New restaurant experiments with radical recruitment tactics in Hong Kong

Author: Ed Peters | Date: 19 Oct 2016

Formal interview process given the boot in favour of team-building exercises

When British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver set his sights on opening a restaurant in Hong Kong, it wasn’t just about introducing a new style of dining but a new style of recruitment too.
In a city where the corporate uniform is a pin-striped suit and formal job interviews are de rigeur, ‘Jamie’s Italian’ went to the opposite extreme, with a recruitment and training programme that was informal and radical.
“I don’t believe in interviews – you just get one version of a person,” said Stuart Sharpless, director of Paradigm Consultants International, who devised the programme in conjunction with William Lyon, CEO of restaurant operator Big Cat Group Ltd.
“Some people are good at interviews, but lousy at their job, or vice versa. So for Jamie’s Italian we wanted to do something meaningful ¬– and very different.”
Sharpless put together a 15-strong team that over the course of nearly four months – from placing the first staff adverts to the ‘soft’ opening night – would whittle down 900 applicants to just over 100 fully-fledged employees.
The first stage was conducted online, with hopefuls answering a series of questions to determine their personality, and a second set which covered technical and professional qualifications.
“We worked on a ratio of slightly more than three-to-one,” explained Sharpless. “The restaurant needed 100 staff, so having examined the online results, we called in 360.”
The first step in the face-to-face employment procedure - a cocktail party - must have flabbergasted some of the more strait-laced candidates. Videos explaining the ethos of the business followed, Lego and Play-Doh were distributed to keep everyone entertained when they weren’t directly involved, and potential recruits were encouraged to take part in mini game shows and impromptu role-playing. It was all a world away from “tell me about yourself.”
In consultation with the restaurant’s senior staff, Sharpless and his team called back the 100 best candidates and embarked on an intense session of on-brand training.
“Jamie’s is so focussed on the food, the ingredients, where they come from – new staff have to understand that from the very beginning,” said Sharpless, who has run similarly innovative recruitment drives for clients such as the award-winning Upper House hotel in Hong Kong.
“We divided them into two teams of 50, taking turns to race around the city and rate the level of service on offer, and making a collage of their findings on their return. Meanwhile, the other team learned about the restaurant in detail.”
And the pièce-de-résistance? The new recruits split into 10 teams to make a film about their new workplace, focussing on branding, with awards being handed out for best actor, director, editor and more. Rather than Oscars, they were dubbed ‘Olivers’, and presented at a red-carpet ceremony.
Lyon said: “The system Stuart devised was awesome, and essentially you have to do something like this if you are hiring so many people. It’s wonderfully creative, and certainly could catch on.”