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Culture Club: Annette

Why Annette’s Caroline Glover doesn’t want her staff to call each other “family.”

Lately, the number one conversation in pro kitchens is labor. It overtly informs nearly everything operators talk about. And whether diners realize it or not, the questions they’re asking—why isn’t anyone serving lunch anymore? what’s with this 22 percent service charge? how long does it really take to get one chicken sandwich?—are all underlined by staffing shortages.

There are a slew of reasons it’s difficult to hire hospitality workers right now (and we’ve reported on several of them). A common refrain is that in good times, restaurants prefer hiring applicants who are both a good cultural fit and have restaurant experience. But the current reality is they can’t, and so are leaning hard on picking workers they believe will be a good fit personality-wise, and training to fill in gaps in experience.

But that raises questions: How does a restaurant define its culture? What do owners managers do to ensure they are hiring the “right fit”? And with calls for diversity and inclusion in staffing growing louder, how does a restaurant ensure it’s not just creating a cultural echo chamber and excluding applicants who may not immediately appear to fit the mold?

I’ve lived my whole life with my phone attached to me, and that’s ridiculous. This is a restaurant, not a hospital.

Caroline Glover, Annette

I never wanted to have the ‘we’re a family’ culture,” says Caroline Glover, chef-owner of Aurora’s Annette, who feels that mentality makes for a toxic workplace. She admits that’s a rarity in the restaurant world, but says when she opened her business, she wanted to ensure her employees had work and home lives that didn’t bleed into each other. “Some of that was selfish,” she says. “It’s easy to say, ‘I’m going to stay here and drink all night,’ but I was done with that lifestyle. I’ve lived my whole life with my phone attached to me, and that’s ridiculous. This is a restaurant, not a hospital. We have people who gravitate towards Annette who have lives outside the restaurant. It brings something special, because people are bringing other things and experiences to Annette.”

Glover credits ditching the traditional tipping system as the primary means of establishing that culture of respectful workplace rather than dysfunctional family (from the day Annette opened in 2017, tips have been pooled between the front and back of house rather than going exclusively to servers). “[Tip pooling] creates a front of house and back of house that get along. That’s a very, very rare feeling to come into a restaurant and not have a part of the staff you automatically dislike. That’s the number one thing people mention about working at Annette.”

Annette / Jonny Marlow

When hiring, says Glover, the vibe of potential applicants is crucial. She’s heavily involved in the interview process, and while some of the questions asked are obvious (“How would you handle this situation?”), some are less so (“What are you into outside of work? Will you still be able to do those things?”). The team is also on the lookout for subtle body language or negative reactions when management explains the division of labor at Annette. “Everyone is required to polish silverware,” Glover notes. “Sometimes when a server has a ton of experience it can be hard for them to make the transition. It’s a reaction of, ‘Oh, I’ve never done that before,’ or ‘That’s not the way we did it at my old restaurant.’ We’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing when someone would be a great server at a more traditional brigade-style restaurant. It’s the same for back of house. If you can’t pivot well and wash dishes, if you’re super-ingrained in your ways, we might not be the best fit for you.”

If they make it through the interview, prospective front- and back-of-house employees do a short stage; “to me,” says Glover, “it’s more for them now to see we’re super busy, and this is what it’s going to feel like after a couple hours times six.”

So when you’re hiring for a vibe, how do you make sure you don’t end up with employees who aren’t carbon copies? Glover says the a high-end Annette’s location alone means a different pool of applicants than many central Denver dining rooms: “We get a more diverse group [of employees]. It’s getting less affordable in the city, so people are moving out to Aurora. Our location changes up applicants a bit more than you would see at Tavernetta [in Union Station].”

She also notes her business get a fair amount of applicants from workers who don’t necessarily have a hospitality background. There industry folks coming in from different restaurant groups, but she also points to employees who have come from backgrounds as varied as IT and construction. “It ebbs and flows, and changes from season to season,” she confirms. “Six months ago we had a crew that spent a lot of time together and now we’re in a place where people are moving here from different cities and don’t spend a lot of time together. As long as we promote a healthy work-life balance, our location keeps it interesting.”

Talk to us! Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to askus@diningout.com.

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