This is Part Four of a five-part series for caterers on hiring and managing part-time event staff from Roy Porter. You can read the other parts here: 

Caterers need part-time staff in positions like server, bartender, and event chef to ensure their events run smoothly. In my last three articles, I’ve given you my strategies to always be recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding people in these positions.

But there’s another crucial piece of the puzzle: The Event Captains who manage everyone in these roles. Where do they come from? Ideally, they work their way up from the event staff roles we’ve been discussing. The best caterers I’ve worked with tend to promote these folks from within for a few key reasons:

  • It’s more practical. Every caterer does things differently — especially when it comes to the all-important matter of guest interaction — so it’s a smoother transition to promote someone who knows your business’ brand and modus operandi.
  • It inspires loyalty. The person you promote will almost always be thankful for the recognition and the pay raise, which usually translates to better performance.
  • It motivates everyone else. Employees are more likely to stick around and work hard if they see a career path at your company. Event staff who get promoted are living, breathing proof that such a path exists.

So, if you’re going to promote from within, that leaves you with two questions: How do you identify event staff who are ready to make the jump to Captain? And how do you then set them up for success as a new manager? I’m going to try and tackle both below.

How to identify your next manager

While you want your part-time event staff list to be as large as possible to ensure you’re never short, you’ll probably have a core group of regulars who work your events more than anyone else. They’re the most familiar with your business, so that’s the pool you should focus on when you’re looking for new Event Captains.

Looking at that pool, there’ll be certain people who obviously aren’t good fits to be a manager. You’ll know not to promote anyone who’s unreliable, doesn’t get along with the rest of the team, or makes the same mistakes repeatedly. Likewise, there’ll be some superstars who you’ll immediately want to promote after just a few events.

But there are plenty of other great potential managers you might miss. Everyone has an idea in their head of what a leader looks like, but the reality doesn’t always match that — people have a way of surprising you. The most charismatic, popular, or “rah rah” person on your staff list would probably be a great manager, but there are others who could be equally effective quietly leading by example. There are many styles of leadership, so don’t limit your options by zeroing in on just one.

That said, there are five key qualities I look for before promoting someone from event staff to Captain. Think of these more as general prerequisites for management success rather than examples of a specific leadership style — that part has to come second to these traits.

  1. They have the skills. By skills, I mean both the hard skills of their specific position (serving, cooking, bartending, etc.) and the soft skills of client interaction. They don’t need to be superstars — plenty of people are better managers than they are workers — but they need to at least be solid enough that they can teach others under their supervision.
  2. They’re proactive. The best managers I’ve seen refuse to just stand around when there’s no immediately apparent work for them to be doing. They look for opportunities to contribute elsewhere and solve problems, which is the exact example you want Event Captains setting for everyone else.
  3. They have the “parent mentality.” Parent mentality is a phrase I use for staff who care about the group and not just themselves. These people see the big picture and take responsibility for the success of the entire event, and not just their small part. You can spot these people because they call out safety hazards, take time to teach their coworkers, and speak positively of the company. They do the things that aren’t necessarily part of their job description but are nonetheless essential to our success.
  4. They’re good communicators. The best managers can give direction and feedback in a clear, concise manner. Not only that, but they give it with empathy and tact, keeping the energy positive and never tearing people down.
  5. They want the job. Believe it or not, some people don’t want to be promoted. Many event staff enjoy the camaraderie of being part of the crew and don’t want the responsibility of enforcing rules or holding people accountable.

If one of your event staff has all five of these qualities, they’re probably going to make a great Event Captain.

How to set new managers up for success

The biggest challenge for new managers is making the jump from coworker to authority figure. Your new Event Captain has spent the last couple of months or more working alongside your other regular part-timers, and the interpersonal dynamics can be difficult to manage. Some event staff won’t like the idea of a friend giving them directions, or might even be jealous that they themselves didn’t get promoted.

Ultimately, it’s the new manager’s responsibility to win the respect of the team. The only way for them to do that is to stay confident, firm, and also friendly as they direct staff at events, correct mistakes, and uphold the standards of your company. After all, they have the skills and know what people need to be doing — the rest is just a matter of delivering the message effectively.

However, there are steps you can take as an owner or executive to grease the wheels and help your new managers establish themselves as leaders. For one, there should be a formal introduction of some kind. I recommend letting everyone know about the promotion at the pre-event meeting for the first event the new manager will be captaining. You may also want to send an email to everyone. Another piece of advice: Give Captains some kind of special marker for their uniform, like a different tie, apron, or coat. These steps show the rest of the staff that the company is 100% behind the new manager, removing any ambiguity and helping them see their former co-worker in a new light.

From there, you need to help the new manager build connections with the other Event Captains in your organization. Practically speaking, it’s hugely beneficial to have your managers sharing knowledge and supporting one another. I’ve typically facilitated this by holding monthly Event Captain meetings, where we plan for upcoming events, review scenarios that arose at previous ones, and discuss tips for providing delegation and recognition amongst the rest of the team. Besides teaching new skills, these meetings help recently promoted managers become friends with their fellow Event Captains — just as they are with event staff — which helps them get into the mindset they need to manage their former coworkers.

Your events depend on leadership

The Event Captain is probably the biggest make or break factor when it comes to holding a successful event, so it’s crucial that you think hard about how you promote. Stay open-minded but also keep up high standards, and then be thoughtful and deliberate in how you handle the promotion itself. If you can establish a system to do those things consistently, you’ll ensure that every event has someone you can trust at the helm.

Roy Porter is the Activities Director at Engage Works, located in Los Alamitos, CA. An internationally recognized expert in off-premise catering and banquet service, Roy’s experience includes such high-profile events as The Golden Globes, The Oscars, The Emmy’s and over 2,500 weddings. He speaks at hospitality industry conferences such as Catersource, The Special Events Show, and Wedding MBA. He has numerous articles published on staffing strategies for caterers.

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