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"And it's the same thing with wine; we need people who have a good background and good knowledge and grasp of the different varietals and the different regions, and to be able to take a guest and walk him through the wine list."
Meanwhile, at the Villa, West Markham Street and Bowman Road in west Little Rock, owner Ken Shively is having trouble replacing a longtime employee who was killed by a drunken driver. And he's expecting to soon have to replace another who will be going on maternity leave.
The flip side of attracting a good staff is keeping it. Turnover, as Graves notes, is the bane of the industry. He's recruiting "a couple of extra players" for the opening period, because "it's inevitable; you always have some attrition."
Others are long established, like the Villa, trying to fill a single rare opening.
be perky and friendly," the ad says but still hasn't found a qualified candidate.
At Mimis Cafe in west Little Rock, General Manager Tarek Shehadeh has retained more than two thirds of the wait staff he started with when the chain restaurant opened in April 2006 23 out of 32.
There's a finite number of top notch waiters, and when you have one, it frequently means luring, drawing or even poaching somebody from an existing service position.
West Markham Street.
Chef and staff agree that the reasons for staff longevity involve a genuine caring for the restaurant, a collegial atmosphere and an overwhelming sense of loyalty. (Former employees who just stop by to visit regularly pitch in for a shift in the kitchen or on the floor.)
LITTLE ROCK The Food Service/Restaurants section of the Sunday classifieds always has a few wait staff wanted ads, but every once in a while, for no apparent reason, the number of such ads spikes.
is food and beverage director at the Capital Hotel, West Markham and Louisiana streets in downtown Little Rock, set to reopen to the public Nov. 19. After putting in place a staff for the hotel bar, he has been trying to fill an entire wait staff for the very upscale Ashley's at the Capital restaurant. And most of his applicants, by necessity, are coming from other area restaurants.
"We haven't put in an ad in years," says chef Vincent Bruno.
"We're trying to create a service environment that reflects the national norms of fine dining service," he says. "So we're looking for individuals who have a strong sense of place; those people who look comfortable in their position, who have a strong food background, and that they know the difference in food preparations and speak knowledgeably about the menu that they know the difference between a dice and a mince, that they know the mother sauces, they know all of the building blocks of food.
A good sense of humor is important as well, he agrees, "but in our business, you allow the guest to set the level of formality."
"My goal is to be able to pin on somebody's vest their 10 year pin."
He says, "the only way I can keep that honeymoon period longer is investing in the people . I'm going to do everything I possibly can to give them the strongest check average, the strongest product knowledge and the strongest tools to do their job, so they will stay here.
He's also drawing from a smaller pool of former Arkansans who "maybe had lived in New York or Los Angeles, and wanted to come home."
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Some places you see advertise every week for example, the two locations of Catfish City BBQ and the Town Pump, a Riverdale tavern.
He has been running want ads in the paper for more than two weeks "must Bottega Veneta Olimpia Bag
Shively's wait staff has very little turnover. It helps that "we're team players," he says. "We all cover each other."
Beyond that, what qualities does he look for in a waiter?
Some of them were new establishments seeking starting staffs, including Boston's the Gourmet Pizza, which opens this month near the Little Rock National Airport, Adams Field.
"It's part and parcel of this industry," he says. "We do have a tendency to pull from the other [restaurants], not necessarily aggressively and intentionally, but if they want to see what we have to offer, it's like buying a car we're going to sell them on everything we have."
The 10 person wait staff is also pretty stable at neighboring Bruno's Little Italy, on Bowman Road just north of Bottega Veneta Intrecciato Tote
"Empathy is the No. 1 thing. Flexibility. And they should enjoy what they do. If you don't enjoy it, you need to find a different profession."
Round up the usual suspects
"We feel like family," Bruno says.
Other seeking server advertisers that week: Cheers on Broadway; the Dixie Cafe at Base Line Road and Interstate 30; Loca Luna (transformed, alas, by a typo to"Loca Lunc"), Izzy's; Graffiti's; Prada Clutch Man Camp David, the restaurant at the Holiday Inn Presidential; and the Embassy Suites hotel.
For example, in the Oct. 21 paper, a dozen restaurants and hotels were hiring servers.
"You may see me in an apron waiting tables," he says, maybe only half or less in jest.
When there is an opening, the staff recruits a friend from another restaurant or, occasionally, promote a former hostess. Most of the waitresses have been there four years or more; a couple have been there more than a decade.
The bar the figurative kind has been set pretty high for Graves, who has a long career in the upper end of the hotel business, including opening a Ritz Carlton in Hawaii.
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