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  • Derek Engles

Farm Team: How Restaurants are Underutilizing Their Human Capital

(Published on LinkedIn)


The food and beverage industry always has a steady flow of new applicants, yet it generally fails to capture its best hires for long term employment. The hospitality industry, particularly restaurants, often fail to take advantage of the human capital they possess throughout the ranks of their organization. This failure to recognize and develop talent is hindering the industry as the American economy is near full employment, and the talent pool is reduced. One way the food and beverage industry can sure-up its position in the human resources department is by making a concerted effort to develop their farm teams; the employees in lower positions that possess undeveloped skill sets.


A farm team refers to the lower professional ranks (for example, the triple A team of a major league franchise) that develops the next generation of players for a professional baseball organization. It is comprised of younger players with no professional experience, players coming off injury or learning a new position and others trying to make it to the next level. This developmental team is essential to the longevity of the franchise, as it ensures continuity and keeps the players at a high skill level. But what it does, that could be of great assistance to the restaurant industry, is it develops talent of those not ready for the major leagues, but are talented, nevertheless. Your busser may just be your next great sommelier, your food runner may just be your next great manager, and your valet may be better at social media that your director of marketing. Your organization could be underutilizing the talent you have, and if you had a system for training and developing the next generation of talent, this would have benefited your business immensely.


The prevailing thought in the corporate decision-making process often is “what if we spend all this time training them and they leave”. The correct philosophy, however, is “what if we do not train them and they stay”. Building up your farm team by training lower level employees in the job duties of those above them can unlock more than just the next generation of managers and directors. It changes the culture of your organization, empowering those with talent to develop and migrate to the next level in the hierarchy. It gives your employees hope, which many jobs are not offering these days. And, most importantly, it gives your employees enthusiasm about their jobs, which you cannot pay for with any amount of salary.


The start of a mentorship program is a great first step. Having a person from a lower job classification work with a more senior person will foster learning and comradery. Another great initiative is a manager for a day program, where each employee works with a manager for a few hours each month, learning what is like in positions of responsibility. This works as a great tool to both grow your farm teams’ skill set and to let line level employees know just how challenging the manager title can be. And lastly, define the path for those who desire more. Have a defined busser to server program or an hourly to salary management transition plan. Incorporate a learning module or a reading list, so each employee has a way to develop their skill set for the next level.

The hospitality industry, particularly restaurants, fail to take advantage of the human capital they possess throughout the ranks of their organization. The development of their “farm teams”, the employees in lower positions that possess undeveloped skill sets, will ensure the longevity of the human resources of an organization and stand-alone establishments. Empowering your staff at every level of employment will lead to a culture shift in your organization, unlocking the full potential of your employees.