentivized to find people who can actually stick it out at your business, and not just refer everyone they know.
7. Place an ad in your local community paper
Your local paper is a great place for your job posting, but I’m going to recommend something unconventional: Don't limit yourself to the employment section. It tends to be full of very similar-looking job ads, so your posting is likely to get lost in the shuffle. Try a display ad in another section of the paper. You can stand out with an eye-catching photo, just like with your social media posts.
8. Guerilla-style casting flyers for actors
It’s a well-trod cliché that up-and-coming actors work catering jobs on the weekends, and there’s a reason it’s become a cliche: It’s true. Actors make great event staff because they tend to be personable, and are happy to work in these positions due to the flexible schedule.
If you’re in a big city where lots of television and film production happens, you can use this to your advantage. Go to a site like Backstage.com that lists local casting calls. Print out ads for all your open catering positions, and show up to one of the casting calls asking for a large number of actors. You can walk up and down the line of actors passing out your flyers, and you’re almost sure to get a few hits.
9. Talk to your suppliers and creative partners
Believe it or not, your suppliers often know of staff at other catering companies in your area who are dissatisfied or looking for work elsewhere. So whether it’s your go-to guy for produce, dairy, florals, or anything else, let them know which positions you’re hiring for and ask them to send any hot leads your way.
10. Engage local culinary schools
Culinary schools are a great resource for finding back-of-house event staff. Try posting flyers promoting your job openings on bulletin boards around campus -- I’ve found that the 11 by 17 inch portrait format works best. You should also show up for job fairs, career days, and the like.
Most would stop there, but I recommend you also take it a step further and build relationships with the instructors. Reach out and offer to speak to their classes about off-premise catering. Then, invite them to tour your kitchen or visit you in the back-of-house at big, upscale event. They’ll likely appreciate the experience and reward you by making the extra effort to promote your job opportunities to their best students. If you build relationships with the right people, you may even be able to serve the school in an advisory board capacity, which would give you even more opportunities to promote your business to students. It’s not just about event staff -- culinary schools are a great place to find interns too.
Hiring is a numbers game
Not all of these tactics are going to work for you. Every job market is different, so you need to test each channel to find the two or three that will bring in the majority of your applicants. Track where your candidates are hearing about you, double down on the ones you notice working, and you’ll soon have the steady stream of part-time staff you need to keep your events running smoothly year round.
This is Part One of a five-part series on tips for caterers to hire and manage their part-time event staff. You can read Part Two on how to interview event staff applicants here.