Ah, the joys of job hunting — that time in life when your bank account begins to wither and dark thoughts encroach: Maybe I could live in a cardboard box and eat dirt. When a handshake and a resume are all that distinguish you from the masses, and the faces you pass on the street look so cold, so indifferent, so … employed.
In the struggle to pay the bills, many turn to waiting tables, which can net a healthy $150 to $250 per night in tips. Of course, the competition is brutal: Good restaurants receive up to 20 unsolicited resumes a week, and when they advertise for help, the number can climb to 30 a day.
So how does, say, a 21-year-old with no experience break into the business? To lend a hand, SF Weekly hit the bricks and interviewed seven local restaurant managers to find out. The keys: timing, good grooming, intelligence, persistence, timing, persistence (and did we mention timing and persistence?). And so we present our official Restaurant Job Hunting Dos and Don'ts.
When looking for a restaurant job, Do drop by in person. After all, grooming is important, and the manager won't know much about your appearance until you actually appear. Don't sit at home making phone calls in your pajamas. You'll tie up the restaurant's phone lines, and whoever answers won't appreciate that.
Do ask around — or even better, make friends in the industry. Many restaurants do more hiring through referrals than off the street. Also, Do apply somewhere you'd fit in. If you have blue hair, facial piercings, or tattoos, try a restaurant in which the clientele adorns itself similarly. If you prefer nubuck shoes and Dockers, find a place where people wear wacky stuff like that.
Though we feel foolish for even saying this, Do bring a resume. “People come in and they don't have resumes, and it's like, 'You're 25 years old and you haven't got this down yet?' ” says 42 Degrees manager Suzanne DuMont. Keep it simple, clean, and Don't get too cute. At Dante's, GM Bill Ledbetter has one five-pager (“a book”) on file that includes the time the applicant spent “maintaining a steady relationship with the club/tavern community” while he had a broken leg.
“He was getting drunk at his friend's bar,” Ledbetter says.
If you have no experience, Do be willing to start at the bottom: Nearly all the managers we interviewed did the same, and restaurants promote from within. Also, you probably shouldn't lie about your experience; if you're discovered, you will have ventured irredeemably into the dark heart of Don't.
When dropping off your resume, Do look well put together. “Generally they say that, when somebody walks in the door for an interview, that's the best they will look from then on,” says E&O Trading Company GM Mark Wooldridge.
Do drop by in the afternoon, when things are slow. It demonstrates knowledge of the industry. “People who walk in at 12:30 and want to be a waiter, it's like, 'Get the fuck out of here,' ” says Hawthorne Lane GM David Gingrass.
Once you make initial contact, Do be persistent, and stop by every week or so to follow up. One waiter at Hawthorne Lane sent his resume 15 times before he was hired. And Don't be afraid to couple your persistence with a keen understanding of the restaurant's eccentricity. Cha Cha Cha's Russ Hahn explains:
Once, an aspiring busboy dropped off his resume. He didn't get called in, so he dropped it off again. Again, no call, so he took a picture of himself, wrote, “Call me for all your bussing needs,” and sent it in. Still no call. So he sent a drawing: a woman and child walking on the beach, with his own face glued over the child's. Says Hahn: “I still didn't respond, but I thought, 'I really like this guy.' “
Then, a few weeks later, the aspiring busboy was eating at Cha Cha Cha. Hahn recognized him from the photos and called him over. Though the young man had no restaurant experience whatsoever, that soon changed: Hahn offered him a job.
If you get called in for an interview, Do try your best to control the nervousness that may engulf you. Seem intelligent, well-grounded, and by all means look the manager in the eye. Sweating, fidgeting, hyperventilating, and writhing in fear are all undeniable Don'ts.
Do know the restaurant's menu, and realize there is such a thing as a stupid question. “You guys serve tapas, right?” is an example. Also, Do give the impression that you really, really want to work at that particular establishment, and be prepared for the following question: Why?
Do demonstrate a knowledge of wine and food. If you have none, says Mecca GM Kelly Sherman, “Read, eat, and drink.” Don't ask how much you'll be making. (Best tips? At Hawthorne Lane and Cha Cha Cha a waiter can earn $300 to $350 on an excellent night.)
If you have an interview at Hawthorne Lane, be prepared for the Beer Test: “Never hire anyone you wouldn't want to go out and have a beer with,” says Gingrass. If you have an interview at Mecca, Do mention that you practice yoga as a healthy means of relieving the inevitable stress of waiting tables. “I would hire them almost immediately,” Sherman says.
Don't, however, give Bruno's GM Tony Poer the impression that you are an imbecile, or that the real reason you want to work at Bruno's is to subvert the Mission District's dominant hipster paradigm by hiding secret messages in people's food. “If I thought they were a total idiot or had some sort of ulterior motive or weird agenda, I probably wouldn't have them come in,” Poer says.
And, if you get hired, Do stick with your job for at least a year, preferably two. Six months here, three months there doesn't make you look experienced. It makes you look flaky. And lastly, no matter what happens, Don't give up: If the above-mentioned Hawthorne Lane waiter had sent in his resume only 14 times — well, he wouldn't be a waiter at Hawthorne Lane.