Sweet Lou’s, a northern Idaho favorite known as “a family place,” has two locations — Sweet Lou’s Restaurant and Bar in Ponderay and Sweet Lou’s Restaurant and Tap House in downtown Coeur d’Alene. In Ponderay, guests enjoy home-style comfort food, made with high-quality ingredients served in generous portions, a full bar featuring specialty drinks and 16 beers on tap in a convivial atmosphere surrounded by twenty 4K televisions for great game viewing. Guests at the Coeur d’Alene location find the same delicious menu paired with 32 beers on tap and a great wine selection, offered in a casual space for watching sports.
The owners, Chad and Meggie Foust, created Sweet Lou’s so that the entire family can enjoy the dining experience. Named after their son, Sweet Lou’s aims to greet guests with a smile and great food, drink, and service. Their mission statement says it all: “Serving our best, from the kitchen to the community through high quality ingredients, a welcoming environment, responsible service and local outreach.”
Mr. Foust explained the hiring challenge that is nearly universal for restaurateurs. “Restaurants mean high turnover,” he expressed.
Previously, to hire for open positions, Sweet Lou’s would post job listings on Craigslist and Indeed. Indeed, Mr. Foust acknowledged, “costs a ton of money when you’re doing it by yourself,” especially when the restaurant business was posting frequently to ramp up for the busy season.
And when it came to onboarding, “Our management teams were spending so much time going through the orientation, reading the handbook to the new hire, doing paperwork, and things like that,” he explained. He said that his managers would spend about 45 minutes, two or three times a week, just overseeing the orientation, paperwork, and other tasks for new hires.
When choosing a hiring solution, Mr. Foust knew that he wanted to make the hiring process “as digital as possible, moving everything to a cloud-based system so we can have access to it anywhere and anytime.”
He said that the main reason he chose Restaurant365 Hire was because he wanted to make hiring easier for his managers to open up their time for other tasks.
Sweet Lou’s started by creating a branded career page (see it here) through R365 Hire, part of Restaurant365’s Payroll + HR solution. Using a template and adding in custom content about company values and culture, Mr. Foust reported that the new page “is so much more professional.”
“I’d much rather people go to that page, so they can see it all at once, than come in and fill out a paper application,” he said. The process was easy, and “setting up an actual career page is something that’s neat for small operators like myself.”
When it comes to the actual hiring process, certain system features of R365 Hire are helping the team effectively track candidates.
Tools like automatically deactivating candidates that won’t fit a role can pare down candidate lists before a manager even has to look at a resume (like someone under 15 for general positions, or someone under 19 applying for a server position).
R365 Hire also provides a simple way for managers to organize and manage applications in one central place. “Paper applications could get put in four different files here and there, on desks or whatever. Now, we know that there’s one place to go for all the applications, you can track each applicant’s stage in the process,” Mr. Foust explained.
If someone is interviewed but isn’t a good fit for the job, the applicant’s profile can be deactivated so it’s not still in consideration. However, “if a manager decided to deactivate somebody, I can actually reference back to that,” he added. Mr. Foust also uses R365 Hire’s assessment tool, which helps him achieve a much higher level of quality candidates. While the assessment tool is meant to assess a candidate’s suitability for a position, Mr. Foust explained that he actually doesn’t really look closely at the assessment score. Rather, when a candidate completes an assessment, he sees it as an indicator that the candidate is making an effort.
When an applicant fills out the assessment, he said, that’s when you know they are truly interested in the position. Then, the managers “can spend a little more time looking at the resume and see exactly what their experience is and go from there.”
To keep managers up to date, Mr. Foust uses the customizable automatic alerts in R365 Hire. His system notifies managers when a new applicant or a fast track applicant adds an application.
Finally, Mr. Foust uses the system to create custom new hire sheets. When managers want to hire someone, they fill out the new hire sheet with complete information. It’s then automatically sent directly to payroll (as opposed to the old system of scanning and attaching to an email). Not only are managers ensured to get all the information they need, but payroll is also kept in the loop.
Overall, these features of R365 Hire have completely transformed how hiring happens at Sweet Lou’s. And the fact that it’s a restaurant-specific applicant tracking system? “Restaurant specific is always a bonus for us,” said Mr. Foust.
One of the restaurant-specific features of the system are customizable FOH and BOH job description templates, saving time for the hiring managers and providing candidates with a clear understanding of the job’s responsibilities.
Other popular features of R365 Hire are personalized assessments, hiring processes organized to reflect the hiring process of the restaurant business, interview scorecards to provide consistency for applicant responses to the same questions and offer letter templates.
As part of the overall restaurant management system, Mr. Foust reports that R365 Hire provides two main benefits that “ease the process of hiring as much as possible.”
First, it generally makes managers’ jobs easier, because they don’t have to spend as much time on hiring, And second, “it’s easier for us because the managers know exactly the information that we need, and the managers are forced to give it to us in order to hire somebody.”
The “ease of use” has created enormous time savings for the Sweet Lou’s team, for both in-store and above-store management.
Compared to constantly making phone calls, the ability to text and email communicate through the system to confirm hiring assessments and interviews is time efficient for managers, said Mr. Foust. “Postings are included in the fees, so we’re saving a good $400 a month using R365 with Indeed and all the other job platforms,” remarked Mr. Foust.
“Communication between the candidate and the manager is definitely a lot easier now,” he said. Managers can text and email within the system, and since much of the staff is from a younger generation, the text communications helps managers reach the candidates quickly. “And the applicants text right back, because they’re always on their phones,” laughed Mr. Foust.
Overall, Sweet Lou’s does several hires a week, and Mr. Foust reports saving at least 45 minutes per employee hire through R365 Hire. “We’re able to get somebody hired very quickly—as long as the person fills out all the information, a manager could get the applicant hired in literally 10 minutes,” he reported.
Since new hire paperwork is automatically submitted to payroll when managers file “employee hire notices,” communication is also streamlined between managers and payroll, helping each pay period proceed efficiently. Once an employee is hired, and information sent to payroll, Sweet Lou’s is saving time again on the onboarding process. Previously, managers would read the employee manual to new hires. “Everything was done by paper,” Mr. Foust said, “which took at least an additional 30 minutes of manager time per hire.”
However, with R365 Hire, handbooks are now in the system, and new employees are required to acknowledge reviewing the manual as part of the automated onboarding process.
In addition to the time savings, R365 Hire has provided direct cost savings for Sweet Lou’s. The hiring solution includes the cost for jobs that are posted on such sites as Indeed, Glassdoor, ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn and more. Mr. Foust reports that this is a “huge advantage of R365 Hire. You know postings are included in the fees, so we’re saving a good $400 a month using R365 with Indeed and all the other job platforms.”
“It was probably the easiest way to hire a manager I’ve ever gone through,” he reported. After posting on the career sites and starting to get applications and resumes, he required candidates to take an assessment test through the site.
“That cut out half of the applicants right there, because some didn’t take the time,” he reported. It freed him up from calling applicants, trying to find out if they were truly interested or just wanting to get in their application in somewhere.
“But the people who filled out the assessment are already bought in,” he said. When it was time to schedule interviews, Mr. Foust explained, only one of the 10 candidates didn’t show—compared to the usual five out of 10 not showing up. R365 Hire’s assessment system helped Mr. Foust filter out the candidates who weren’t a good fit, so he could focus on the qualified candidates. “I was able to focus on the people who really wanted the position, and that’s the biggest asset of the system,” he finished.
With the time savings, cost savings, and ease of mind, what would Mr. Foust say to other restaurant owners thinking of using Restaurant365 Hire?
“It’s pretty useful to see that we could actually afford to have something like this and there’s a support team behind it. If you’re looking to move into today’s world and get out of paper stuff, this is a no brainer,” he concluded.