Trial shifts: Are you getting it right?

If you own or run a hospitality business, your biggest headache, and your biggest expense is most likely staffing. Ensuring you have the right team is crucial to the success of your business (and your quality of sleep!). Yet… the pivotal ‘trial phase’ of the recruiting process is often hand-balled to junior supervisors or team members who have neither the experience, the training, or the vision to accurately assess whether the nervous human being standing before them is a good fit for your venue. I get it. Managers are beyond time poor and delegating is good right? But delegation without providing the right coaching, instruction and big picture vision is abdication; and no, that’s not good.

The cost of a bad hire can be immense in more ways than one, but missing out on a capable candidate when they are right in front of you can be equally as costly. You’ve done the hard yards sorting through resumes, interviewing and reference checking: now make the trial shift count.

The tips below will help you to maximise the usefulness of trial shifts.

Staff on a trial shift will often be nervous. It takes some finely tuned emotional intelligence skills to see through the many ways in which that nervous energy may present itself. We may see a shy, quiet person when in fact they are bright and bubbly without the nerves. We may see an overly confident person when in fact they are just desperate to please. In order to adequately assess their competencies and capabilities, we need them to feel welcome and relaxed. Remember, we want them to be great at this trial. They want to be great at this trial! Let’s give them every opportunity to shine.


Always thoroughly prepare for a trial shift. Ensure you, or a designated manager are on site prior to the arrival of your hopeful new team member. Keep in mind, they will most likely be early.

Ensure you are prepared with specific tasks for them to complete. Ensure you brief team members about the trial shift occurring today. Ask all team members to be welcoming and professional in their interactions with the applicant.

Be prepared with any uniform requirements or tools they may need for the shift. Turning up for a shift and having the manager dither about trying to find an apron speaks volumes about how organised the venue is and how much value (or how little value) they place on the person attending the trial shift. Be prepared!



Welcome them warmly and always be positive. You only get one chance to make a first impression- make it a great one! Only say positive things about the team and the venue. Studies show that a positive first experience at a venue increases their longevity with the company by 58%. You can never undo the first impression and it starts right here at the trial phase.

Remember that your venue is on trial as much as the staff member is. Good staff can pick and choose where they work so if you want the good ones ensure you are showcasing and environment that is friendly, welcoming and professional.


Start by showing them where they can put their belongings on shift. Then walk them through the venue showing them both front and back of house areas: ice machine, break areas, where rosters are kept, bathrooms, where cutlery is kept, cleaning equipment. Take time to do this so that during their trial you can ask them to help as needed and they will know where to go.

Run them through the different sections of the venue and introduce them to the menu and drinks list.

Brief them on guest interaction and what you would like them to say if a guest asks them something they don’t know.

Ensure they feel 100% comfortable asking questions and they know exactly who to go to if they have any.


Introduce the person on trial shift to all members of the team as you pass. This makes them feel valued and demonstrates a culture of respect. Pay special attention to introduce them to everyone from owners and managers to kitchen hands and chefs.




Give them specific duties and take the time to set them up with everything they need. Depending on their level of experience, the tasks you give them may vary but it is important to give them direction. Do not ever tell a trial shift to ‘float’. Floating can only be done effectively when we know the business and the team. It will be impossible for someone on a trial shift to demonstrate their abilities. They will feel useless and they will probably look pretty useless too. Always give them specific duties to focus on and give them a chance to nail it and impress you! For example, “I want you to focus on keeping the front section tidy today- tables cleared, wiped and reset as quickly as you can.” Or, “Can you please polish these glasses and assist to re-stock as necessary. Keep this area nice and clean and let me know when you run out of things to do!”



It is important that you pay attention during the trial to how the person is performing. There is no point organising a trial and then busying yourself with other tasks. As a manager, YOU know what you are looking for in a team member, YOU know the big picture. Although you may buddy your trial person with another senior team member, it is essential that you are actively observing and listening so that you are able to make a decision on whether this person is what you are looking for.

As a manager, you will make judgements based on the benefit to the business. A staff member may make judgements to the benefit of themselves.

Look and listen for indicators that will tell you if they will be a good fit for the team. Some things to watch for may include:

• How quickly do they complete tasks that you set them? How quickly do they move from one point to another? The pace at which someone walks is a great indicator of their ability to hustle.

• Watch and listen as to how they interact with guests and other staff. What words they use and the appropriateness of  tone and body language.

• Ensure they are well groomed and take pride in their personal presentation.

• Do they show that they are a forward thinker and anticipate what needs to be done? For example: do they clear an empty glass when they take food to a table? Do they pick rubbish up off the floor or do they just walk past it?

• Are they aware of the entire venue? Do they look up while they polish cutlery or glassware or do they have tunnel vision?

• Do they listen? Do they show positive body language? Do they use positive words? Does their attitude reflect the values of the business?


Make a concerted effort to be friendly with them throughout the shift. Check on them from time to time and ask how they are going. Make an effort to ensure they feel comfortable so they go home from their trial shift thinking how great it would be to work at the venue!




Make sure you are watching the time and let them know when they are nearing the end of their trial shift. You expect them to be punctual, so demonstrating the same attention to detail is very important. Remember they have given up their time for you to see their work, so NEVER keep them beyond the agreed time.


At the end of their shift give them some positive feedback on their work. Ask them how they felt about everything and if they enjoyed it.


Either give them a positive result from their trial shift and confirm their employment, future shifts and rate of pay or let them know that someone will call them regarding their employment within 48 hours. You must then ensure that this happens. Pass feedback on to the appropriate manager immediately following the trial and ensure they contact the applicant. If you feel they are not a suitable match for the position, always handle it in a positive and genuine manner. For example: “Unfortunately we feel that at the moment we are looking for someone with a little more experience / speed but thank you so much for giving up your time and we wish you all the best finding a great job.” Sometimes it may be appropriate to say, “We have a few trials coming up and we will get back to you within the week.” Make sure you do!


Make sure you have their contact details before they leave the venue.


Always thank them for their time and their assistance – even if they were terrible! Sometimes they may not be a suitable employee but they will still make a great customer and we can never have too many of those.