A Conversation with Patrick Yearout, Director of Innovation at Ivar’s and Kidd Valley Restaurants
By Marianne Scholl
One of the shining traits of hospitality professionals is an eagerness to help each other succeed. Perhaps no one demonstrates this better than Patrick Yearout, Seattle-based Ivar’s long-time training and recruitment chief who recently created a new job for himself as the company’s director of innovation. He is an active member of the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers and wholeheartedly embraces it’s guiding principles of learning, sharing, growing and caring.
Is it getting harder to find employees?
We’ve definitely seen an uptick in the challenges in the last three years. That’s when we began seeing a change, especially in the availability of cooks. It’s become a lot more challenging to find the right people for all the different positions that we have.
What does the tight labor market mean for Ivar’s?
One of the biggest challenges that we’ve seen, and I’ve talked to a lot of other people in the hospitality industry about this, is no-shows for interviews. Five or 10 years ago when you scheduled an interview with someone, you would agree on a time and a place and 99 percent would show up. Now it feels like anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the time the person doesn’t show up and doesn’t call or text. They just ghost you.
The no-show, no-call interview is a new one for a lot of people in the industry. It is definitely something that leads us to try to connect with people the best we can before the interview and to make sure they have all the right information and that they know where to go and who they are going to be meeting with.
Your funnel of potential employees has to be even bigger than ever. How do you deal with the challenge?
We try to make it as easy as possible to apply. We give a variety of options, so they don’t have to think too hard about how they are going to do this. They can apply by sending an email, they can apply online or they can drop off an application at one of the restaurants.
Also, making sure the staff is aware that you are hiring is really important. If they don’t know that you’re hiring, they might not try very hard to find an application form or not tell the potential applicant about the job. If they are aware of what you’re hiring for, they can also let their friends and family know as well. We get 40 percent of hires from family and friends.
Employees are the best evangelists you have. And the more knowledge they have, the more power you have in your “recruiting posse.”
Do you have some advice on how to recruit?
Job seekers these days don’t want to work for just any company. They want to work for a company that has the same values as them. They want to work for a company where they are going to feel supported and safe and comfortable. They want to know about the company through the recruiting process. To them it’s much more than a paycheck.
If your online ad is poorly written or it just says “cooks wanted,” but they don’t know anything about the company, then they’ll just move on to the next ad.
The best advice I can give is that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice who you are because you have a challenge finding people. Your first inclination shouldn’t be “Let’s lower the quality” or “Let’s do this to make it easier.” Your first inclination should be to become better at recruiting. It should be “Let’s look at what our competitors are doing, and let’s try some new things.” If you haven’t tried Facebook or Twitter, try Facebook and Twitter. If you haven’t been to a job fair in a while, go to a job fair. Talk to the applicants face to face and find out what their challenges are.
You need to continue to work harder at recruiting and ask someone who is doing well at it. Go to your network. If you belong to any roundtables, go there. Go to a Seattle Restaurant Alliance meeting or a Washington Hospitality Summit. If you are in a food court, ask other vendors in the food court. Get advice from other people rather than trying to change what’s important to you in your restaurant. That’s because whatever that is, it is also important to your customers. They don’t want to see you change.
How does introducing employees to the culture play into retention?
We want them to feel good about working for us, and obviously, retaining employees is a great way to cut down on the amount of recruiting that you have to do. It’s like re-recruiting your current staff all the time. That’s one of the reasons (our training and HR team) spend as much time as possible in the restaurants talking to the employees and talking to the managers about what’s going on, and what their interests are and what their opinions are about the restaurant and how we can make things better. We ask what kind of goals they have and what would they like to contribute.
I hear you have to be quick when hiring.
Most people who are looking for work don’t have the luxury of waiting for a job to start. If they suddenly find themselves out of work, they still have bills and rent to pay. They have to buy food. They can’t wait two or three weeks. They’re already going to have to wait a little bit for their first paycheck. Their goal is to find a job quickly, so when they apply if you wait three days or five days or 10 days before reaching out to them, they can’t wait that long. They have bills due today. And other employers are acting quickly. It’s really important to jump on it as fast as you can.
Tell us about careers at Ivar’s.
We work really hard to promote from within whenever possible. It just works out better. The people who you are promoting already know your company, they know the workplace. They know the restaurant and the co-workers. It’s just a much smoother transition when you can promote into a position.
The last time I checked, when you look at all the directors and managers in our restaurants, including general managers, assistant managers and shift managers, 90 percent were promoted into the current position that they are in.
I’m one of five people who are celebrating a 20th anniversary this year at Ivar’s, and there are many people ahead of us. Quite a few are 25-year or 30-year veterans. We have a couple of managers who have been with us since the 1970s. These are careers.
As much as possible, I tell people that you can have a very rewarding career —both personally and professionally—in the restaurant industry if you want one. There is a lot of opportunity and there is a lot of room for growth.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity.