Hiring summer students: What every restaurant needs to know

Hiring summer students: an easy way to fill those longer shifts with eager employees? Or a non-stop hassle of interviews, onboarding, schedule changes, just to have them leave in four months? While onboarding summer students might seem daunting, don’t worry. There are many perks to hiring summer students, including the roles they can take on in your restaurant, their flexibility, and their cost effectiveness. And the best news? Onboarding, training, and scheduling summer students can be easier than you think.  

Why hire summer students for your restaurant?

There are lots of reasons to hire summer students, and some can even benefit your restaurant for longer than just a season. Take a look at these top three reasons why hiring summer students is a plus for your business. 

Hiring summer students lets you staff up without the commitment 

It’s late spring, and as the weather warms up, you notice the streets getting busier. There are more people on their bikes, pedestrians are crowding the sidewalks, and more customers are stopping in for lunch or dinner (especially if you have coveted patio seating).

You can sense summer is coming fast, and then it hits you: with the extra summer hours you’ll need to stay open to meet customer demand, your business might be short-staffed for one of your busiest times of the year.

Thankfully, many students are looking for a job. And while normally you’d rather hire staff who can commit to staying on for more than just a few months, you know this seasonal spike of customers will return to a regular, steady flow soon, so temporary help is all you need. Enter the summer student.

The United States has around 20 million undergrad students. With tuition on the rise, there are plenty of students ready to jump into a seasonal role to help them pay off their loans or save for the following year.

In fact, according to Forbes Advisor and the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition has seen a dramatic bump in the recent years. For example, in 1980, attending a four-year college program full-time was just over $10,000 a year. This total included tuition, fees, and room and board, and was adjusted for inflation. Fast forward forty years, and by 2020, the total price jumped up by 180% to about $28,775 a year.

When you hire summer students, your restaurant is able to bring in the support you need while helping students pay their bills. Feel like a win-win? That’s because it is. 

Hiring summer students provides learning opportunities

Summer students are looking for ways to learn and grow, and want to explore different industries to see what catches their interest. When they work at your restaurant, they’ll start to learn the ins-and-outs of the industry, but that’s not the only learning that can happen. Your business can take notes, too.

By hiring summer students, you’ll get to see what new technologies are being used by younger generations, like Gen Zers. For instance, you might find out that your target audience has stopped using Instagram in favor of TikTok, which means your restaurant might need to catch up on the latest dance trends instead of perfecting that sipping-the-cocktail selfie.

Speaking of trends, hiring summer students can enlighten you to new things different customers are consuming. Or for that matter, not consuming. According to TheHill.com, Gen Zers have cut back on alcohol consumption, consuming about 20% less alcohol per capita than Millennials did when they were their age. Many are even saying no to booze altogether. A smart idea for restaurant owners would be to look at this as an opportunity to have the bartender experiment with mocktails or non-alcoholic options on the menu.

Hiring summer students might also help you notice that Gen Zers are more inclined to text on the job—and that might not be a bad thing. Recent reports show that 23% of Gen Zers expect texting to be essential to workplace communication. That means finding a way to streamline communications outside of emails and physical message boards might be a good idea.

Hiring summer students can be cost effective

It’s busy season, which means cash is flowing, right? Well, if you own a restaurant, you know the math isn’t always that simple. While a busier season does mean more customers, it also requires more staff, more training, and more time organizing shifts and the people who work them.

When your restaurant is hiring students to cover the surge in customers, be sure to explore a range of pay for the various roles you’re hiring and the experience each new team member brings to the table. Pun intended.

For example, if you’re hiring a summer student who has zero restaurant experience but brings a level of energy and enthusiasm to the role, consider placing them at the lower end of the pay scale. But if you’re hiring a student who’s worked with you in seasons past and still knows the menu like the back of their hand? Take their experience and commitment into account when offering them an hourly wage.

In addition to potential lower wages, hiring summer students can be a cost effective option due to the flexibility of their schedules. Some may be able to be on-call or pick up extra shifts to help save money. That means instead of stacking up your employee roster, you can focus on hiring the right number of summer students who are able and willing to work throughout the season.

Roles for summer students in your restaurant

Much like steak and frites, students and restaurants are the perfect pairing, especially in the summer season. We’ve outlined six different roles that you may expect to be filled by summer students, and a few that might surprise you in the best way possible. 

The host, hostess, and maître d’

These roles are ideal for welcoming, warm, and organized staff, even ones who are new to the restaurant industry. In these roles, you’ll want to look for summer students who have a friendly demeanor while speaking to customers on the phone or people waiting to be seated. You’ll also want a staff member who’s a multitasker and  can deliver menus while counting the open tables at the same time.

The server

When hiring servers for the summer season, you’ll want to look for someone who’s friendly, enjoys conversation with customers, is efficient, and can remain calm under pressure. This is especially important during your busiest shift times when kitchens are hectic and customer’s demands are as high as the temperature on the patio.

Before you hire any summer staff, make sure you know the basic shifts that you’ll need covered, and then communicate those times with applicants. You’ll want to make sure any summer students that you’re hiring will be open to the variety of shifts, and that you have enough coverage if someone calls in sick.

Servers should be active listeners, and be able to tap into what the customer really wants. For example, if a customer is commenting on the draft of the air conditioner, but not directly asking for a table switch, you’ll want to find a server who can pick up on your customer’s needs and suggest a seamless move to another table before the commentary turns into a complaint—or worse, a negative review.

The bartender

If you’re hiring a summer student to fill a bartender role, make sure they’re responsible, welcoming, able to multitask, and of age where required. Not every state requires a bartender to be 21, so it’s important to check your local state guidelines. For example, in California a bartender has to be 21 but in Arizona, 18 is just fine. Some states also require a certificate, which your bartender should have before starting their first shift.

Bartenders should also be a bit of a salesperson. You’ll want someone who has a natural ability to suggest top-shelf drinks and food pairings, while simultaneously chatting with the customer who’s sitting across the bar.

The barback

This is the perfect role for the wannabe bartender with little-or-no experience. A barback is like a busser for the bar, helping to open and close the area, stock up the shelves, clean, prepare garnishes, change beer kegs, and help the bartender with ad-hoc requests throughout the shift.

This role is great for a summer student who wants to learn how to work in a busy, multi-tasking environment and who doesn’t mind some heavy lifting.

The event planner

While this might not seem like your typical summer student role, it might just be what your restaurant needs. Students who are looking to connect with their community in unique ways, like working closely with the neighborhood BIA, would be an ideal fit for this role.

Given that summer is a busy month, this summer-student hire could also double as another role, like a server or host, with dedicated time set aside for planning, organizing and promoting restaurant events.

These events could be anything from a bring-your-own-bottle wine and trivia night to a fundraiser for the local soccer team. Whatever the events may be, the staff member who’s organizing them needs to manage and/or support team scheduling, overall communication with staff, and the set-up and clean-up of the event. 

The social media coordinator

On average, a Gen Zer spends up to 9 hours of screen time per day. With stats like this, it makes perfect sense to utilize that time for your restaurant.

Hiring a social media coordinator or combining this duty with another role is a great idea for restaurants who need to boost their social media presence. Using apps like TikTok and Instagram are useful for promoting the restaurant experience, connecting with diners, and sharing new menu items.

When looking to fill this role, ensure you have guidelines in place that outline how to communicate. This could include things like: what not to say, who can and can’t be filmed, and what type of content to promote. If this role is being combined with another role, make sure that both roles are outlined and tasks are prioritized.

For example, if you’re hiring a summer student as a host but they have experience as a brand ambassador and they’ll be filling that role at your restaurant, speak to them about what that means for their both roles: the host and the ambassador.

Which one takes priority? How many hours should be dedicated to both? Are they working on social media when they’re not at the restaurant? If so, how’s that tracked?

These are all aspects of the role that need to be determined before they start their first shift. 

The challenges of hiring summer students 

There are lots of perks to hiring summer students at your restaurant, but before you begin your search, it’s important to learn about the challenges you might face.

Thankfully, you’re not alone in this task. Lots of restaurants hire summer students, and many have both faced and overcome the list below. Now it’s time to learn from them.

Finding the right summer students

You know you want to hire summer students, but how do you find them? First, start early. Planning ahead for the year can help you determine what you need, and help you achieve those goals once the time comes. For summer help, that could mean outlining the roles you’ll need for the warmer months, writing effective job descriptions, and starting your search before the season actually arrives.

Once you know that you’ll be hiring seasonal employees, promote it on your social media feed. This will let the public know that you’ll be hiring, and they can spread the word to family or friends who are home for the season. Don’t forget to tag nearby colleges, universities, or even high schools so their communication teams can spread the word by reposting it in their own social media feed.

Next, speak to your local BIA. They might have a job board that students check out before returning back home for the summer, or can reach out to their networks with job descriptions.

Reaching out to past summer-student hires can be helpful, too. By hiring past employees, you can feel confident that they’re the right fit and can do the job to your satisfaction. Past employees might even be able to recommend new hires, like their younger sibling who’s coming back home after their first year at college.

