The host or hostess is the first impression your restaurant gives to a new diner but also seasoned regulars. A bad impression could leave an undesirable taste that lingers beyond the last bite of your guest’s meal; but a good impression could be the key to unlocking an excellent dining experience. Let’s face it, a host or hostess’s job isn’t easy – it’s a rough job, and they are expected to do it all and keep even the most impatient diner satisfied, all with a smile on their face. So, how do you go about hiring someone to fill this demanding role?
Here are the top ten qualities to look for in your next host or hostess:
- Friendly: This should be obvious, but above all, your host or hostess should greet every customer with a smile. Rogelio Espin, general manager, Graffit, in New York City looks for staff members that “have the ability to make customers feel important and comfortable at the same time.” Look for candidates that exhibit top-notch manners as well.
- Confident: Whether or not a candidate has confidence in their skills should be evident in an interview. A host needs to speak with conviction and assure consumers throughout their experience. More so, a host that’s confident in their skills won’t take things personally in difficult situations.
- Sharp: David Myers, chef, The Cosmopolitan, in Las Vegas explains, “The host controls the entire flow of the restaurant and needs to know what is going on in the restaurant at all times. Decisions must be made under pressure to accommodate each guest, ensuring that they have a phenomenal experience with us.” Andrea Cavaliere, chef, Cecconi’s, in West Hollywood, California adds, “Being able to call [return guests] by name and recall their favorite table and server are all important characteristics.”
- Personable: Depending upon the vibe of your restaurant, look for a host or hostess with some personality. “Service is black and white, hospitality is color,” says Will Guidara, the co-owner and restaurateur of Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad in New York. Look for a host or hostess that will leave not only a good impression on diners, but a lasting impression. Never hire ‘just a host’, hire a likable candidate with some spark.
- Composed: There is a lot of strategy and constant change in seating arrangements, so a host needs to be able to adapt while staying calm and collected. A host needs to stay composed at all times – both in the face of stressed out waiters and ‘hangry’ guests. Especially at the dinner rush, hosts shouldn’t get put out or visibly stressed by random requests and harsh demands.
- Well spoken: It almost goes without saying, but the way a host speaks is crucial. Cursing, mumbling and speed talking are all deal-breakers when it comes to hiring your next host. A candidate should come off as knowledgeable and polite at all times. Even if flustered, a host should never show it. One interviewing tactic that helps to find a well-spoken host is completing a phone interview prior to an in-person in order to test a candidate’s phone voice, as taking calls is a very important part of being a hostess.
- Compassionate: “(Hospitality) is about emotion, and connecting with human emotion,” Anthony Rudolf, the former director of operations for Thomas Keller Restaurant Group says. “I can’t teach you what care feels like for another human, or the visceral response you get when you make someone else happy.” Hosts should always be aware and responsive to guest’s needs and emotions.
- Enthusiasm: Great hosts truly want to come to work each day and give their customers the best experience possible. When a host is excited and proud of their work, it shows in the service guests receive. Even if a host displays all of these other traits, if they’re apathetic and don’t get enjoyment out of their work it will be detrimental to your business down the line.
- Team Player: A host is much more than just a host – they could get called on to serve tables, bartend, manage, buss or dishwash. Look for candidates who thrive on multi-tasking and enjoy getting a breadth of experience. They should also be ready to sacrifice for the good of the team. If a server is running thin, a hostess should be able to make guests wait even if it means dealing with their resulting anger. A good host is eager to contribute to the overall success of a restaurant; no matter what role they end up playing.
- Polished: While this may not be at the top of your list when interviewing, a host should always look put-together and clean. After all, they are the first impression of your restaurant and should look the part. Hosts should be well-manicured and presentable. As Michael White, chef/partner, The Altamarea Group, which operates Marea, Osteria Morini and Ai Fiori in New York City puts it, “There is never a second chance to make a first impression.”