Tip for finding summer students: Keep track of your preferred summer staff year over year. By using Homebase, you can track performance by investigating things like on-time and no-show rates, and store notes and reviews within employee profiles for next summer.

Hiring summer students

Now that you’ve got a pool of summer student hire candidates for your restaurant,  you’ve got to hire them. This can be tricky. Summer students can be in high demand, looking for a variety of roles from industries like retail, recreation, or any role that’s in or around their field of study. But even with the competition from other industries, there are plenty of students who are looking for the hustle and bustle of restaurant life, and that’s where you can shine.

Because summer is so short, the hiring process should be efficient, but impactful. Create an interview plan so your interviews make good use of both your time and your potential candidate’s. You’ll want to make sure your role is ready and promoted, and that you have the proper people set up for the interview process, like the chef or head server. 

You’ll also want to schedule time to complete any reference checks, and then set aside ample time for training once the job offer has been accepted. This is especially critical for summer students who haven’t worked in the restaurant industry.  

Tip for hiring summer students: Track all your applicants in one place with the Homebase app. It can help you identify the best candidates with screener questions, and lets you message applicants and schedule interviews all within the app. 

Have a lot of applicants? Organize them by experience and the traits.  If you’re using an app like Homebase, your candidates are automatically sorted based on over 20 different traits and a lot of data science. This helps you comb through the job seekers and find the best match for the job. Your interviewees will even receive reminders before their scheduled interviews to help reduce no-shows. 

Onboarding summer students 

This is the fun part, and also the part that requires a lot of work. Onboarding summer students can be difficult primarily because of the short amount of time they’re on break and working at the restaurant. With only a few months to spare, plus a flexible but sporadic schedule, you’ll have to make sure that their scheduled training makes sense for you, your staff, and the new hires.

Once training is complete, your summer students will need time to get acclimated to the culture of your restaurant. You’ll want to make sure they’re set up with coworkers who can help them understand how things work, who to go to for help, and who to work with to get the lowdown on certain customers, like Bridgette at table six, who hates mayo, but always forgets to mention it.

How to onboard summer students effectively

Remember when we said that onboarding summer students effectively can be a lot of work? Here’s what to know before you start, including how to use the right tools and processes to make it a little-to-a-lot easier. Let’s start with technology.

Technology in the onboarding process can be used for anything from onboarding new summer students with an online welcome packet so they’re ready for their first day, all the way to getting them paid. With tools like Homebase, your summer staff can give you the information you need all in one app, including e-signing direct deposit, and completing W-4, W-9, and I-9 forms.

Aside from paperwork, new staff should also get to know who they’ll be working with. By setting them up with the right tools, they can take a look at things like team shout outs or learn how staff switch shifts with each other, and how hours are tracked.

This will help them get a sense of who they’ll be spending their days and nights with for the next few months, and also how they can communicate with them, get support, and celebrate one another’s success.

How to train summer students efficiently 

Since summer students are only around for the season, you’ll want to train them as efficiently as possible. Let’s start with one of the most important areas of a restaurant: health and safety.

Ask any person who’s gone through this training and they’ll probably tell you there’s a lot to remember. And if they’re being honest, they may even admit that they’ve forgotten a few things since they’ve started. This is where technology can come in handy.

With tools like the Homebase app, you can add any document to the welcome packets that you’re sending your new hire. This includes training materials, employee handbooks, policies, and more. You can even store signed documents, then organize and store them in the app. This is ideal when staff members need to take a quick glance at a workplace protocol, but can’t seem to locate that five-pound health and safety binder.

Technology can also help train summer students efficiently by tracking progress. Managers can create online training checklists so they can track progress, and celebrate it too.

A training checklist might include things like:

  • Introductory chat where staff can ask questions and get an overview of who’s who
  • A detailed and guided tour of the restaurant and their work stations
  • Introductions to their new team, and their manager
  • Review of employee handbook and training materials, plus menus or drink options
  • Shadowing a more experienced employee if they’re new to the restaurant industry
  • A check-in at the end of the shift to provide and receive feedback
  • A guide through the clocking out process

Using technology is ideal for tracking progress, but also measuring milestones, too. You can use it to give shout outs to staff, like congratulating the bartender for their kindness and patience while training the new barback, and recognizing the barback for their amazing effort on their first day.

Scheduling summer students at your restaurant 

Scheduling summer students at your restaurant can be made easier when you and your staff can communicate needs and preferences of the season.

Without clear communication, a student might come on board, but fail to mention a planned trip. This is information that should be gathered by the hiring manager before the role is offered. That way you can determine if your new hire’s schedule works for your restaurant and what coverage you might need when they’re away.

Speaking of communication, new hires might not be as experienced with how your restaurant communicates scheduling updates and changes. For some restaurants, that might be a board in the back or trades can happen with staff members over text.

These scheduling tools can pose problems when someone’s shift is changed unexpectedly, or when a staff switches their Saturday morning shift with the new hire because of a what’s-expected-to-be an epic Friday night. When you use apps like Homebase, you give employees the autonomy to easily request shift changes. If someone makes a swap due to an unexpected conflict in their personal schedule, everyone receives the same notifications promptly.

When it comes to scheduling, make sure it’s done easily and automatically using the same technology that your staff are using to swap shifts. This ensures that the schedule stays organized and up-to-date. 

If staff are swapping, you’ll also want to make sure that they’re cross-trained. A server should know how to work the host shift, and if servers are swapping with each other, they should know what to expect at different times of day.

Be sure to have a well-balanced crew at every shift, allowing new staff to learn from seasoned employees. You’ll also want to make sure you have a number of on-call staff listed in case you’re short staffed or people call in sick.

When it comes to balance, remember that staff need it, too. When scheduling summer students at your restaurant, keep in mind that they might want all of the hours they can get, but they also need a healthy work/life balance. Make sure you give enough time in between shifts, and monitor scheduling to watch out for overtime accruals. Or, have an app do that for you.

How Homebase can help with onboarding and managing summer students

Homebase takes the hassle out of hiring, and also can help with onboarding and managing summer students in some big ways.

For hiring, Homebase offers a library of pre-written, customized job descriptions. Use those or your own, then post it for free to the top online job boards. You can also  promote your job with paid boosts to reach more applicants faster.

Once you’ve found the perfect summer students, let Homebase help you onboard them. Automate your entire onboarding process, including sending welcome packets to new employees, and providing them a way to safely enter their information and to e-sign direct deposit forms. We also give your new staff a way to easily fill out W-4, W-9, and I-9 forms.

With Homebase, you have the ability to add your own custom documents to welcome packets, like employee handbooks, policies, and training. Plus, you can securely organize and store all signed documents right in the app

To support your restaurant with scheduling, communication and shift swaps, Homebase has  built a messaging system into the app. This software lets you send alerts, reminders, and message your team members directly. Plus, you can move seamlessly between other features like scheduling, onboarding, and payroll

Because restaurants aren’t like a corporate gig, we give you flexibility and the power to manage your team’s schedule in real time. Employees can request time off and change their availability in the Homebase app, then know if it’s approved or not. All staff availability and time-off is shown in your schedule, so it won’t get lost in emails and sticky notes. You can also create black out dates and set request limits so your summer hires can plan accordingly, and your restaurant is staffed when it needs to be. 

Hiring summer students FAQ

What are summer students?

Summer students at a restaurant are seasonal staff who work mainly from May or June to the end of summer. Summer students are usually trying to find work in their months off so they can financially prepare for the upcoming school year or pay off their student loans. 

Why should you hire summer students?

Hiring summer students is a good idea if you experience a busy summer season and need to hire temporary staff.

Summer students can be eager to learn new skills and can offer your restaurant a more flexible schedule during the warmer months. Since they’re temporary staff, there’s no expectation that they’ll be working in slower months like the fall or winter, unless otherwise stated in their contract.

Summer students can also bring a wide range of experience, like event planning and social media management. This can help boost your restaurant’s reach to new and existing customers. 

What are some challenges of hiring summer students?

While there are lots of perks to hiring summer students, there are also a few challenges. One of which is competition. There’s lots of students out there looking for jobs, and a lot of jobs looking to hire summer students.

Start your search early, connect with past employees, and reach out to local BIA’s for support.

After you hire summer students, you’ll need to make sure they’re properly onboarded and trained. Ensure they know the ins-and-outs of your restaurant, like how to request time off or clock in/clock out.

Summer students can have a lot of time to give in their months off, but also need a balanced work environment. Give them the time off they need and connect with them often. This way you’ll get feedback on how they’re doing and how you can support them. 

How do you onboard summer students effectively?

Onboarding summer students effectively begins with clear communication and a system that sets everyone up for success. Using an app like Homebase can streamline the onboarding process. Equip your staff with welcome packets, training materials, and direct deposit forms before they even begin.

It also allows for new staff to better communicate with their team members and managers, track their hours, and request time off. 

Having tools that support your new summer students plus efficiency in the restaurant is key for the busy summer season. Get started with Homebase today before the rush comes in.

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